Dr Adam Hejnowicz, University of York
Sustainable Development and its relative Sustainability, concepts which have a rich history of appeal and animosity, have nevertheless become the dominant conversation framing environment-development policy in recent decades.
The most recent version of Sustainable Development adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2012 reads as follows:
“We also reaffirm the need to achieve sustainable development by: promoting sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living; fostering equitable social development and inclusion; and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that support inter alia economic, social and human development while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration and restoration and resilience in the face of new and merging challenges.”
To say that we live in a complex world is, in a very general sense, rather banal and uninteresting being neither particularly illuminating nor especially profound. But, scratch beneath the surface, and an acknowledgement of that complexity can be revelatory.
In a complex world the choices and decisions we make, and the consequences that result from the actions taken in response to those decisions, do not hold clear and predictable outcomes. This is especially true where the context and conditions in which we live, and in which those decisions are made, frequently and rapidly change. The recent changes in the political circumstances of the UK and USA are good examples.
This is the world, not just of reality, but also of policy. If we fail to recognise these realities then the policies we develop to deal with the global challenges we face will be poor and, at best, so will the outcomes of those policies. At worst, the results of poorly devised and implemented policies could prove catastrophic to both our future wellbeing and the sustainability of the Earth System.
Stuart Astill, IOD Parc - From 'OpenDemocracy.Net' 2nd November 2016
What it is, what it’s not
Network analysis is the method of the future. That is not only – certainly not primarily – because we are ever more connected in some superficial social-media driven internet sort of way. All of that may be fascinating (and certainly can be analysed using network analysis), but it is not fundamental to our existence as humans – we existed before Facebook, we will exist after it is gone.
Entirely fundamental though are the complex linkages between humans, problems and resources. And those linkages are just as important as the humans, problems and resources themselves. Analysing the links, not just the elements in isolation, requires network analysis.
In environmental, human and, therefore, long-run economic terms the models we use to describe the world currently find false optimal flight-paths towards unsustainable monolithic solutions. And don’t forget what an important and multi-faceted word unsustainable is – not just environmental concerns, but also the physical and mental health of populations, poverty and income divergence, political and societal fractures.