Ecowill Canada Promotes Sustainable Development
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Sustainable development is about meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations. It is about improving standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently and advancing long-term economic competitiveness. It requires the integration of environmental, economic and social priorities into policies and programs and requires action at all levels - citizens, industry, and governments.

Securing economic and social development as well as environmental protection is the goal of sustainable development. Although these three factors can work in harmony, they are often found to conflict with one another. Economic growth will remain the basis for human development, but it must change and become less environmentally destructive. The challenge of sustainable development is to put this understanding into practice, changing our unsustainable ways into more sustainable ones.

The aim of sustainable development is to balance our economic, environmental and social needs, allowing prosperity for now and future generations. Sustainable development consists of a long-term, integrated approach to developing and achieving a healthy community by jointly addressing economic, environmental, and social issues. Sustainable development encourages us to conserve and enhance our resource base, by gradually changing the ways in which we develop and use technologies.

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The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) released a 2,500-page report was four years in the making, drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over four years, and funded by the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Foundation, the World Bank and various others. Surveying the planet, it made a number of conclusions that many have stressed for years. The key messages from the report included the following points:

  • Everyone in the world depends on nature and ecosystem services to provide the conditions for a decent, healthy, and secure life.
  • Humans have made unprecedented changes to ecosystems in recent decades to meet growing demands for food, fresh water, fiber, and energy [which has] helped to improve the lives of billions, but at the same time they weakened nature’s ability to deliver other key services such as purification of air and water, protection from disasters, and the provision of medicines….
  • Human activities have taken the planet to the edge of a massive wave of species extinctions, further threatening our own well-being.
  • The loss of services derived from ecosystems is a significant barrier to reduce poverty, hunger, and disease.
  • The pressures on ecosystems will increase globally in coming decades unless human attitudes and actions change.
  • Measures to conserve natural resources are more likely to succeed if local communities are given ownership of them, share the benefits, and are involved in decisions.
  • Even today’s technology and knowledge can reduce considerably the human impact on ecosystems. They are unlikely to be deployed fully, however, until ecosystem services cease to be perceived as free and limitless, and their full value is taken into account.
  • Better protection of natural assets will require coordinated efforts across all sections of governments, businesses, and international institutions. The productivity of ecosystems depends on policy choices on investment, trade, subsidy, taxation, and regulation, among others.

To the mainstream, this Assessment draws attention to the notion of the environment as having an economic value associated with it far greater than what is currently assigned (if anything). The economic challenge is a complex one then. It requires proper accounting of resource use, as well as addressing purposes of consumption. What is normally counted economically as an “externality” needs to be internalized instead.

Markets fail to capture most ecosystem service values. Existing price signals only reflect - at best - the share of total value that relates to provisioning services like food, fuel or water and their prices may be distorted. Even these services often bypass markets where carried out as part of community management of shared resources. The values of other ecosystem services are generally not reflected in markets apart from a few exceptions (such as tourism).

This is mainly explained by the fact that many ecosystem services are ‘public goods’ or ‘common goods’: they are often open access in character and non-rival in their consumption. In addition, their benefits are felt differently by people in different places and over different timescales. Private and public decisions affecting biodiversity rarely consider benefits beyond the immediate geographical area…. They can also overlook local public benefits … in favor of private benefits …, even when local livelihoods are at stake, or focus on short-term gains to the detriment of the sustained supply of benefits over time….

Benefits that are felt with a long-term horizon (e.g. from climate regulation) are frequently ignored. This systematic under-valuation of ecosystem services and failure to capture the values is one of the main causes underlying today’s biodiversity crisis. Values that are not overtly part of a financial equation are too often ignored.

More focus is needed on developing technologies that are “environment friendly.” Advances in such technologies would have a profound impact on all manner of society. Yet, achieving sustainable development seems primarily a political task not a technological one, though technology may be one of the many factors that could play an important part in moving towards more sustainable development.