A few months back I had the opportunity to attend the International Conference on Environment Education, a major UN conference supported by the GoI and attended by more than a thousand delegates from around the world. As the title suggests, the conference concerned itself with Environment Education, or precisely, Education for Sustainable Development, a fundamentally transformed version of the former, which dealt with incorporating the values and principles of sustainability into education, in order to achieve the goals of sustainable development. Not surprisingly, a term that captured the same wavelength as ‘education’, or ‘sustainable development’, was ‘climate change’.
The conference deliberated over different ways in which climate change could potentially challenge sustainable development worldwide. This got me thinking of the narrow pathway of development that we have managed to drive ourselves into, one that is challenged by depleting natural resources and is compounded by the impending climate catastrophe. If development has to be sustained, it would undoubtedly have to take into consideration the various challenges posed by climate change. Now, it is clear that certain powerful regimes and self proclaimed global sentries prefer to pretend that the climate crisis was anything but. Wiser counsel however, helped in no small measure by a near global consensus in the scientific community and reams of vindicating data, shows us that the climate crisis is real, and that this is something that development and planning initiatives have to contend with.
Fortunately for us, the goals of sustainable development, we have been told, have already been eloquently laid out in the form of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are a set of 8 targets to be achieved globally before 2015, and deal with challenges confronting humanity, such as poverty, education, health care, and loss of biodiversity. Achieve these before 2015 without compromising each other, and we can assure ourselves that we are on the right track of development. Unfortunately, climate change is putting a real spanner in the works, even for the MDGs! As can be imagined, just about every MDG is affected to a varying degree and intensity by climate change. Development which does not resolve these afflictions, it is said, is unsustainable, and therefore, undesirable. It is only a logical conclusion that if we have to develop sustainably, it is absolutely necessary that we tackle climate change first.
Then there is the question of development financing. All development initiatives, be it micro construction or mega power projects, need to be adequately financed. International financial institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank annually finance numerous projects that could potentially have a major impact on the climate, either favourable or detrimental. Financing of thermal power stations or large scale hydropower projects actually increases emissions and increases the risk of climate change, and therefore is unsustainable. Suffice to say, a heavy measure of the global development pattern is determined by the funding allocated by these IFIs, and thus they have a very large stake in achieving sustainable development, and in combating climate change. These IFIs are largely funded by wealthy OECD countries, and thus the financing policy adopted by the IFIs is also largely influenced by them. It is not a very comforting thought that the future of our planet rests with those with the bill power, and not necessarily the will power!
And what did the ICEE conference make of all this? The conference declaration captures the essence best – “The climate crisis, loss of biodiversity, increasing health risks and poverty are indicators of development models and lifestyles that are unsustainable… we believe that through education, human lifestyles can be achieved that can achieved that support ecological integrity, economic and social justice, sustainable livelihoods and respect for all life.”