FRI 18 - 1 - 2019
Date: Apr 25, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
The ‘common good’ needs more currency in the Arab region
Mohamed Ali Alhakim

Natural resources, their extraction and management, is tightly linked to development efforts in the Arab region. As Arab countries move forward with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is time for us to acknowledge that we cannot go on as we have before. Severe water shortages, effects of climate change and desertification, depleting oil reserves, barriers to renewable energy, are all a call for us to think differently.

We need a new approach to the way we manage and use our natural resources. We need to acknowledge that what is good for the planet is good for our people. We need sustainable development for the common good.

This week, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, the United Nations’ regional arm that supports Arab countries in reaching crucial development goals, is welcoming a record number of participants at its headquarters in Beirut for its annual Arab Forum for Sustainable Development.

Under the patronage of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, over 250 representatives from government, civil society, the private sector, international and regional organizations and youth will come together in a space dedicated to fostering a culture of knowledge exchange and a spirit of collaboration and dialogue.

The Arab Forum will serve as a key platform to raise red flags on issues that can no longer be addressed as “business as usual” if we want to deliver on the promises made in the 2030 agenda, which was adopted unanimously in 2015 by all U.N. Member States.

Together, it is our responsibility to meet the expectations of our generation and those to come. While there are many pressing issues to tackle especially given recent diplomatic escalations that fuel economic and social instability, AFSD 2018 opted to bring the links between natural resources and the common good as central issues to intergenerational justice to the forefront of the deliberations.

The focus is also aligned with global discussions that will take place in July at the High-level Political Forum in New York.

This year’s theme: Natural Resources, Future Generations and the Common Good is challenging the forum’s main constituents, those in charge of horizontal development planning in Arab countries, to use the term “integrated sustainable development” not as a hollow buzz word but to impart to it a sense of urgency and more importantly ethics.

What appears as the right thing to do now is not necessarily right for the future.

Our way of thinking on how to use our environment and available resources has been adulterated, leading to policies that barely serve our current needs much less those of our children and grandchildren. Current practices are environmentally, and in many ways economically untenable and they are, fundamentally, unjust to those less advantaged today as well as to future generations.

The AFSD is the regional platform to rally our governments, as well as non-governmental stakeholders, to this transformational shift in perspective and to the realization that so-called traditionally “environmental” issues are based on social, economic, political and cultural development challenges.

Transformative change is indeed a collective responsibility. Governments need to start viewing natural resources as public goods for present and future generations and environmental concerns not as sector-specific but squarely within their purview and central to an integrated approach.

At the same time, non-governmental stakeholders’ responsibility lies in advocating for an approach that engages all stakeholders, and in facilitating a coherent regional position, built around key principles for success in the transformative shift to sustainable and resilient societies.

I hope that the reflections brought to light through the discussions in the AFSD 2018 will serve as an entry point to rights-based development, social justice, inclusion, and the idea of the “common good,” a concept which appears to have presently little currency in our region. Any new approach adopted must not only differ in technical terms through improved management of natural resources that takes into consideration environmental and economic implications. It must also apply different methods politically, socially, culturally and ethically.

Mohamed Ali Alhakim (Ph.D.) is under-secretary-general of the United Nations and executive secretary of the Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ESCWA.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 25, 2018, on page 4.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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