Bankok (Thailand) Post  [Printer-friendly version]
November 19, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "Sustainability presupposes the simultaneous
application of three fundamental principles: the precautionary
principle, adopting a preventive rather than remedial approach; the
principle of solidarity between all peoples of the world and between
the present generations and those to come; and the principle of
people participation in decision-making."]

By Ioan Voicu

Sustainability is a hot and controversial topic. We are not living in
times of real sustainable development. More than one-fourth of
humankind suffers from chronic poverty. Hunger, military conflicts,
terrorism, human-rights abuses, environmental degradation and climate
change, natural disasters and pandemics all threaten human dignity and
the very survival of mankind.

The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002)
concluded by consensus that development is sustainable only if future
generations inherit a quality of environment at least equal to that
inherited by their predecessors. It presupposes the simultaneous
application of three fundamental principles: the precautionary
principle, adopting a preventive rather than remedial approach; the
principle of solidarity between all peoples of the world and between
the present generations and those to come; and the principle of people
participation in decision-making.

While still an ambiguous concept, sustainability is recognised as a
way of life that meets the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This
generous objective cannot be implemented without adequate education.

Therefore, the period from 2005-2014 was proclaimed by the United
Nations as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD),
for which Unesco is the lead agency. ESD is a vision of education that
seeks to empower people to assume responsibility for creating a
sustainable future. There are four major thrusts: improving basic
education; reorienting existing education to address sustainable
development; developing public understanding and awareness; and
providing training for all sectors of society, including business,
industry, and governments. There are different stakeholders in this
complex process: governments and intergovernmental bodies, mass media,
civil society and non-governmental organizations, the private sector
and formal education institutions. A primary objective of the UN
Decade of ESD is to facilitate the attainment of the Millennium
Development Goals.

Three pillars

Sustainable development is an omnibus concept that attempts to bridge
the divide between economic growth and environmental protection, while
taking into account other issues traditionally associated with
development. Unfortunately, it is often misinterpreted as focusing
exclusively on environmental aspects. In reality, it encompasses three
areas: economic, environmental and social. The UN 2005 World Summit
Outcome Document refers to these areas as "interdependent and mutually
reinforcing pillars" of sustainable development. However, more
clarifications are needed.

A scientific conference will be convened in Germany in May 2007 to
deal with all areas which are important for sustainable development.
The catalogue of issues includes energy, water, soil, air,
biodiversity, natural and man-made resources, agriculture, forests,
health, climate and global change, production and consumption,
environmental technologies, transport, buildings, regional and urban
development, cultural heritage, employment, economic, social and
cultural changes and change agents, as well as indicators.

Promoting sustainability is building the future. The originality of
the process is that the foundations and the walls have to be
constructed at the same time. All states have to accept this
specificity and assimilate the truth that real change is the only
productive response to the global crisis of sustainability. Using the
tools of multilateral diplomacy, the Group of 77 (in fact, 131
countries , including Thailand) and China called again on developed
countries at the current 61st session of the UN General Assembly to
cooperate with countries of the South in research and development, in
order to facilitate the transfer of appropriate and advanced
technology, in particular environmentally sound technology. From this
perspective, the work programme must exhibit not only predictability,
but flexibility, to reflect the true nature of the relationships
between issues and relevant means of implementation. It should
highlight the various responsibilities of the different actors and
their levels of involvement in the implementation process. While the
primary focus remains at the national level, it must be recalled that
the Johannesburg Declaration and the Plan of Implementation adopted in
2002 by the World Summit on Sustainable Development emphasized clear
commitments to multilateralism and the need for strong support from
the entire international community.

For instance, the serious problems posed by natural disasters are of
crucial importance to all 192 UN Member States, and in particular to
developing countries. The adverse consequences on the affected
populations are long lasting. It is, therefore, important to examine
the measures that need to be taken to improve the capacity of affected
nations to respond to disasters and to increase the assistance
provided to them.

The Kyoto Protocol, which imposes in its first phase emissions
reduction targets on more than 30 industrialised countries, has in
fact not been ratified by all large developed nations. Countries of
the North have to step up their efforts to ensure its effective
implementation. A stronger commitment to the requirements of the
protocol is a major objective to be promoted by educators the world

A visionary approach

The current debates in Thailand about "sufficiency economy" are
topical, inspiring and instructive from the educational perspective.
The presentation of the United Nations Development Programmes
Inaugural Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award to His Majesty
King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his
accession to the throne is indicative of the importance of His
Majesty's philosophy to the entire world.

In presenting the award, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "His
Majesty's sufficiency economy philosophy _ emphasising moderation,
responsible consumption, and resilience to external shocks _ is of
great relevance to communities everywhere during these times of rapid
globalisation. The philosophy's middle path approach strongly
reinforces the United Nations' own advocacy of a people-centred and
sustainable path towards human development. His Majesty's development
agenda and visionary thinking are an inspiration to his subjects, and
to people everywhere."

Kofi Annan also emphasised that His Majesty's visionary thinking has
helped shape the global development dialogue.

The opinions expressed in Thailand show that the application of
sufficiency economy is not fixed, but flexible, to allow it to respond
to globalisation. But whatever the application, knowledge and morality
must be present. Sufficiency means having enough, being reasonable and
having the capacity to withstand internal and external changes. The
sufficiency economy is not directed against the liberal market
economy. On the contrary, it is meant to help it to work more
effectively by ensuring that its mechanisms are not distorted, but are
honest and transparent. In its practical manifestations, sufficiency
economy has three components: moderation; wisdom or insight; and the
need for built-in resilience against potential internal and external

Education comes energetically into the picture, as the art of making
people ethical and to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and
responsible conduct. All members of society need to develop their
commitment to the importance of knowledge, integrity and honesty, and
to conduct their lives in conformity with the fundamental values of
perseverance, toleration and wisdom, so that the country has the
capacity to cope with the rapid and widespread transformations.

In Thai commentaries on the matter it is correctly emphasised that
sufficiency economy is an offshoot of Buddhist philosophy rather than
a new paradigm based on economic equations or theory. But it is also
cogently acknowledged that its application to market economy is
similar to the UN concept of building a sustainable economy, which
should give tangibility to the values of solidarity and respect for
nature. The main idea is to add quality to the whole development
process and include into it better risk management and good

The irreversible process of globalisation must be successfully faced
at the universal level. To that end, all parties, including developing
countries, should emerge stronger and be able to avoid marginalisation
and reach win-win situations in their collective struggle for
sustainable progress and prosperity. This is an imperative task which
no country can ignore today, during an era of planetary
vulnerabilities, discontinuities and perplexities.

Dr Ioan Voicu is Visiting Professor at Assumption University of
Thailand in Bangkok.

Copyright Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2006