Specialists gather in Yerevan for UNDP sustainable development conference

Oct 17, 2014

Opening of the conference

How can we merge the challenges posed by climate change with the need for economic development? From 8th to 10th October 2014 a mixture of policy-makers, business leaders, researchers and practitioners from all over the world gathered in Armenia to answer this question, looking specifically towards the role that government should play in helping to drive this process.

Sustainable development worldwide

Traditionally development has been environmentally unfriendly: burning resources, creating huge waste, and destroying vast amounts of biodiversity. This has had devastating consequences in climate change, which is today almost universally accepted as the biggest threat to our future.

A global conference held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 laid out goals and commitments for all the world’s countries to work together to tackle this problem. At the heart of this meeting was the realisation that in order to deal with the challenges of climate change, development must be a sustainable process.

Sustainable Development in Armenia

Put simply, what this means is that things like construction or the management of resources like water and energy, must operate in a way that thinks about the future rather than just the present. Therefore in countries like Armenia development must take place in a way that will not limit the prospects of future generations of Armenians.

Development must also deal with the environmental challenges posed today, such as concerns within the mining sector or the contamination of Lake Sevan. These environmental challenges have important socio-economic consequences for the country’s development.

Who?

It was with these crucial issues in mind that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) assisted the organisation and facilitation of a three-day event at the Marriott hotel in the Armenian capital Yerevan. The conference, hosted by the Government of the Republic of Armenia, was devoted to the task of making development a sustainable process, through government action and societal support. The event was primarily organised by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and was supported by the Regional Hub of Civil Service from Astana, Kazakhstan, the Armenian State Pedagogical University (ASPA) and American University of Armenia (AUA). Attendees included government officials, experts, and private sector and civil society organisations from over twenty countries. It was their task to discuss how the challenge of sustainable development could be achieved in transition countries like Armenia.

Challenges: Economic, Political, Social, Structural

In his talk, Dr Tatoul Manaseryan of Yerevan State University laid out many of the challenges that Armenia had come up against in attempting to implement this form of sustainable economic development. He said there had been economic challenges, for example, construction companies who have to pay more to manage their building waste responsibility, which gives them a disadvantage against companies who do not. He said there were also political challenges, like corruption, as well as other social and structural challenges.

Solutions: Aligning the Human with the Natural

How can governments meet these challenges and foster sustainable development? Mr. Alen Amirkhayan of the American University of Armenia made the case that governments and societies needed to “align the human with the natural”. Giving the example of waste, he argued that we should rethink our concept of ‘waste’ towards the idea of ‘resource’. We can transform what we usually throw away and reuse it to further the benefit of society. Further information on this way of thinking can be found in the policy document Towards the Circular Economy.

With this in mind several presenters gave examples on the Californian experience. California has recently suffered its worst drought in record history, yet has pursued solutions through innovative forward thinking and infrastructure development.

Key Messages: Innovation, Collaboration, Efficiency

Overall, the event’s key message was that it is possible to link environmental challenges with other challenges that countries faced, but only through innovative thinking, and cooperation and collaboration with all areas of society, especially businesses and civil society organisations. The participants also noted the necessity in making government operations more effective and responsive.

The event concluded by the participants reaffirming their commitment to implementing sustainable forms of development as a way to tackle the critical issue of climate change. Looking ahead, all the participants agreed that through the application of innovation, collaboration and efficiency across all sectors of society, we can continue to make progress in implementing the Post-Rio+20 agenda and make the future we want!   

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