Different societies have their distinctive view of nature, society, human and history. While sustainability is a global issue requiring bilateral and multilateral cooperation the basic framework of sustainable development must embrace the distinctive social and cultural setting, with special attention to the local economic and social conditions (for example, poverty, inequality and inefficient use of resources).
As part of its efforts to promote informed debates on sustainable development, UNU-IAS, in collaboration with Japan’s Millennium Sustainability Project, hosted a roundtable discussion on the theme of “Harmonization of Modern Development and Traditional Cultures” last 26 October 2006. The ‘Millennial Sustainability Studies Project’ – part of the New Research Initiatives in Humanities and Social Sciences, funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) – dovetails with UNU-IAS efforts to facilitate dialogue between countries, international organizations, industry, research institutions, NGOs and the wider civil society.
The roundtable featured the following experts:
- Prof. Angheluta Vadineanu - Director, Department of Systems Ecology and Sustainability, University of Bucharest;
- Prof. Marian Preda – Executive Director, European Study Centre for Social Policy and Employment, University of Bucharest, Romania;
- Prof. Muhammad Khalifa Hassan - Vice-President, The International Islamic University, Islamabad; and
- Dr. Balakrishna Pisupati - Research Fellow, UNU-IAS Biodiplomacy Initiative.
Sustainability of social-ecological systems: conceptual and analytical frameworks developed and promoted at the University of Bucharest
The University of Bucharest has developed a conceptual framework of sustainability which comes from the broad and integrated theory of systems ecology which emerged in the 1990s. Social and cultural capital and their interaction with economic systems and natural capital (stock, resources and services) are key components in the proposed sustainability analytical framework. Cultural capital is recognized as influential in the management of natural resources for sustainable development. This influence is assessed in three areas:
1) management objectives;
2) efficiency in using natural capital; and
The analytical and operational framework presented by Dr. Vadineanu and promoted by the University of Bucharest accounts for the relationships between:
- research and monitoring infrastructure;
- information system (core of Decision Support System) and
- adaptive management for co-development (sustainability) of socio-ecological systems.
Prof. Marian Preda
Overlapping "Romania(s)” in transition
Prof. Preda’s presentation focused on socio-economic sustainability in Romania. He contended that there are different realities overlapping in Romania or, many overlapping “Romanias”:
- there is a developed Romania and an underdeveloped one;
- there is a rural and an urban Romania;
- there is an economically active and a socially dependent Romania.
Inside the political homogeneity of Romania there is a huge diversity and a lack of coherence in social and demographic policies that create risks at regional and local levels. Starting from the National Strategy for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Prof. Preda analyzed various indicators at sub-national levels. He noted that national level sustainability should be approached holistically where development strategies are contextual and focused.
Some of the most important differences in Romania are revealed by social and development indicators at sub-national level in Romania. In brief, Prof. Preda found that most of the social problems are concentrated in the regions in the east (Moldova) and south (Oltenia), while the regions in the west and north-west, plus Bucharest and some counties in the sub-mountainous areas are characterized by more positive values. For example, for rural-urban disparities related to education: in rural areas the population percentage with an educational background no better than secondary education (8th grade) is 56% whereas in urban areas it is 12%. In Romania about 20% of the population are salary earners supporting the other 80% by paying taxes, and social security etc.
Romania has a potential demographic disequilibrium which will create consecutive disequilibrium at economic and social levels – such as in the labor market, pension provision, education, health social assistance, and public policy.
Prof. Preda concluded that different realities in Romania cannot be ignored and that better efforts should be concentrated on the pockets of poverty and underdevelopment. He noted that the indicator values (averages or labels) generally used for large numbers of people do not truly reflect the differences. If there are indicators for regions, communities or social groups, there would be more informed arguments for targeting resources and for reducing disparities and inequities. Improving social conditions and social indicators for the weakest parts of Romania will pave the way towards the sustainable development of Romania.
Prof. Muhammad Khalifa Hassan
Religion, science, environment and sustainable development in Islamic tradition
Prof. Khalifa Hassan analyzed the question of what religion can contribute to environmental protection. He argued that people usually abide by their religious and ethical laws more closely than state laws. One of the main features of Islam is moderation - keeping a balance between the material and spiritual. Thus this understanding of moderation has a direct impact on the environment. Prof. Hassan noted that there is an old Aramaic word for sustainability, thus the very concept is embedded in Islamic culture.
Protection of nature is viewed as an ethical and religions imperative in Islam and in all Egyptian universities (hence, the existence of an office of Vice president of Environment). One-third of all student activities are related to environment, where students work with communities in environmental conservation.
Dr. Balakrishna Pisupati
Learning to be responsible: challenges to link environment and development
Dr. Pisupati began his presentation by looking at the way societies evolved where man moved from hunter-gatherers to modern urban-dwellers. He noted that in the past, livelihoods were centered on better natural environments whereas today man is making biodiversity adapt to his needs, greed and consumer habits. The questions of selective breeding, carrying capacity, regulation of climate have arisen due to anthropogenic pressures on the natural environment and its services. The question of climate change (versus biodiversity conservation, for example) has perhaps received disproportionate response as disasters result in not only a loss of human life but tremendous economic damage. Increasingly in the new environment of consumerism, globalization and inter-dependence there are the compelling concepts of equity and ethics. These can be seen in the debates on trade, development and the environment, which include the following issues:
- Food production for export of local markets;
- Use of subsidies and tariffs for biodiversity conservation;
- Social responsibility;
- Consumer choice;
- Intellectual property, etc.
The social dimensions of environment are somewhat poorly understood, however there are policy options which can respond to the challenges. Social responsibility, economic insight, concerted and synergized government responses, and access to choices can create a better response to the sustainability challenge. Though not simple in application – awareness, education, communication and creation of opportunities should be entwined with responses to human and national development.
Most of UNU-IAS’ work focuses on sustainable development with various programmes addressing different aspects of the issue. For example, the Sustainable Development Governance Programme aims to identify and elaborate concrete and realistic steps that might be taken to strengthen the existing institutional structures supporting sustainable development. The Biodiplomacy Programme, on the other hand analyzes the links between biological and genetic resources and human, sovereign and cultural rights.