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On Sustainable Consumption and Production

Arab Hoballah, Team Leader, SWITCH-Asia SCP Facility, for European Union

Opinion 10 January 2014

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Economic and social development over the last century was achieved through intensive, inefficient and unsustainable use of our planet’s finite resources. These challenges are mounting as the world population is forecast to reach 9 billion by 2050, of which 70-80% will live in resource-intensive urban areas. Resource exploitation already exceeds the Earth’s biological capacity. The environment, the economy and humanity ultimately depend on the responsible management of natural resources.

Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) is at the core of sustainable development: Chapter 4 of Agenda 21 recognized in 1992 that “the major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries.” The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development and The Future We Want of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, both recognized that “changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption” is one of three “overarching objectives of, and essential requirements for, sustainable development.”

Sustainable consumption and production is the core of sustainable development

Promoting SCP turned out to be “easy to say but very difficult to implement”. First, it has not been easy to promote as it means different things to different people, depending on their level of development and lifestyles, and depending on the social, economic and political organization of countries and societies. Second, it is a complex approach as it touches on everyone’s values, cultures, behaviour and daily life. Third, it affects differently developed and developing countries that share the same planet in a system of common but differentiated responsibility.

All stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, business, civil society, are giving increasing attention to SCP, since it is now understood that to seriously deal with poverty alleviation and eradication, to efficiently tackle climate change challenges and to move towards a green economy, it is necessary to change as quickly as possible our unsustainable consumption and production patterns, by mainly increasing efficiency in resource use and by decoupling economic growth from resource use and environmental impacts.

A global platform for action via multi-stakeholder partnerships – the 10 Year Framework of Programs on SCP (known as 10YFP) – could become a key instrument of international cooperation and capacity-building to guide and support the achievement of a post 2015 development agenda, which will have to deliver sustainable development. The 10YFP could also guide our collective efforts to enhance resource efficiency, decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, and thus sustain the growing needs of the world’s human population.

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