Sustainable Consumption and Production: the heartbeat of Sustainable Development

11 June 2014, By Stefan R. Knights, UNEP-TUNZA Youth Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean

The overarching theme of the first session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is “Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, including sustainable consumption and production”. Given the theme, it is clear that a special focus will be on sustainable consumption and production (SCP).

SCP is not a new concept, but one which came under global focus at a number of important fora such as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992), World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002) and recently at the Rio +20 Conference. SCP is a universal concern and is quintessentially a fundamental requirement for sustainable development in a world of limited resources. If the world is to truly achieve sustainable development, that is, development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, it is critical that the present generation use goods and services in a sustainable manner to meet our basic needs and bring a better quality of life, while at the same time minimizing the use of natural resources, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants in order to avoid jeopardizing the needs of future generations.

Perhaps, the best example of the dysfunction of our production and consumption patterns is the issue of food loss and waste. UNEP and WWF have conducted research which shows that the amount of food that is loss or wasted in producing or consuming food in the developed countries such as the USA and UK is sometimes more than or equal to the total net food production in the poorer countries and as such, would be sufficient to feed millions of undernourished people around the world. There are several other examples of the dysfunction of our production and consumption patterns, for example the sale and disposal of electronics and technology.

It is, however, important to understand that SCP is not necessarily about consuming, or producing, less products. But it is about consuming and producing products more efficiently so as to create fewer dangers to our health and environment. For example, the concept of SCP would embrace initiatives that would get shoppers to stop using plastic bags and promote the use of reusable bags, in light of the environmental challenges that plastic creates.

The decision by UNEP to mainstream SCP within the development agenda is very laudable. As a youth, I am very happy to see this complex concept, SCP, being given special focus because it is a cross-cutting issue which has an effect on, amongst other things, food, health, ecosystems, economic growth and industrialization. More empirical research will be required in this area, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. Further, the developed countries will need to lead the way in promoting the shift to SCP patterns, for example, by taking bold steps to transfer technology (including training and investment) to developing countries to make the shift to SCP patterns if we are to truly achieve sustainable development.

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