Sally Jeanrenaud

Sally Jeanrenaud, The World Conservation Union

Sally Jeanrenaud is Coordinator of the Future of Sustainability Initiative for The World Conservation Union.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN)

The future of sustainability

An association of governments, state agencies and NGOs, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) recognized that it needs a new clarion call linking the human and environmental agenda. It has started a debate about the future of sustainability.

Under the title Re-thinking Environment and Development in the Twenty-first Century, IUCN brought together a group of renowned thinkers in Zurich in 2006 to start a process that could change the future actions of governments, state agencies and environmental NGOs through a statement indended to set the direction of the evolution of thinking and serve as a clarion call not just for the Union but for the whole environmental movement and society at large. The challenges are set out in a report stimulated by that Zurich meeting and written by William M. Adams, Professor of Conservation and Developmentin the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge, UK, entitled The Future of Sustainability (IUCN, May 2006, available on the website).

The discussions of humanity's progress toward sustainability revealed a significant paradox. On the one hand, it was recognized that there had been tremendous progress toward recognizing the importance of sustainability over the past six decades. The number of ministries of environment and the amount of environmental legislation have grown phenomenally over the years. Businesses, as well as ordinary people, are more aware of environmental issues than ever before. IUCN can claim to have played an important role in many of these achievements. On the other hand, as global analyses repeatedly show, the ecological footprint of human beings on vulnerable ecosystems and resources is increasing, and threatens to undermine nature's life support systems. Given the cultural, economic and political challenges of the 21st century, these discussions suggest, it is now time for the conservation and environment movement to rethink its tactics to achieve more rapid progress for sustainability.

Noting the spread of the «fossil fuel automobile-based throwaway consumer economy» to China and India, the report warns: «The earth is at a tipping point: business as usual is no longer an option.» At the same time, the need to create a «sustainable post fossil-fuel society and economy», as global trends specialist Lester Brown puts it, has never been more widely recognized.

Business has a central role in this vision of the future of sustainability, but the power of individual firms to change practices should not be overestimated: «Businesses cannot bring about the needed changes alone,» Prof. Adams notes. «They need governments to regulate, and financiers to reward moves towards sustainability. Ultimately, citizens need to provide the driving forces for new economies through their decisions as consumers. Their ability to balance long term human interests as citizens, parents and neighbors in making short-term consumer choices will have a significant impact on the feasibility of a transition to a new sustainable global economy.»

IUCN opened up a series of moderated web discussions with members via its site in 2006, involving 460 participants from over 70 countries. Their comments and the analysis make it clear that scientists and environmentalists must find a new ways of reaching out to new audiences and constituencies for more rapid progress toward sustainability.

New environmental solutions must counter the doom and gloom scenarios characteristic of earlier approaches.

The next generation of sustainable development thinking and practice will come from innovations in every field from ethics and economics to electronic communications. As the IUCN debates suggested, the changes will emerge:

Many of these innovations are already embodied in IUCN programmatic and project approaches and will be expanded further in our next program plan. We can expect a full debate on their implications when we gather in Barcelona, Spain, in 2008 as the Union's governing body of members, the World Conservation Congress.