UNEP stakeholders’ conference prioritizes sustainability issues

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst

 Last week’s  United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) North American Major Groups and Stakeholders Consultation in Washington, DC focused on how to implement sustainable development goals (SDGs) outlined during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this past June.  It was noted during the meeting that – in the time since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio 20 years ago – countries, NGOs and private corporations now recognize that the environment is critical to sustainable development.

The meeting’s keynote speaker, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs, spoke on the connection between climate change and economic development. He discussed how record droughts have adversely affected the quality and quantity of crop yields. Sachs also talked about the pressures on natural resources and promoted the need for better public health access including empowering women to make family planning choices.  Sachs stated that gender equality is a vital part of the solution to mitigating poverty and fostering environmental sustainability. He also said that the private sector has a big role to play in producing new energy technology that will be part of achieving “sustainable cities.”

The need to link environmental stewardship to economic development was among the major themes discussed during the UNEP meeting. This includes acknowledging that we have a finite quantity of natural resources and should work on practices that help to sustain these resources for the long-term. Water, oil, coal, natural gas, phosphorous and rare earth elements have all been cited as vital resources that the world’s burgeoning population will have significantly reduced within the next 50-200 years.  Global oil and natural gas reserves would be depleted closer to the half century mark, according to information from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. In fact, UNEP, the Environmental Law Institute, the University of Tokyo, and McGill University last month released a book  that looks at how improving management of our dwindling natural resources may prove critical in deterring armed conflicts over these resources.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has a website, which outlines measures to help Americans manage resources more efficiently and reduce the amount of waste we produce. The US Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service works with farmers, landowners and nonprofits on techniques to help to make the most of their land and soil and to indentify natural resource concerns in accordance with improving management of the environment. This includes helping farmers and ranchers manage agriculture in times of extreme weather conditions, including hurricanes, droughts or flooding. From a fiscal perspective, continued investment in these efforts will also save money in the long-term by helping minimizing the amount spent (often billions of dollars) in managing response efforts to extreme weather and natural disaster events.

Another key massage from the UNEP meeting concerns the need to enhance scientific information sharing with policymakers at all levels, including how addressing these issues would benefit their constituents. UNEP also cites the need to further science communication through “new communication technologies” such as social media well as engaging more directly with the education community.

From an international perspective, the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs works to address many of the aforementioned issues. Among its many responsibilities, the bureau works to engage the international community on the issues of climate change, conservation of water and other natural resources, and advancing science and technological cooperation in global environmental decision-making. A continued effort by policymakers to prioritize environmental stewardship and sustainability both nationally and internationally will prove critical in improving management of our limited natural resources and addressing long-term fiscal and economic concerns.

Photo credit: Photologue_np


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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