Towards a Sustainable Future

Jonathan Lamberton explores Sustainable Development in Northern Ireland

‘Sustainable Development’ is a phrase that may not be used every day but it is one that is becoming increasingly important in today’s world.

It’s not just recycling or putting up solar panels, nor is it becoming a hippy or cycling to work. Sustainable Development is a much wider concept than this. The United Nations defines it as ‘development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

This is a huge concept to comprehend but in its simplest form it can be understood by thinking of a single apple tree on an island. If each year all the fruit is eaten and no seeds planted then eventually the tree will die of old age leaving no trees and more importantly, no apples for the people on the island. The same idea applies if the tree were to be cut down. However if a new tree were planted from the seeds then the islanders will always have apples.

Now try and imagine the same concept but in terms of the whole world and the vast array of resources it has. That is Sustainable Development.

It means that we can use the resources we have but must manage them so that our descendants can have access to the same resources we have.

In short Sustainable Development will stop us screwing up the world for our children.

It is important to think of sustainability not only in terms of money or the environment but to take a balanced approach between what are known as the ‘three pillars’, environmental, economic and social. No one is more important than the other.

It is easy to fall into the trap of only thinking about the environment but this should not be to the detriment of society or the economy. If the environment was the only aspect to be considered then great damage could be done to society and/or the economy. The same can be said for any pillar. In the past economics has been all important, to the detriment of the environment with climate change as the unwelcome proof.

What’s happening?
In May 2005 the Department of the Environment launched its Sustainable Development Strategy for Northern Ireland, suitably titled ‘First Steps Towards Sustainability’.

This strategy lays out a vision for Northern Ireland. It means that over the coming months and years, new policy will have to be sustainable. Secretary of State Peter Hain has already released £59 million to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. It means more grants and assistance for people changing to a renewable energy supply.

It will mean that we will become more economically secure, live in a better society whilst living less environmentally damaging lives. We will see more national parks and new forests, a reduced risk of flooding, a greater investment in job training, less crime, urban regeneration, improved public health and more renewable energy.