M M Shah, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Ecology and the Web of Life Ecological Stress Sustainable Development Education and Sustainable Development
Sustainable Development: Not an Option, but a Twenty-
First-Century Imperative Further Reading
Ecology and the intricacies of nature are increasingly threatened as growing human populations and their thirst for ever-increasing consumption ravages the environment. The damage is evident: loss of ozone layer, global warming and climate change, air and water pollution, arable land lost to erosion, salinity and desertification, water scarcities, disappearing forests, extinction of biodiversity, and depletion of mineral resources. The cumulative consequences of human activities will, in the long run, threaten nature's sustainability and life-supporting capacity.
All flora and fauna species are intertwined in the web of life, each with its own genetic diversity and living and evolving in environments with biotic cycles encompassing physical, chemical, and behavioral relationships that protect and promote continued evolution. Here the inter-connectedness relates to different types of organisms living in complex ecological networks of interdepen-dency, each relying on other species that share the habitat. Human survival is dependent on the viability and utility of nature's wealth of biological and ecosystem diversity. Human are but one of the millions of species that cohabit the Earth. Most species do not need humans for their survival but countless numbers of species are essential for human survival.
Planet Earth - the only location in the Universe that we know supports life - is endowed with an incredible array of diversity of nature that vary in size, shape, color, movement, and function, and this endowment differs across a great variety of ecosystems around the world. We have yet to discover and understand the wealth of diversity in genetic material even that of many known species. Some progress is being made in relation to genetic composition of species used in agriculture and pharmaceuticals but our knowledge is minuscule in relation to extent and intricacies of the world's genetic diversity.
Scientists estimate that there are between 5 and 30 million biological species on Earth, and of these only about 1.75 million have been identified thus far and a large share of this is found tropical areas, particularly forest ecosystems. The majority of this diversity is in invertebrates, plants, and other groups. The vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, account for only about 3% of the world's total known biodiversity.
In the natural world, species loss occurs at the rate of one species per million per year. However, the loss of a single species has potential for extinction of many other species. In the twentieth-century species extinction rates increased 10- to 100-fold. At this rate, by the end of the twenty-first century, the Earth's biological and geochem-ical cycling systems may be put at risk.
Over a third of the world's known mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians are found on only about 1.4% of global land surface, amounting to some 2 million km2. These habitats make up the 'hot spots' of threatened biodiversity and currently only about a third of such areas are technically under protection.
Agriculture is by far the largest user of the Earth's ecosystems and has the greatest impact on the environment and its biodiversity. Over the past half century, more than a quarter of the world's 8.7 billion hectares of crop lands, pastures, forests, and wood lands have been degraded through misuse or over use.
Biodiversity is the source of genetic resources for all crops, livestock, and fish. It also determines the productivity of land and water resources. The increasing trends of mono-cropping and genetic uniformity and high level of chemical inputs not only pose risks to wild biodiversity but also increase the risk of production failures due to pests and diseases. For example, in China there were once 10 000 landrace varieties of wheat. Today there are less than a thousand. No one knows what genetic traits that lead to insect and disease resistance, stronger plants, higher yields or more nutritious and better testing crops have been lost.
Already agricultural expansion has resulted in the loss and fragmentation of the world's forests, wetlands, streams, estuaries, lakes, and coastal and marine ecosystems. Ecosystems not only produce food for all species but also perform essential services such as purification of air and water, binding of toxins, decomposition of wastes, watershed and flood management, stabilization of landscapes, and regulation of climate.
Forests play a multiple role, in the production of timber, wood, fuel, and other products, in the protection of habitat and conservation of biodiversity, watershed management, and in mitigation of climate change, as well being a source of livelihoods for forest dwellers.
During the last decade, some 130 million ha of forest were cleared, with some 40% just for expansion of agriculture. Recent surveys in Brazil show that forest clearance by fire set up a downward cycle wherein the burning frequency increased naturally and this destroyed biodiversity since the trees were thin-barked and not resistant to the fire. Furthermore, fragmentation to small forest stands is disastrous for many animal species that need large patches for survival. When a forest is cleared, a rich treasure of biodiversity is lost. Currently, just seven countries - Brazil, Canada, China, Congo, Indonesia, Russia, and the United States - account for 60% of the world's forest area.
Oceans and freshwaters cover some three-quarters of the Earth's surface and account for half of the production of biomass in the world. About half a million water-based species have been identified, in comparison with over a million species on land.
Over 70% of freshwater resources are used in agriculture. Two-thirds of the world's population live in areas that receive a quarter of the world's annual rainfall, while sparsely populated areas such as the Amazon Basin receive a disproportionate share. Already some 30 countries are facing water scarcity.
More than 70% of the world marine fisheries resources are over-exploited and cannot regenerate unless fishing pressures are reduced and stocks allowed recovery. In the case of cod fish, recovery may have been constrained by the fact that the cod populations are too small to escape predator pressure and not large enough to produce enough eggs. Large fish produce exponentially more sperm and eggs than small fish.
Global warming threatens to 'bleach' a significant fraction of the world's coral reefs, threatening the loss of unique biodiversity and livelihoods of millions of coastal dwellers. Space travel has taken mankind a distance of over 380 000 km to the moon, but we have yet to travel less than 10 km to discover the ecological and biological wealth of the deep oceans.
During the twentieth century, human influence on the functioning of the Earth's systems altered the global carbon pools. As a result, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by over a quarter and concentrations ofmethane, another important greenhouse gas, have doubled. There is now convincing scientific evidence that greenhouse gases are contributing to climate change and variability. The emerging threat of global warming and changes in precipitation, especially in many areas of the tropics, will cause significant and irreversible damage to ecosystems and loss of biodiversity.
Nature's wealth is abundant but finite. We cannot forever mine it and use the environment as a sink for increasing wastes and pollutants. We must act in a precautionary manner and take responsibility for the impacts of our actions. We often tend to use the excuse on incomplete knowledge and uncertainties for inactions. In the twenty-first century, the mobilization of scientific and technological efforts and traditional knowledge to understand the complexities of nature's environment and diversity will be essential for progress toward sustainable development.
Sustainable development is defined as ''development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'' The concept ofneeds goes beyond simply material needs and includes values, relationships, freedom to think, act, and participate, all amounting to sustainable living, morally, and spiritually.
The 30-year journey of four World Summits from Stockholm to Nairobi to Rio and to Johannesburg has put the world on notice that achieving sustainable development in the twenty-first century is not an option but an imperative.
The 1972 UN conference in Stockholm highlighted the concerns for preserving and enhancing the environment and its biodiversity to ensure human rights to a healthy and productive world. The developing countries argued that their priority was development, whereas the developed countries made a case for environmental protection and conservation as the prime issue.
The 1982 Nairobi Summit reviewed the progress in the decade since the Stockholm Conference and called upon national governments to intensify efforts to protect the environment and stressed the need for international cooperation. However, the tensions between Western Governments and the Soviet Union marred progress and commitment toward a Nairobi action plan.
In 1983 the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development was created and in 1987, the Commission issued the Brundtland Report. This report highlighted that equity, growth, and environmental maintenance are simultaneously possible and that each country is capable ofachieving its full economic potential while at the same time enhancing its resource base. It emphasized three fundamental components to sustainable development: environmental protection, economic growth, and social equity.
During the period 1972-92, over 200 regional and international agreements and conventions for environmental protection and conservation were adopted. However, most of these agreements were negotiated individually and treated as 'separate entities', with many lacking systemic integration within the social, economic, and environmental framework of sustainable development.
In 1992, the Earth Summit brought the world's governments to deliberate and negotiate an agenda for environment and development in the twenty-first century. At a parallel Global Forum, nongovernmental organizations from around the world also discussed and deliberated strategies for sustainable development. While there was little formal interaction between these two meetings, the world's civil societies succeeded in having their voices noticed. It was an important step toward future dialog and active participation of civil society in sustainable development regimes from local to global levels.
The Earth Summit unanimously adopted the Agenda 21, a comprehensive blue print of actions toward sustainable development, including detailed work plans, goals, responsibilities, and also estimates for funding. Other important accomplishments included the Rio Declaration, a statement of broad principles to guide national conduct on environmental protection and development, and adoption of treaties on climate change and biodiversity, and forest management principles.
The first principle of the Rio Declaration states ''human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development.'' The declaration also highlighted the 'polluter-pays-principle' and the 'precautionary principle', as important considerations for the protection and conservation of nature.
Whether addressing vulnerability to environmental change, responsibility for environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, or policy priorities, careful consideration of the particular groups of people involved, and their social, economic, and environmental conditions, is essential. Focusing on people - their rights, capabilities, and opportunities - has multiple benefits for individuals, society, and their relationship with the environment.
Agenda 21 pointed out that different populations had 'common but differentiated responsibilities' for impacts on the environment. In Rio, the thinking was dominated by the goal of converging trends in different parts of the world. There was the clear hope that the developing countries would catch up, while the rich countries would become increasingly environmentally conscious and curb their excessive consumption and the related pollution and waste. This has not come to pass.
Consumption per se is not something to be avoided since it is one important aspect of improving human well-being. Equally important is the recognition that the relationships between well-being, levels of consumption, and environmental impacts depend on the value systems, the effectiveness of institutions, including forms of governance, as well as science, technology, and knowledge.
The lack of progress in turning Agenda 21 into actions for sustainable development leads to the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on sustainable development. Johannesburg put the thrust on public-private partnerships for sustainable development through an endorsement of some 500 such partnerships but most of these agreements failed to be implemented.
Prior to the Johannesburg Summit, in September 2000, political leaders from around the world took an unprecedented step of setting concrete 2015 targets for millennium development goals (MDGs) related to the priority challenges of sustainable development, namely, poverty, hunger, education, gender, health, environmental sustainability, and a global partnership for development. All these issues are interrelated; one cannot be solved without tackling the others. The progress up to 2007 indicates that many of these MDGs are unlikely to be realized by 2015.
The nations of the world at the Earth Summit failed to mobilize the financial resources for the implementation of Agenda 21, and the WSSD in Johannesburg failed to turn agenda into actions. The critical issues of education and human capital were also not on the WSSD agenda. The scientific and technological capacity is essential and educational and research institutions around the world have a fundamental responsibility to contribute to this.
Education comprises a lifelong learning system to cope with the changing needs and aspirations of society. The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, starting in 2005, lays the foundation to reform and mobilize education at all levels, from schools to universities, in support of sustainable development.
Education for sustainable development requires integrated curricula and strategic focus. A search on the world wide web reveals some 1.3 million references on 'sustainable development education', and yet finding a university in the world that offers a common course on sustainable development is rare indeed. There is an urgent need to develop such courses that would be generally mandatory for students of all disciplines and subjects, since all through life, the most important choices and decisions relate how to live sustainably within society and in nature. Enhancing the role, relevance, and effectiveness of institutions in meeting the education and research challenges of sustainable development will require priority reforms and strategic choices and investments.
At the dawn of this twenty-first century, the international community formed coalitions against threats of terrorism. The world urgently needs even greater commitments and coalitions toward achieving sustainable development.
We have the scientific and technological means and world's demographic changes offer an enabling environment for a human capital revolution in the developing countries. We need a global partnership to mobilize the wealth of human and nature's diversity to promote worldwide sustainable development. We must not fail to grab this unique opportunity to contribute to bringing an end to the world's rampant destruction of the environment and depletion of natural resources.
Sustainable Development: Not an Option, but a Twenty-First-Century Imperative
For the last 50 years, the United Nations system has been the driving force behind the establishment and furtherance of human rights; it has brought into force agreements and conventions to protect natural biodiversity; it has set the agenda for sustainable development and international partnerships for peace and security. The governments and peoples of the world must heed the United Nations' millennium call for ''freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on this planet''.
See also-. Agriculture; Agriculture Models; Agriculture Systems; Agroforestry; Behavioral and Ecological Genetics; Biodiversity; Climate Change 3. History and Current State; Climate Change Models; Deforestation; Demography; Development Capacity; Ecological
Economics; Ecological Footprint; Ecological Systems Thinking; Ecosystem Ecology; Ecosystems; Environmental Impact Assessment and Application -Part 1; Environmental Security; Evolutionary Ecology-Overview; Forest Management; Human Ecology-Overview; Land-Use Modeling; Limits to Growth; Maximum Sustainable Yield; Multitrophic Integration for Sustainable Marine Aquaculture; Precaution and Ecological Risk; Socioecological Systems; Sustainable Development; Systems Ecology; Technology for Sustainability; Tropical Rainforest.
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