The Unsustainable Side of Sustainability


19-01-2024 10:38 PM


Tangier. Exclusively for "Assawsana Newspaper"

For the past decade, everyone seemed to be jumping on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) train, turning them into a mainstream, almost hip concept, used loosely in promotional material. But this train is far from reaching its final destination, missing multiple stops along the way.
The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all Member States, provides “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” It offers as guideline 17 goals to incite all countries - developed and developing - into a global partnership towards a more sustainable way of living.
But what does that truly mean? A textbook definition of sustainability describes it as “the quality of being able to continue over a long period of time.” This implies ecological, human, and economic health and vitality. Economic sustainability, on the other hand, refers to practices that support long-term economic growth without negatively impacting social, environmental, and cultural aspects of the community.
In theory, sustainability is a given, becoming not only a requirement but a selection criterion for businesses and governments around the world. However, its impact is not felt evenly across supply chains, sometimes coming at the expense of other stakeholders.
Hampered by such obstacles as trade barriers, debt distress, food insecurity, climate change, and meager resources, the world’s poorest countries lagged furthest behind in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, according to the UN’s Economic and Financial Committee’s statement during their seventy-third session on October 2018.
While poor, large countries like Nigeria, India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, and China, host the lion’s share of people left behind in meeting development targets, their resources are being depleted by external parties, mainly due to residual colonial influence.
Like other African countries or former French colonies, Niger is a major source of uranium, supplying some 20 percent of France’s needs. NGOs estimate one out of every three light bulbs in France is powered by uranium from Niger, while 90 percent of Nigeriens do not have access to electricity.
On the other side, France registered moderate improvement in attaining SDG goals, ranking 6th out of the 166 countries currently tracked by The Sustainable Development Report/Index. Other countries are following France’s footsteps, caging Africa under the label “raw material supplier” for lower costs and cheap labor.
Furthermore, weak infrastructural development, natural hazards, and low market penetration are of primary concern, hindering economic growth and incapacitating industrialization in similar areas. This issue made headway during COP 28, as African countries are the most impacted by climate change despite contributing just 4 percent to global carbon emissions.
Discussions during COP 28 converged around increasing climate finance, a less-than-optimal solution due to lack of international cooperation; the dark side of climate financing, no matter how compelling it is, resides in displacing traditional development aid- funds that are serving more pressing needs of developing countries-instead of committing new investments to what is supposedly a universal problem.
Meanwhile, Germany is still refusing to justly compensate Namibia through payment of much-needed financial and material reparations for one of the largest (and first) genocides in modern history, the Herero and Nama peoples genocide. Instead, Germany is offering 1 billion USD as “development aid”, an embarrassingly low figure compared to the 75 billion euros given to victims and descendants of Holocaust victims via pension funds.
Undeniably, SDGs are essential for a prosperous and fruitful future. However, not all countries are on equal footing when it comes to implementing a sturdy action plan that is resilient to the economic and geopolitical shifts ahead. Developing countries require keen support and financial aid that goes beyond consuming Western funds in hopes of a miracle. Instead, sound changes to the entire economic model, including the role of said countries in global value chains, how debt is handled, and the influence of overpowering developed countries in international trade treaties must be prioritized for real sustainability to take root.

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