Many pathways to sustainability? A critical analysis of sustainable development narratives in the UNEP Global Environmental Outlook series

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Many pathways to sustainability? A critical analysis of sustainable development narratives in the UNEP Global Environmental Outlook series

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Publication 1-year master student thesis
Title Many pathways to sustainability? A critical analysis of sustainable development narratives in the UNEP Global Environmental Outlook series
Author Verbrugge, Laura
Date 2019
English abstract
Sustainable development has become a leading term in global environmental policy and aims to integrate social, economic and environmental goals in development. However, it is a term that is also much debated, as it does not clearly define what sustainability is and how to get there. Global governance initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals need to find solutions in a negotiation space that is characterized by differences in power and by inequalities in terms of social, economic and natural resource development between different parts of the world. Global environmental assessments are formalized processes to collect and review available data on the environment and the effectiveness of policies. They are part of and form the basis for a political discussion on what needs to be prioritized and what are potential solutions to global environmental problems, such as climate change. One of these global assessments is the Global Environmental Outlook Series of which six editions have been published in the period between 1997 and 2019. This thesis weaves together critical discussions on inclusion/exclusion and justice in the context of responses to global environmental change. The main purpose is to build a framework to reflect on global environmental assessments as mechanisms for envisioning a sustainable and equitable future and for knowledge coproduction processes. The main research question is: to what extent do pathways towards sustainability narrated by the United Nations Environment Program in the Global Environmental Outlook series support inclusive policies for social change? Using a critical approach to the vocabularies and discourses in use, this thesis shows that the main message is consistent in all the reports; the pace of moving towards a sustainable future is too slow. However, the reports illuminate different policy paths to get there. Following the previous efforts of scholar Raymond Williams to describe culturally relevant but highly ambiguous concepts, I identified five new ‘keywords’ in the discourses. I critically reviewed these terms to see how they either support inclusive policies for social change or reinforce inequalities. Three of these keywords, natural capital, ecosystem services, green economy, have close ties to current neoliberal worldviews for sustaining economic growth. The latter two, traditional knowledge and resilience, emerged as key concepts from the last two reports. The main conclusion is that these imply a promising shift to a broader concept of knowledge that acknowledges local and indigenous knowledge, in complementarity with Western scientific knowledge. However, the concept of resilience remains problematic as long as indigenous and local communities are called upon to adapt, instead of being agents of change.
Publisher Malmö universitet/Kultur och samhälle
Pages 38
Language eng (iso)
Subject discourse
environmental assessment
UNEP
sustainable development
traditional knowledge
Handle http://hdl.handle.net/2043/29474 Permalink to this page
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