Sustainable development: Transforming the south



There is a saying that “we do not inherit the earth from our fathers; we borrow it from our children”.  Hence, it is our moral responsibility to maintain it properly until they can take it over. This premise forms the basis for the theory of sustainable development, which requires exploitation of natural resources in harmony with the human current and future social and economic needs in a manner as not to deplete the resources faster than they are naturally generated. Thus, societies can continue to meet human needs without undermining the strength and stability of the natural system. The concept of ‘Sustainable Development’ came to limelight in 1987 with publication of the Brundtland report “Our Common Future” compiled by the Brundtland Commission, which the UN Secretary General had appointed in December 1983. The Commission warned nations against the negative environmental consequences of industrialization, economic growth and globalization; and advocated sustainable development as an alternative approach to simple economic growth. The Brundtland report defined sustainable development as development with sustainability that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. However, since the Brundtland Report, there has been a paradigm shift in the notion of sustainable development from the initial intergenerational perspective to an increased emphasis on “socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth”.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (The Earth Summit), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 sought to arrive at “an understanding of development that would support socio-economic development and prevent the continued deterioration of the environment”. It also aimed at laying “a foundation for a global partnership between the developing and the more industrialized countries, based on mutual needs”. Over 100 Heads of States and representatives from 178 national governments, different organisations and civil society gathered at Rio to deliberate on devising mutually agreed strategies and action plans towards addressing the problems of environmental degradation highlighted by the Brundtland Commission. They committed to achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions i.e. economic, social and environmental, in a balanced and integrated manner. The leaders at the Summit pledged, “We are committed to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet.”

The Earth Summit “adopted three major agreements to guide future approaches to development; i) Agenda 21, a global plan of action to promote sustainable development; ii) the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, a series of principles defining the rights and responsibilities of States; and iii) the Statement of Forest Principles, a set of principles to underpin the sustainable management of forests worldwide. In addition, two legally binding instruments were opened for signature at the Summit: i) the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and ii) the Convention on Biological Diversity.” Subsequently, at the “Rio+20” conference held in June 2012, a broad consensus was reached on developing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensuring their ownership at the broadest possible level. The UN General Assembly, adopted the Resolution “Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” including its 17 SDGs and 169 targets on the eve of its seventieth Session at a special UN Summit held on 25 September 2015.  The 2030 Agenda presents “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in the context of larger freedom. Each Goal has specific targets that all governments, businesses, civil society and people acting in collaborative partnership have to reach by 2030.

Sustainable development is the cornerstone of COMSATS’ foundation and the SDGs constitute the central theme of its programmes and activities. Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, COMSATS has embraced the SDGs as a fundamental approach to promote sustainable development for the welfare of human kind across the world, particularly in the South. Towards this end, the Commission has adopted a holistic approach and is constantly attuning its programmes and activities to facilitate and assist in reaching the SDGs through effective collaboration among various development actors and Centres of Excellence (CoEs) in the member countries.

COMSATS believes that Governments of developing countries through political will cannot deliver on the SDGs in isolation. They need policy guidance and mechanisms to encourage collaborative initiatives for an effective implementation of the Goals.  As such, it deems academia and universities as suitable institutions that can greatly assist in the cross-sectoral dialogue on the 2030 Agenda. Universities have tremendous potential to provide motivation, guidance and leadership in creating a sense of purpose among different stakeholders. In view of the SDG4 emphasis on the importance of academia and universities in the context of sustainable development, COMSATS encourages academic community to identify the strengths, gaps, priorities, and opportunities in the 2030 Agenda; and assist in its implementation. In this connection, COMSATS has so far organised two seminars and lectures to engage the academic circles in a meaningful partnership with public officials and communities. In addition, COMSATS and the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) organized an international seminar on “Sustainable Development Goals: Role of Universities” on 9th. July 2018 at Islamabad to involve universities in:   i) Promotion and Advocacy of SDGs; ii) Implementation of SDGs: Perspectives on Education, Research and Development; and iii) Frontier Technologies: Scientific Institutions Driving Innovation.  Dr. S.M. Junaid Zaidi, Executive Director COMSATS, expressed at the said Seminar that “the universities and other higher education institutions provide an environment of research and development; they are the linchpin in helping the national governments in meeting the targets outlined under various SDGs.” It is COMSATS’ endeavour to exploit the potential of universities in guiding and eliciting local, national and international response to the SDGs.

The 2030 Agenda underscores the importance of global cooperation in implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. In this respect, South-South and Triangular Cooperation are considered bold initiatives to facilitate nations in eradicating poverty and bringing prosperity to the world. In pursuit of the global Agenda, the world has witnessed substantial growth in the quantum and geographical reach of SSC over the last decades, which substantiates its potential for overcoming national, regional and global development challenges.  It is reassuring that developing countries are increasingly resorting to good practices in South-South and Triangular Cooperation required for transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies. COMSATS as a promoter and facilitator of sustainable development supports South-South and Triangular Cooperation in different social, economic and technological spheres to help developing nations reach the SDGs in a consistent manner. The Commission facilitates exchange of expertise and technology among scientific organizations in the member states through sponsorship of projects, on-the-job trainings, workshops, postgraduate scholarships, expert visits and technical consultancies in line with SDG17 of the UN 2030 Agenda, namely “Partnerships for the Goals”. The Commission has established multifaceted linkages and working relations with different Centres of Excellence in the member countries to promote scientific cooperation in science and technology for development. The Commission is also channelizing technical cooperation through the International Thematic Research Groups (ITRGs) constituted to work together on vital scientific projects.  These initiatives are greatly helpful in the exchange of knowledge, expertise, sharing of resources and promoting scientific cooperation among the member countries/ institutions.

COMSATS believes in youth-led initiatives to motivate and mobilise young people towards implementation of the SDGs. While, sustainable development has a direct bearing on empowering the future generations, a firm commitment on the part of youth is essential towards the SDGs at national, regional and global levels. COMSATS therefore inspires the youth to exploit their potential in promotion and adequacy for the SDGs. In order to involve the youth in this effort, COMSATS organized a seminar on “The Role of Youth in the implementation of SDGs” on 24 April 2019, which was participated by the faculty and student from Abdul Wali Khan University and COMSATS University Islamabad. The participants deliberated on various aspects of SDGs and expressed their resolve to keep SDGs at top priority in their academic pursuits.

The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development is a prescription for eradication of poverty and fulfilment of the basic needs of people, while protecting all human and fundamental rights. It acknowledges the rights of individuals to development and economic justice. The Agenda enjoins governments over the world to implement active social and environmental policies that promote and protect human rights and allow the benefits of development reach the poorest segments of society. Nations over the world need to respond to the Agenda through formulation and implementation of macroeconomic policies including a supportive framework for trade, investment and technology transfer as well as enhanced cooperation that leads to the goals of economic growth and social progress in the larger context of sustainable development.



The author is a development economist. He has contributed to various volumes of the Jinnah Papers as a senior Editor.  He has also served as speechwriter to the ex-President and Prime Ministers of Pakistan.