THE BLOG
11/01/2016 08:41 pm ET

Sustainability as a human right

You may ask why sustainability is a human right. The answer is simple of you just consider that the lives of our children and their children acutely depend on our decisions today. You should consider the following questions are: Is it a human right to live with dignity? Is it a human right to have access to a safe environment? Is it a human right to breath clean air and drink clean water? Is it a human right to be educated and be respected? Is it a human right to have access to health care? Is it sustainability our effort to preserve our quality of life? Is it sustainability our choice to improve our individual economic and health conditions? Is it sustainability our ability to eradicate poverty as we have been able to eradicate some diseases? Is it sustainability our effort to provide choices to future generations? Is it sustainability our desire to provide access and opportunity to those who have the interest and potential? If your answer is yes to any of the above, then you should accept the responsibility, individually and collectively, to do what is right.

Most human activity happens in cities. More than 50 percent of the world's population lives in urban areas, with the U.S. percentage at 80 percent. Unless our cities become sustainable, we as a human species, as well as all other species on our planet, will not be able to survive (Day, 2014). Our cities have already place a large stress on the planet's resources by emitting more than 75 percent of the world's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Dodman, 2009). In contrast to that, the large proportion of the world's population with unmet needs lives in urban areas. As a result, any discussion of sustainable development should center on cities and how to capitalize on their positive energy and their innate diversity in forging new pathways toward sustainability.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine offers recommendations and a road map to help U.S. cities work toward sustainability, measurably improving their residents' economic, social, and environmental well-being.

Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States draws upon lessons learned from nine cities' efforts to improve sustainability - Los Angeles; New York City; Vancouver, B.C.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Grand Rapids and Flint, Michigan. The cities were chosen to span a range of sizes, regions, histories, and economies.

While no two cities are identical, many share common problems, such as road congestion, high housing costs and homelessness, the report notes. Every U.S. city should develop a sustainability plan that both accounts for its own unique characteristics and also adapts strategies that have led to measurable improvements in other cities with similar economic, environmental, and social contexts.

The report has provided 10 observations and related recommendations which could assist local, regional and national governments along with individual initiatives, in the US but also around the world, to create roadmaps and strategies toward achieving what is an individual and collective right, our ability to live with non-diminishing quality, at a time when our world has made the most exciting scientific and technological discoveries.

This report on Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States can be downloaded free of charge from the National Academies Press website at https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23551. The study that produced the report was sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and NASA.

Day, J. W., et.al. 2014, Sustainability and place: How emerging megatrends of the 21st century will affect humans and nature at the landscape level, Ecological Engineering 65:33-48

Dodman, D. 2009, Blaming cities for climate change? An analysis of urban greenhouse gas emissions inventories, Environment and Urbanization 21:185-201

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