MANY countries in the world, especially the poor developing ones, are in a dilemma. As a result of environmental pressures and the global push to preserve biodiversity, such developing countries are cautious about opening up new areas for development. This is because they would incur economic threats in the form of trade barriers and import bans from the more developed nations if they do not conform.
At the same time, they are struggling to bring development to their people. They were promised technologies to help them improve productivity on the limited land that they have developed but such promises were seldom delivered.
And if the promises were delivered, they were often offered at exorbitant costs which the poor countries can ill afford.
As part of the effort to champion the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UCSI University recently hosted a public talk on environment and conservation by Tan Sri Salleh Mohd Nor, a council member of the university and a long- time president of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS).
It is not a coincidence that his initials bear a close resemblance to MNS with a bit of tweaking. No wonder his passion for nature and conservation is well known especially among the ardent devotees of the environment not only in the country but also around the world.
As a winner of the coveted Langkawi Award, Salleh, a senior fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, literally lives and breathes nature. He sometimes jokingly refers to himself as the true “orang utan”. Coming from Negri Sembilan, he attributes his good health to his Negri food passion, masak tempoyak.
His carefree and easy-to-understand delivery attracted good participation among the attendees comprising mainly staff and students of the university plus a few from the local community.
Salleh spoke at length about why conservation should be given high priority.
There is much evidence produced by scientists worldwide that nature is under serious threat. Among the constituents of nature which are under constant threat are water, air, and the flora and fauna of the forests and oceans.
Salleh cited findings from various sources showing that many plant and animal species are already on the verge of extinction. Unless something is done to address the causes of the disappearance, our entire natural biodiversity is at risk. He further argued that if our natural biodiversity is losing balance, then nature itself will lose its value as a capital to drive development.
Yes, many have come to accept the fact that nature itself is a critical capital for business. For far too long, businesses have taken nature for granted but now things have changed. If businesses are unwilling to reinvest in nature as they normally do for all their other capitals, including talent, finance, machinery and technology, then the future of business itself is at risk.
How then do we handle this dilemma? We can find the right recipe in the SDGs. Under the 17 goals of sustainable development formulated by countries in the United Nations, the targets are balanced. Environmental factors are part of the goals. Almost equal emphasis is given to the other goals including the well-being of society and the economy. No single country can achieve the goals alone, however. That is why the last goal of the SDGs speaks about partnership on a global level.
Admittedly, the root of global unsustainability is the high incidence of poverty and inequality. This explains why the number one goal of the SDGs is about alleviating and reducing poverty. Studies have consistently confirmed the fact that with poverty out of the way, the entire issue related to environmental neglect will just disappear.
This is the reason why one should not treat the SDGs with a strong bias towards concerns for the environment and conservation alone. For that matter, any effort to promote sustainability should never ignore people, who are the centre of the whole issue. What the world needs to do is to strike the right balance between conservation and development. And the SDGs essentially have the right formula to achieve this balance.
PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Hubert H. Humphrey Alumni Malaysia
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