Climate Change and Development: Mind the Gap!!
Are you sitting comfortably? Let me start from the beginning
The new world order established after the second world war, saw the creation of the United Nations in October 1945. Its main objective was to enhance international cooperation and prevent another major global conflict.
It has rained a bit since then. This international organisation started with 51 countries and as of today it leads negotiations and discussions on mayor global issues amongst 193 countries.
Arguably, climate change and poverty eradication are amongst the biggest issues the global community has had to grapple with, since then. These have both been part of the United Nation’s agenda, since they made it to the international theme. However, before 2015 both development (poverty) and environmental (climate change) agendas followed separate paths.
In my humble opinion, the divide between these two issues, which can be seen institutionally (in the structure of United nations, Governments and NGOs), professionally (the two issues are dealt with by professionals of opposed disciplines) and even ideological (see below) is what made the premises of sustainable development a chimera before 2015.
Before 2015, the issues related to the development agenda as defined since the millennium development goals (MDGs), poverty, education, health, etc. were normally discussed at completely different venues as those related to Climate Change and the environment, at international level. With the discreet exception of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro when their paths crossed. Indeed, one of the biggest accomplishments attributed to The Summit is the biggest gathering of head of states to discuss both environment and development issues as part of a Sustainable Development path.
The UN structure did not determine this divide, even though we can argue that it institutionalised it. The divorce is more fundamental than that. Climate change has been the battle ground of environmentalists since it first appeared. Whereas development has been the main concern of those responsible for economic improvements. Hence, those equipped to understand environmental issues, normally have a natural sciences educational background, whereas development is an issue of the social sciences (this was highlighted by Huq in 2006).
Digging deeper, I found that at societal level, they can almost be seen as enemies of cause, with opposed philosophical inclinations or even ideologies.
- Development practitioners are anthropocentric, see humans at the centre of everything, hence, they are mainly concerned with human problems. So, they accuse environmentalists of focusing too much on plants and animals, whereas
- Environmentalists are ecocentric, which means they attribute the highest value to the natural world, of which humans are only one element. Therefore, they cannot understand the complete disregard that development practitioners have for the environment.
I believe that these two different ways of perceiving the wold, creates an ideological divide that is a fundamental barrier to implement sustainable development. This divide was precisely what motivated me to look into the subject and conduct my research.
However, there is great hope that we can change that. As a leader steering global issues, the UN has had a role also in bridging the gap. The Sustainable Development Goals framework approved by the UN in 2015, for having both Environmental and Social Goals, all in the same framework, have made it possible to talk about both issues in the same conversation.
Indeed, since 2015 there is greater awareness that we cannot talk about poverty eradication without considering climate change and vice versa. However, the question that we are all asking is… Are we already too late for talks?