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In the early 1990s the ‘environmental agenda’ bug bit the entire globe -from the western world, trickling down to the rest of the global society. At first, getting the attention of those in authority to believe this ‘concept’ and to start considering ways to mitigate the specific human activities that have become the fundamental reason why the terms ‘Global Warming and Climate Change’ were birthed , was close to none existent. Politicians did not budge until serious environmental protests- supported by detailed Scientific Evidence – were spreading like wild fire and could no longer be ignored. From then on, there has been a realization of the necessity of governance in terms of environmental related development, and the achievement of Sustainable Development is the main course at this dinner table. “Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance” – Ban Ki-moon.
Sustainable development is merely just finding that sweet balance between the 3 powerhouses, environment, economy and societal aspect of the growing world and its people. Governance that comprises of different actors (from government, politicians, manufacturers, private sector to Non-government organizations and the general civil society) at different scales (International, National, Local and community outlooks) is the boat being boarded to get the world to this destination.
How is it going? There has been some improvement in this regard, but things could be better and here’s why: Let me begin by saying that the truth of the matter is, sustainable development and various governance framework are a complex concept to clearly define and inter-link to one another, so bear with me. I’ll start by stating the obvious truth that has somewhat become a cliché. The quality of political institutions, the economy and corruption are commonly related and existent in most if not all governance structures. In South Africa, Budgets are allocated in various departments and annually, they are either mismanaged or unaccounted for. People in power are constantly pushing personal agendas and gain, directly and indirectly so; without considering the holistic effects of their actions. The power dynamics are very blurry and even though no one holds a monopoly of power, the balance scale tends to tip much lower on one side compared to the other. Power is any form of influence exercised and the diffusion of power is one governance framework that aims at ensuring that decision making is influenced by various actors. Authoritative agencies are thus fragmented and vertically layered (local, national to global) and horizontally layered (departments, ministries within the national context), making this concept all the more complex. As fragmented as it is, some pebbles are bigger than others; power distribution is not exactly equal and important voices are shunned.
Coastal Zones are heavily exploited and there is an increase in population migration to such areas, and there is a reason. The estimated economic benefit of such a resource in South Africa is R57 billion- contributing to 35% of its annual GDP (Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts). The need for consumption and the long-term supply of such a resource are conflicting objectives. Nonetheless, first priority is ensuring that all marine life is preserved and all resources are sustainable. This has reflected in the National Wide Coastal Policy -that restricts people from fishing without a license, fishing an x amount of fish and restricting access to certain coastal planes -as way of mitigating Marine life depletion and human abuse (Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts). It is clear that this is framework resulting from governance.
Globally, Biodiversity is maintained. Nationally, the Marine resource is preserved, securing a continual economic benefits. Locally, benefits for local fishery companies /industries are still intact. But ‘uncivilised’ rural communities living in the coast of KZN, as I can imagine, are left out. Let us conceptualize a house. We must consider its layout, textures, design and all the essentials required for it to be a full functional house that offers comfortability, security and even leisure. From the above example, the exercise of power was not conceptualized. The local community scale was not considered. People living in coastal rural areas depend on fishing as a form of livelihood. Majority of them do not have fishing licenses to continue to do that when such policies are implemented. Some Zulu tribes also partake in fishing ‘experiences’ as a cultural rite of passage for young men in their community. This is Environmental Injustice! People’s cultural practices and source of food and income are at the mercy of resoling Environmental Issues; and this is just one of the many example that highlight the need to expand governance way further within various grassroots frameworks. Now we ask who authorized such a policy without considering the many socio-dynamics of a complex society. Who was meant to benefit? The now political strategy is to be seen as ‘green’ disregarding the demographic aspect when engaging environmental planning, policy and implementations.
“The potential in many environmental issues is that if you undertake corrective action without appropriate understanding of the problem, then you wind up doing more harm than good.” – Hugh Ross
Another Aspect of it all…As the global community more so, the Global South – is transitioning from just dealing with Environmental issues to a socio-economic focus. It is inevitable that complexity is always the order of the day and as a result, power distribution is restricted as a method of managing conflict that might hinder progress due to many actors having a voice. This narrows the knowledge needed to make societal development plans that are beneficial for everyone and not just the public and/or private authoritative figures; and the focus on ensuring the functionality of governance regimes in this regard, sways the focus away from the fundamental socio-environmental- economic issues that have to yet be discussed. Scalar Politics should not be avoided. Conflict and constructive arguing have the potential to unravel Socio technical systems in depth, resulting in holistic approaches when it comes to Sustainable Development.
Cities are seen as crucial nodes initiating and maintaining sustainable development (Patel, 2018); and they play a vital role in that regard. A holistic approach is crucial. The focus should neither be a combination of two or just one scale (in Cape Town’s case, a focus on the local and sub-local development), but it should encompass the international and national aspect. The city of Cape Town thrives in this regard and the effects are somewhat ‘positive’ (there is tangible progress compared to other cities/ areas within South Africa and Africa alike. Their environmental agenda is influenced by academic scholars, international objectives and a well needed improvement with civil society (but still existent nonetheless). The KZN example above shows the lack of sub- local influence and it also shows a disconnect with the international community as well. Marine life depletion is affected by Climate Change at a larger scale because the excessive Carbon dioxide makes the water to be more acidic, affecting the quality of the coastal habitat and everything else connected to it. So resolutions should aim to connect all scales, resulting in a more well-rounded mitigation strategy.
There’s a need for a balanced power distribution with limited restrictions. Although on the contrary, its distribution should not be vast either. In the latter, goals end up becoming vague and uncertain because of the many systems and subsystems that make it hard to measure progress or to even implement simple actions, because there’s a line of actors that need to approve – leaving little room for policy makers to act. Nonetheless, one thing is clear –a wide range of actors from different scales need to be represented the official planning of any developmental initiative because choosing scale as a focus influences the injustice found.
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