Connecting the Dots
SUSTAINABLE SOCIETIES AND THE ROLE OF RESPONSIVE CITIZENS
“We have to be prepared to make major changes...
in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organization, and our political life,”
(Ban Ki-moon, Davos,Switzerland, 28/01/2011)
The remarks of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he addressed business leaders in Davos, Switerland, in January this year. Mr. Ban talked of “tearing down the walls between the development agenda and the climate agenda.” Most importantly, he asked his audience to “connect the dots” between climate change, water, energy and food; and “recover that sense of living harmoniously for our economies and our societies.”
What Makes Sustainable Societies?
But what does creating sustainable development mean? What makes sustainable societies? Is it just about switching to efficient light bulbs, recycling waste and drinking organic or fair trade coffee? Or is it more than that?
We know that sustainable development is about “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Balanced development lifts people out of poverty, while protecting the natural systems that support economic growth.
We must Connect the Dots!
But as we look forward to Rio+20 – and also look back on decades of stalemate since the original ‘Earth Summit’ – we all know it’s not a simple task. We must connect the dots between protecting the planet and giving people a chance for a better life. We need to ensure access to clean water for all while at the same time saving water. We must stimulate global economic growth while building inclusive political systems for the benefit of all the people on Earth.
The “change” Ban Ki-moon spoke of in Davos includes a change in both thinking and action on the part of individual citizens wherever they may be. And as we continue to see in North Africa and the Middle East, social change starts on the streets. It comes from responsive citizens, who think outside the box and take action to make change happen. By taking action to ensure sustainable development, even the most marginalized citizens can become agents for change, and active participants in deciding their own futures.
Sustainable Development = Individual and Collective Action
Sustainable development is about individual and collective action. It’s about empowering people to get involved and when civic engagement is harnessed to its full potential, it is a genuine force for social cohesion and sustainable societies. It’s not just the United Nations and Governments around the world that are responsible for acheving the Millennium Development Goals alone, ordinary citizens too must play their part in making this possible and popular mobilization does make a big difference.
This is the job of NGOs and civil society: to connect the dots between sustainable development and the role of responsive citizens and engage communities to not only respond to the challenge of building a green economy but to unite around the goal of building truly sustainable societies.
Commit! Encourage! Volunteer!
Encouraging this kind of voluntary action is a core value of those organizations working for sustainable development. They inspire, engage, and build on the capacity of people to create change from the grassroots level upward. As their mandates evolve, this spirit grows ever stronger.
Citizens gain a sense of well-being through their personal choices, and the choice to stand up, step forward and volunteer is a powerful one. One individual changing his/or her thinking or lifestyle makes a small difference. But when individual action becomes a collective force then you can expect the walls between the development and environmental agendas to crumble. The path to true sustainability is rooted in the ability of citizens and organizations to respond to the call to action.
We call on all citizens and volunteer organizations everywhere to respond, commit, encourage and volunteer so each of us can do our part to build a sustainable future.