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No sustainability without development

Last week, we were fortunate enough to get a chance to interview Celia Petty, one of the co-founders of the NGO Evidence for Development (EfD). Celia has a strong research background, and has published work on famine & food security, the impacts of conflict on children, and social policy & youth justice in developing countries, and EfD follows on from this in working to alleviate poverty through the promotion of better quality and more effective development governance. Unsurprisingly, then, climate change is an increasingly relevant factor in her work.

Celia was quick to emphasise, however, that in the above forms of policy problems facing the developing world, climate change is never the sole driver, and indeed, one must be careful not to over-attribute development problems to its effects. She reminded us that, ultimately, development issues are so-called for a reason and that in some cases, “Climate discourse can get in the way of common sense”. She gave us the example of displaced peoples in northern Uganda being without the necessary equipment to re-cultivate their land after its return to bush terrain; instead, a donor provided seedlings for citrus trees, on the grounds of climate friendliness. Unsurprisingly, the land was not well looked after, as the return time on this produce was far too long, leading to the death of the seedlings planted, and a lack of immediate sources of income for the local people, as could have been provided through seasonal cash crops.

We then discussed what is actually meant by the term “sustainable development”, and the fact that there has been a noticeable difference in the terminology used by representatives from developed and developing countries: “sustainability” vs “sustainable development” respectively. Celia argued that “You can’t really have sustainability without development”; if sustainability is “having the means of not living for tomorrow”, then it takes far-sighted planning relating to education, training, and infrastructure in order to provide sustainable solutions to policy problems. Such factors are, of course, the very essence of what development is in the first place, and these can be implemented without the traditional concerns associated with the caricature of what “development” has sometimes come to mean in popular discourse. As Celia said, “Development doesn’t have to mean coal power plants”.