Sustainable and harmonious planet
In the previous two articles, the 17 SDGs were identified and the importance of addressing the issue of poverty was highlighted. This week the column will conclude with a focus on the operating environment needed to achieve the goals of sustainable development. Having a healthy balance between nature and knowledge is one thing but, though necessary, is insufficient as a basis for achieving sustainable development. There is need to focus on the production and consumption patterns, the need for peaceful and inclusive societies and stronger global partnerships. The world is demanding it. Despite the importance of everything else, these three issues underscore the need for Guyana to pay attention to the SDGs and see how best it could structure its development to get the most out of the global pursuit for a sustainable and harmonious planet.
Production and consumption patterns
This discussion will start with the production and consumption patterns. While the developed countries are expected to play a lead role in this area, all countries are being asked to comply with the commitment to achieve sustainable production and consumption patterns. One factor contributing to the joint responsibility is that of vertical specialization which has made it possible for different countries to participate in different stages in a good’s production. This globalization of the production structure does not lead to equity in consumption of the finished goods, but demands shared responsibility for limiting the problem. The focus on production and consumption patterns stems from a desire to achieve a ‘Green Economy’. A ‘Green Economy’ is one in which “income and employment are driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon pollution and emissions, enhance energy and resource efficiency and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services”. This calls for using resources efficiently so as to allow renewable resources to regenerate and to find alternatives to depleting ones so that future generations are not deprived of them.
There is evidence that increases in consumption patterns have led to resource depletion, pollution, environmental degradation and climate change. The heightened threat of environmental catastrophe from irresponsible and unsustainable production and consumption patterns makes it necessary for countries to take action to limit the negative impact of environmental factors. Sustainable production and consumption is given as a “holistic approach to minimizing the negative environmental impact from consumption and production systems while promoting quality of life for all”. This is a definition given by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and encompasses several concerns and outcomes, including the burdens that small developing countries would need to bear to reach sustainable production and consumption levels.
The task for a country like Guyana would not be easy since the outcomes of this goal direct attention to the agricultural and extractive industries. One of the outcomes it seeks to achieve is making people aware that there was a need to improve the quality of life without further causing environmental damage and without compromising the resource needs of future generations. These are twin objectives that challenge a country with a factor-driven economy and a high need for foreign currency on account of its large import bill. In the quest for sustainability, the production and use of natural resources for a country like Guyana come with a cost. In a publication entitled Sustainable Consumption and Production: A Handbook for Policymakers, UNEP contends that consumption of natural resources was less than 10 billion tonnes in 1950 and reached over 70 billion tonnes in 2010. While the bulk of the natural resources might have come from developing countries, the bulk of its consumption took place in the developed world. In considering the future, the publication also contends that a modern lifestyle based on current patterns of production and consumption requires between 25 to 30 tonnes of material per capita per annum.
This data was used to project what global demand for natural resources would be by the year 2050 and reached the conclusion that consumption levels would reach 225 to 270 billion tonnes. The larger share of future consumption is expected to take place in Asia. This level of resource use is considered unsustainable and threatens the prospects of survivability of future generations. The inference is that unless something is done to improve efficiency in production of the depleting natural resources, the sustainability of life on the planet was in doubt.
This is where the issue of production and consumption becomes of concern to Guyana. The growth of the Guyana economy depends heavily on agriculture and the extraction of natural resources. The country is likely to become a producer of oil, an important energy source. There is unhappiness with the waste of natural resources and the level of energy intensity in economic activity. Current levels of energy intensity appear to be too high, particularly as they relate to emissions and waste from extraction, production, consumption and disposal. Consequently, the international community expects countries to shift their consumption patterns towards groups of goods and services with lower energy and material intensity.
A country like Guyana is being asked to achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of its natural resources at a critical point in its development. The responsibility does not stop with natural resources. Guyana is also being asked to cut in half per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels. Additionally, the country needs to reduce food losses along production and supply chains. All of these objectives are expected to be achieved by the year 2030 without compromising quality of life.
Not an easy task
It is not an easy task, but it is a challenge that Guyana must face if it is to be considered a responsible member of the international community. It also calls for the application of life-cycle thinking which considers the impact from all life-cycle stages of the production and consumption process. Countries are expected also to be on guard against the rebound effect. In other words, they should try to avoid getting into a situation in which the efficiency gains are cancelled out by an increase in consumption.
What is obvious is that the means of improving its production level in the natural resource sector do not exist in their entirety in the country. The task falls to the producers of the natural resources to adopt responsible methods of production. In Guyana, with the exception of sand, stone and gold, most natural resource production is done by foreign investors. This reliance on foreign investors would continue into the future since for the most part Guyana does not have the technology for large-scale extraction of some of its resources. Therefore, for Guyana to meet the sustainable development goals, it would have to ensure that its future relations with foreign investors take account of the global demands to improve production and consumption patterns. Despite the existence of a global commitment to a more sustainable lifestyle, no one knows how people will react to the demands of small countries like Guyana. There is some hope that the private sector would respond favourably to the demands, since the UNEP study contends that reducing the natural resource used in production through efficient systems is beneficial to businesses and the environment.
New industrialization system
Guyana should recognize that the international community is calling for the establishment of a new industrialization system that can fuel prosperity beyond the aggressive resource consumption of the old industrialization system. There is no evidence that any country has the solution to such a monumental task. Guyana will have to build its own capacity also to achieve this critical goal of the global community. For that to happen, Guyana will have to invest heavily in educating its population in the area of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Research and development become critical in this regard too and Guyana will have to start early in this activity and invest heavily if it wants to make satisfactory progress by 2030.
The work to be done by Guyana would have to have the right environment if it were to be successful in its quest for a more efficient production system. The people of the country have to be sensitized to the changes that must be made since growth and development will follow an unchartered course in some instances. The pace at which this happens will also depend on how cooperative people are. Change, though necessary, is never easy. It calls for a more cohesive society and one that eschews violence, abuse, exploitation and torture, particularly against women and children.
Much investment will have to come from both the private and public sectors. The public sector may have to lead the way in many cases. This calls for efficient revenue collection and, where necessary, the recovery of stolen assets. Creating the right environment for a successful achievement of sustainable development must involve reducing corruption and bribery in all its forms. Towards this end, Guyana has to develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels. Guyana also needs to strengthen national institutions to prevent violence and combat smuggling, terrorism and other forms of organized crime. In other words, a smaller amount of resources needs to be spent on non-productive activities.