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After 25 years of trying, why arenít we environmentally sustainable yet?

Michael Howes writes in The Conversation (3.4.17) asking why, after decades of international agreements, planners, developers and regulators are still damaging the environment. The author points to new research, looking at dozens of unsuccessful policies, which uncovers the basic elements of failure.

'In 1992, more than 170 countries came together at the Rio Earth Summit and agreed to pursue sustainable development, protect biological diversity, prevent dangerous interference with climate systems, and conserve forests. But, 25 years later, the natural systems on which humanity relies continue to be degraded.

'So why hasn’t the world become much more environmentally sustainable despite decades of international agreements, national policies, state laws and local plans? This is the question that a team of researchers and I have tried to answer in a recent article.

'We reviewed 94 studies of how sustainability policies had failed across every continent. These included case studies from both developed and developing countries, and ranged in scope from international to local initiatives.

'... So what’s going wrong with sustainability initiatives? We found that three types of failure kept recurring: economic, political and communication.

'... These types of failure are mutually reinforcing. Poor communication of the benefits of sustainable development creates the belief that it always costs jobs and money. Businesses and communities then pressure politicians to avoid or water down environmentally friendly legislation.

'Ultimately, this represents a failure to convince people that sustainable development can supply “win-win” scenarios. As a result, decision-makers are stuck in the jobs-versus-environment mindset.'

 

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