By Rima-Maria Rahal
Statements which describe the importance of achieving sustainable consumption and production begin by highlighting that there is a necessity backed by hard facts to embrace this goal: the human population is growing rapidly, being projected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050 – and it needs to be fed. This goal of eradicating hunger has not been achieved even with the comparatively few 7 billion heads we number currently. At the same time we are overexploiting and destroying the majority of ecosystems that we rely today already, painting an even dimmer picture of our prospects of feeding the planet’s growing number of inhabitants. Usually, this is where the executive summaries, issues briefs and extended abstracts stop illuminating the relevance of coming up with sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Their message is clear: “We’re in trouble, we’re not using our resources well, and we need to make a collective change by meeting the challenges that loom ahead to ensure humanity.”
Wanted: Resource-efficient food production and new consumption behaviour
Subsequently, a number of specific demands for achieving sustainable production are presented. On a global scale, we need more resource-efficient and less pollution- intensive food production, long-term development in rural areas, sustainable agriculture and better land management. In addition, we need to re-think our consumption behaviour, provide socially inclusive nutrition scheme for every person on the planet, stop throwing away food and begin to eat what is produced sustainably. Also, we need to find a better way to handle waste, to reduce waste generally and to dispose and re-use waste responsibly. Clearly and without doubt, this is what the facts tell us.
And yet, humanity often proved that facts do not necessarily hold the power to sway our actions. Rather, we often veer off the course of what we ought to do. Let’s take the case of overexploiting ecosystems. An overexploited ecosystem will stop yielding useful products, subjecting to the community effort’s in substantive future losses. Despite this fact-based warning to refrain from overexploiting, the temptation still remains. People continue to overexploit their stretches of land. Why? Because their short-term gain from overexploitation dominates the prospect of a long-term gain. Because when you’re hungry, it makes sense to you to get all you can out of your soil, doesn’t matter what happens next, or the season after, or even later than that.
Why your half-eaten cookie does have an effect on world hunger
Let’s take the case of food wastes. Obviously, food that is direly needed elsewhere should not be piled in the trashcan, where it cannot provide nutrition to those who suffer in hunger. However, people still continue to shop more than the amount they actually consume. Why? Because at that moment, positive externality which derived from the availability of the goods dominates. Because it is difficult to see why throwing away a half-eaten cookie has something to do with ending world hunger. Because it is difficult for individual actors, or localized groups of agents to direct their behaviour at the higher level goal for humanity. Overall, many problems associated with unsustainable production, consumption and waste stem from individual actions.
Your role in the change
What remains is the question of how sustainable production and consumption systems can be addressed through a top-to-bottom decision making process, as embodied through the United Nation’s subscription to new Sustainable Development Goals. Is it possible for the individuals to change their behaviour based on the demands for change from a body as remote as the UN? Certainly, sustainable solutions in feeding the planet should be undertaken to demand that humanity and achieve such change. Perhaps, however, it will take a while for the SDGs to trickle down in national policy translation, local guidelines, social norms and, ultimately, individual behaviour.
So, it is up to individuals like you and me to motivate themselves to look beyond the gain they can achieve right now, and to take responsibility in thinking about greater goal that can achieve in the future. Small changes in individual consumption behaviour is not easy to achieve. Especially if we go one step further and take the lead in our communities, to inspire commitment in influencing individuals to change a sustainable way of consuming, building up pressure to encourage sustainable production, and dealing with responsible wastes in our surroundings. Enabling individual actors to lead positive change in their communities is one of the core challenges in the quest for consumption and production sustainability, and beyond. Therefore, it is not only up to the UN to put forth top-to-bottom solutions for sustainable consumption and production. Rather, it is up to us as individual actors to meet this policy change with changes in our own behaviour, and taking the lead to inspire others.
Long-term goals in food production
Alas, beyond inspiring a more sustainable consumption and production by utilizing our natural resources more efficiently, and responsibly, there is another challenge. With the ever-growing number of inhabitants in the planet, and the ever-growing necessity to provide better nutrition, it is not enough to simply use the resources we have. Rather, the ever-growing demand in consumption must be coincided with growth in production. Higher, faster, further, that is goal for growing crops and livestock. But to make crops and livestock more efficient, less resource intense, and more pollution-neutral, it must be balanced with the anticipation of long-term effects and respect for the nature of these crops and livestock. For instance, is it sustainable to use gene-manipulated crops or create methane-neutral cows whose greenhouse gas emissions are harvested in to a belted plastic container? Many questions of how sustainable solutions deal with consumption, production and waste remain unanswered.
To sum up, there are some obstacles in achieving sustainable consumption and production that calls our attention. It’s time for us to have immediate action to ensure a better implementation and mainstreaming of sustainable development in the UN system.
About our author:
Rima-Maria Rahal is one of the founders and project directors of be.boosted, a young initiative supporting future global leaders in building their skill sets with workshops conferences, and intense training courses leading up to the participation in large scale MUN conferences. Stay up to date with their input on the skills it takes to be a global leader by following them on http://facebook.be-boosted.org.
Passionate about the SDGs? Join the be.boosted MUN simulation on sustainable growth at http://join.be-boosted.org and discuss ways to achieve the unison of sustainable growth and issues like increasing production, improved access to consumable goods, and increasing the quality of living.