Sustainability involves ordinary folk, not just experts

Climate change is only one aspect of sustainable development.

While the importance of ensuring the non-depletion of natural resources should not be diminished, confining societal needs to merely environmental ones misses the point (What does sustainable development mean for S'pore?; May 22).

The commentary also fails to attribute the definition of sustainable development - the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own - to a seminal report known as the Report Of The World Commission On Environment And Development: Our Common Future, published in 1987 by the Brundtland Commission.

This definition considers "needs" in a much broader sense, from food security and poverty eradication to ring-fencing important natural assets and ensuring social equity and justice.

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Sustainable development thus involves managing the trade-offs between economic, social, and environmental dimensions.

This is also why the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encompasses 17 Sustainable Development Goals concerning all three dimensions.

An example of a trade-off in Singapore's context is that of land reclamation. How should we balance our need for economic growth with that of protecting our environmental heritage?

According to Singapore's submission to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2015, land reclamation has "decreased coral reef cover by 60 per cent". It is also known that 95 per cent of the country's mangrove habitats have been eliminated.

Such issues, therefore, cannot be viewed within a vacuum or be confined only to environmental experts or activists - ordinary people can and must play a part.

However, if Singaporeans are called upon to consider the needs of future generations, we must also be aware of and actively discuss the trade-offs.

Cultivating a citizenry that is actively engaged in considering the needs of not just their own, but also of others - present and future - can be what ensures that we remain resilient, flexible, and adaptable in the decades to come.

Jacqueline Liu Xiuwei (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline 'Sustainability involves ordinary folk, not just experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe