Regional Sustainable Development, Citizens And Strategy
Posted by Hilary
Sustainable development is a challenge for us all. If we don’t engage everyone, future generations will soon begin to pay for our neglect. For this reason, there are in the UK Sustainable Development bodies with national, regional and more local focuses. But what should these groups actually do? Here are some of the ideas which I as one individual have thought about as a member of a sustainable development group with a regional remit.
Sustainability As If People Mattered
What are the regional Sustainable Development (SD) bodies in the UK for? Is their role to provide ‘advice’ to politicians and state-employed policy-makers at the regional level? Is it to lead by example and implement programmes of work? Is it to be a talking shop between people representing different ‘stakeholding’ interests in SD? Is it something else altogether? Or is it all of these things?
Meaning and leadership in regional Sustainable Development
My personal view is that good regional approaches to SD are all these things.
Regions in the UK are all of a size (between 5 and 10 million people) where well-crafted action for sustainable development can have meaningful impacts. Regional SD groups should therefore:
* work together, with each other and with others, on the basis of mutual confidence and shared understandings – both of the factors shaping the region’s physical and socio-economic contexts, and of the perspectives of all partners;
* recognise that everyone is a stakeholder in this difficult challenge, not just those who are formally represented at the regional level;
* understand that SD is different from almost all other processes in that what happens now and in the near future cannot be revisited on the same basis and revised at some point later on: SD is globally shaped and uni-dimensional in respect of time;
* also understand that ‘good enough’ and actually deliverable has some chance of success, whilst ‘beyond any scientific doubt’ but not yet actionable is of very limited value in this period of rapid eco- and socio-economic change;
* offer visible and clear thought leadership to ‘people on the street’, as well as more formal and conventional strategic advice to those who formulate regional policy;
* recognise that this is real life; our current insights into the challenges of SD are far from perfect. Nurturing an ethos of shared responsibility in all who live and work in a region is however critical, right now.
Supporting regional approaches to sustainable development
The UK government has been working with the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), Defra and others to promote regional SD. To this end, there does now seem to be a modest level of financial support.
It is nonetheless puzzling that these national bodies apparently imagine that each regional SD group can identify without further effort what the specific or even unique challenges for their region are. Yet, whilst this can be done for matters such as flood risk, the issues are far less obvious in many other respects. Not many policy makers and politicians at the local level, for instance, are even aware of what the risks might be.
Much work still needs to be done to bring together the relevant social, economic and environmental profiles for each region of the UK, and to encourage regional SD protagonists to share pro-actively their assessments and responses to these profiles. Just as UK regional strategies in science remain weak, so do those for SD.
Hearts and minds
There is a compelling case for regional SD bodies to recognise that ‘advice’ alone is not enough – especially in a time of flux for overall regional development policies, even before we come to the ultimately much more pressing matters of global warming, diminishing bio-diversity, economic difficulties (domestic and global) and the general well-being of current and future citizens.
Regional SD approaches are about leading from the front (no-one else has that specific focus and remit…). They must recognise the stakeholding of every person in their region, and find ways to reach them all. This is about encouraging dialogue, sharing good practice, aligning policy and developing the ideas which will help us all to face the future.
To achieve this requires not only analysis of the current regional state of play, but also commitment to help change the cultural climate as well as the environmental one.
Here is one challenge which a rational-legal or scientific approach alone simply cannot resolve.
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