Why Equity and Sustainability Matter for Human Development | Helen Clark

17 Mar 2012

Person kneeling in desert Dried up river bed in Rayer Bazar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Inclusion and equity are indispensable for sustainable development. Photo: Mohammad Rakibul Hasan/UNDP

Since 1990, the baseline year against which we measure progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. The world is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school, and many fewer lives are being lost to hunger and disease. Overall people are healthier, wealthier, and better educated than ever before.

Yet aggregate figures disguise some inconvenient truths: that ending poverty is a vast and unfinished agenda; that inequality is increasing in many countries; and that our planet’s eco-systems are under considerable stress. 

The question which needs to be addressed is: What do we want our common future to look like?

Uppermost in our minds must be the importance of integrated decision-making which seeks to weave together the economic, social, and environmental strands of sustainable development.

Expanding access to sustainable energy offers a good example of how to advance all three pillars of sustainable development simultaneously. Living standards can rise, economic growth can be pursued, and environmental balance is maintained. Goals of equity and sustainability are advanced.

Inclusion and equity are indispensable requirements for sustainable development. Just as development cannot be only about economic growth, nor can sustainability be only about protecting the environment. Development must be people-centred and promote rights, opportunities, choices, and dignity.  Green growth must also be inclusive growth, generating social progress and contributing to eradicating poverty and achieving greater equality, as well as sustaining our natural environment.

Our common future could be grounded in equitable and sustainable human development, with the explicit goal of expanding people’s freedoms and choices without compromising those of generations to come. Let us hope that the opportunity to do that is seized by world leaders when they convene in Rio de Janeiro in June.

Tell us: What do you want our common future to look like?

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