Shaping the future we want

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Learning Curve: Perspective
New Sunday Times - 23-11-2014

THE 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which aimed at a sustainable 21st century for the global community, described the future as follows: “The well-being of humanity is inextricably linked to the living environment that sustains us. Our ocean makes Earth habitable for people, by providing and regulating the climate, weather, oxygen, food, jobs and many ecosystem services. Yet our ocean and its resources are deteriorating and depleting. Today our ocean depends on us, as we depend on the ocean.

“Blue-green economies and societies are important means to achieve sustainable development for the well-being of people while respecting the environment. It is now recognised that future economic development must be linked to both environmental and social pillars. An in-depth rethinking of development in all its dimensions is imperative.”

Last year, the Report of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on Post-2015 Development Agenda — Global Impact by 2030 — co-chaired by then Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and British Prime Minister David Cameron — described the future as: “A world where extreme poverty has been eradicated and where the building blocks for sustained prosperity are in place. A world where no one has been left behind, where economies are transformed, and where transparent and representative by governments are in charge. A world of peace where sustainable development is the overarching goal. A world with a new spirit of cooperation and partnership.”

Interestingly, the report forecasted potential impact on the world by 2030 which includes:

— 1.2 billion fewer people hungry and in extreme poverty

— 100 million more children who would otherwise have died before they were 5

— 4.4 million more women who would otherwise have died during pregnancy or childbirth

— 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year saved from going to waste

— 470 million more workers with good jobs and livelihoods

— 200 million more young people employed with the skills they need to get good work

— 1.2 billion more people with electricity supply

— 190 to 240 million hectares more of forest cover

— US$30 trillion (RM90 trillion) spent by governments worldwide transparently accounted for

— 220 million fewer people who suffer crippling effects of natural disasters

— People everywhere participating in decision-making and holding officials accountable

These are, by any measure, daunting targets for the global community to meet in the next 15 years. Indeed, early this month at the launch of the Unesco World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (themed Learning Today for a Sustainable Future) in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan , the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called for sustainability to be “built into everything we do” and suggested that education was “the starting point” for a successful and sustainable future.

In fact two months ago in New York, he underpinned the urgency of the matter when he said: “There is no Plan B because there is no Planet B."

This is echoed by the Unesco director general Irina Bokova who reckoned that to achieve sustainable development, technology, political regulations and financial incentives will not suffice — we need to change the way we think and act as individuals and societies. “This is the aim of education for sustainable development,” she added.

What is apparent in all these statements is the recognition that the protection of the world is no longer a matter of choice. There is urgent need for common and collective actions by deeply understanding the issues and seeking sustainable solutions that can be applied across humanity through education for sustainable development.

The role of education and research must be oriented to prepare the citizens of the world, especially youth as truly global citizens who can make a difference to a sustainable future. This is instrumental in transforming and streamlining thought processes, especially at the level of higher education and research to fulfil global and national post-2015 development targets as enumerated above.

By collaborating closely in the form of a quadruple helix platform for governments, the academia, industries as well as civil societies to work together, there is a better chance to arrive at a formula based on the Global Action Programme that could shape the future that we want.