Sustainability Downturn: The effects of the Global Economic Crisis on Sustainable Development

The current global economic crisis has had devastating effects on industries, societies and whole nations. The development gains of the past decades for which countries and their people struggled, were scaled down due to the economic downturn. With fewer resources available to confront the development threats and challenges, sustainable development is clearly at risk. Economic, social and ecological balances are all necessary to address various development deficits and inequalities facing all regions.

More than 14 million people lost their jobs in the States due to the crisis, and millions more saw their income being decreased, thus experiencing insecurity, with more sensitive sectors like tourism, IT and construction being particularly vulnerable. At the same time, nations seeking to strengthen their economies and revive productivity, make high investments on stimulus packages. However, not all countries have the fiscal space to implement countercyclical measures due to large existing budget deficits. The time has come to restore stability and sustainability in the economic and social order of the world.

The economic crisis can be seen as an opportunity to move from individual country responses to a more coordinated and integrated regional response. Developing the foundations for social protection needs to be seen by countries as an economic investment rather than a social cost. “Green fiscal stimulus packages” have seen a boost to their demand, as sustainable development is known to be cost effective. However, the mere 12% share of the US “Green fiscal stimulus packages”, preceded with the equivalent UK 11% share and the 64% share for the 25 EU countries (HSBC, 2009), shows there is still room for improvement.

Climate change is still considered a major threat to sustainable development. The challenge that needs to be met is to reduce GHG, while maintaining the economic growth which is necessary for development. This climate friendly economic development can be achieved through investment in sustainability –or else green- strategies. The shift of the individual level consumption patterns needs to be followed by a governmental strategy shift, in order for sustainable growth to spread, grow roots and lead countries to development. This way, countries will not only battle the current crisis, but will become crisis-resistant in time, while ensuring future growth.

Source: HSBC (2009). Building a Green Recovery. May 2009
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