The shift from traditional development to sustainable one is pivotal in view of the damage that the former has inflicted upon our planet. In a recent Q&A session with Dr Renuka Thakore, Founder of Global Sustainable Futures, and a recipient of Development Leadership: Governor Enrique Tomás Cresto Award 2022 and Global SDG’s Women Ambassador Award 2022, we discussed an imperative need of sustainability and the ways to attain that feat.
CTS: What makes sustainable development such a compelling and imperative goal to pursue?
Dr Renuka: Traditional development has brought economic prosperity for individuals but have also brought environmental degradation and social inequalities among people. Thus, sustainable development is coined to establish the ethical foundations of ‘Our Common Future’ building a model that have equal and balanced positive impact on all three aspects of development – Social, Economic and Environmental, i.e., satisfying human needs, ensuring social justice, and respecting environmental limits.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a comprehensive set of goals aimed to accomplish the three pillars of Sustainability, and includes targets to achieve quality education and health, and end poverty, climate change and the gender divide, the intractable challenges facing the world. The SDGs provide a framework for a modern, interconnected and global society. Though SDGs impose specific, easily measurable and observable targets, they sometimes are not adequately taking the local context into consideration.
The most critical part of SDGs is to framing practical solutions now, at a time when the world’s advanced economies continue to suffer under the weight of high, unsustainable debts and deficits, weak labour markets, and declining productivity. They are critical to the emerging economies that aspire for rapid growth rates, while dealing with the rise of radicalised terrorism, disorderly migration, and the resurgence in political and social instability throughout the world. The SDGs will serve as a reference point and a global compass for policy makers as they navigate a complex, dynamic, and difficult economic and political backdrop.
CTS: Where are we as far as the journey of meeting Sustainable Development Goals 2030 are concerned, specifically those related to the environment? Any suggestions?
Dr Renuka: Environmental degradation is happening due to the severe impact of disasters and extreme weather events happening due to climate change. These include heatwaves, flooding, precipitation, droughts and cyclones. Sea levels are rising faster than projected and the greenhouse gas emissions have increased ocean warming, ocean acidification and reduced oxygen. These have impacted on marine ecosystems and more than 3 billion people relying on the ocean for their livelihoods. Biodiversity loss is accelerating in terrestrial, ocean and coastal systems. Endemic species in biodiversity hotspots are facing a very high extinction risk, and it is estimated to increase ten-fold times with the increase in 1℃. The declining ecosystem and biodiversity loss will affect nature-based services, threatening human health and our very survival. Parts of Africa and Central and South America are already experiencing acute food insecurity and malnutrition, and the devitalized soils have a negative impact on farming, and weakening ecosystem services.
Agriculture and food systems are the subject of frequent and uncertain droughts, floods, and heatwaves putting added pressure on food production in many parts of the world. Every region across the globe is experiencing weather and climate extreme impacts, but it is impacting developing countries more than the developed countries. The data stations are established at many observations stations, however, there are gaps in the report and making sense of it. The proliferation of plastic, nutrient run-off and other forms of waste is killing marine life. Vast areas of the ocean are under protection, but more intensive efforts are still needed. Global fish stocks are still under threat, although the route to sustainability is clear and navigable. Pressure on fish stocks is lowering the contribution of sustainable fisheries to economic growth in some regions. Accelerated action is needed to support small-scale fishers, many of whose livelihoods collapsed under the pandemic. The world’s forest area continues to shrink, mainly due to agricultural expansion. Global efforts to promote access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources gains momentum. The risk of species extinction continues to rise and is highest in Asia and small island developing States. Nearly half of areas identified as key for global biodiversity are under protection, though progress lags in four regions, National planning processes are increasingly reflecting the value of biodiversity; still, progress is too slow.
CTS: What do you think is the most important prerequisite for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals? Please elaborate on the role of partnerships in this pursuit?
Dr Renuka: Due to the multidisciplinary challenges, we need multidisciplinary expertise to address these challenges. We need data and knowledge applicable for every level, sector, location and parts of the world, meaning not one entity can achieve the SDGs. There is no way forward without strategic partnerships between different individuals, organisations and countries, without which no one would be able to solve their own problems or the complex problem such as climate change. The seas, oceans, forests, rivers, etc. – the components of ecosystem are complementary and work in partnerships to provide mankind a favourable condition to live in. Likewise, the communities living in different ecosystem will need to work in partnership to address the problems affecting them.
Official development assistance has reached a new high, largely due to COVID-related aid, but still falls short of the target. The importance of data and statistics for sound decision-making has never been clearer, but funding for this sector has stagnated. The pandemic has added extra weight to the debt burdens of low- and middle-income countries. Internet use has surged, prompted by the pandemic, although poorer regions still lag behind. Global foreign direct investment rebounded strongly in 2021, but flows to the poorest countries showed only modest growth. Remittance flows to poorer countries remain robust, buttressed by strong economic activity and employment levels in many host countries.
CTS: As the founder of Global Sustainable Futures, can you please share with us the motivation behind this initiative, about the work you do, and any significant triumphs you have made so far?
Dr Renuka: Global Sustainable Futures has a core mission of ‘leaving no one behind’ meaning that everyone must have the opportunity to shape their future. The network materialised out of the need to connect the Global South with the Global North. The purpose of the network is to address the challenges to sustainable futures through partnerships.
The network looks forward to full-fledged collaborative and interactive activities. Co-creating knowledge and practices beyond national borders and academic disciplines. The GSFN is committed to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) Agenda 2030 and beyond.
The network looks forward to full-fledged collaborative and interactive activities. Co-creating knowledge and practices beyond national borders and academic disciplines. The GSFN contributes to achieving the SDGs Agenda 2030 and beyond.
The network is the platform to create partnerships across low, middle, and high-income countries. This is achieved by reaching out through its coordinators to secure globally sustainable futures. The network has planned an engaging and inclusive networking and capacity development programme. Currently, the network comprises of 3,000 coordinators from 147 countries. The group is inclusive and accessible across all disciplines, including for: Academics, Scholars, Practitioners, Changemakers, Creative voices.
The network wants to enable sustainable transitions for future generations. This is in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The network aims to create connections outside academia. This will get done by institutionalising university partnerships with governments and communities. Here we can address pressing challenges and transform societies.
The network is free for everyone to join, which is a great motivation for those who are constrained by joining other networks due to their limitation of education or other criteria.
CTS: London Climate Technology Show has been conceived with a motive to explore the role of technology in tackling Climate Change. How effective do you think such events can be in meeting this objective, and largely in propelling a thought for a sustainable future?
Dr Renuka: To co-create a sustainable future, we need to map, measure and monitor our growth to enhance innovation and partnerships for a sustainable future. We also need to make sure that we must not overlap our processes/energy/efforts while we streamline our forces to design and develop sustainable future strategies. For this to happen, we need technologies to support such a development. Digital technology will be crucial in creating a sustainable future, but at the same time, we need to make sure that it does not impact job loss. A support system must be created for the people to learn about the technology, gain skills related to it and be employed for the future digital sustainable world.