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Is sustainable development a luxury we cannot afford?

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jonathan
Wednesday, 9 May, 2012

"The great challenges we all face are very clear: poverty eating away at our social fabric; our dwindling ecosystems; the well-documented threat of climate change... And yet so many of our leaders tend to put these challenges right at the bottom of their agendas." How can we reconcile the demand for economic growth with a fairer and more sustainable future? Archbishop Desmond Tutu asks the Youngers – who come from Sweden, Brazil, Nigeria and China – how they tackle the idea that progressive action on sustainable development is something only wealthy countries can afford.

My dear friends,

It gives me great pleasure to join you in this discussion – you seem to be a wonderful bunch; inspiring young people who have all given so much already to protect our environment, to promote social justice and to build fairer societies.

The great challenges we all face are very clear: poverty eating away at our social fabric; our dwindling ecosystems; the well-documented threat of climate change. And yet so many of our leaders – in rich and poor countries alike – tend to put these challenges right at the bottom of their agendas, as if tackling climate change and social injustice were some sort of luxury!

My question, really, is why is it that our leaders do not think more like you?

It seems that our leaders are fluent in the language of crisis. But what is frustrating is that they often focus solely on short-term solutions. And yet, addressing the long-term issues by committing to fairness, prosperity and sustainability is precisely what would help to tackle today’s crises.

“It seems that our leaders are fluent in the language of crisis.”

Rather than seeing it as a burden, let’s take this long-term perspective as an amazing opportunity. Less affluent countries have an opportunity to embrace fairer, better, more sustainable paths to prosperity. Richer countries, particularly given their present crisis of faith in the sole pursuit of growth, have an opportunity to rethink their definition of human well-being.

But I defer to you bright young people for the next steps from here!

Sara – Sweden has done much to advance sustainable development, and is also a land of plenty. What is your reply to those who argue that you’ve reached a level of development which our entire planet simply could not afford?

Esther – some people in your country, Nigeria, may be tempted to dismiss calls for a sustainable future when their immediate concern is to be able to feed and educate their children. Is this the case, in your experience?

Marvin and Pedro – the world is in awe of China and Brazil's booming economies. In many ways, your countries embody the danger and opportunity of this moment in our history, for humanity and our planet. So when you see such deep change taking place at home, how do you think it can be reconciled with a fairer and more sustainable future?

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