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Sustainable Development

We are increasingly aware that the traditional economic system that is based on the growth of production and consumption and the exploitation of natural resources without restrictions is unsustainable. The so-called load-bearing capacity of our planet has its limits, which must be respected in order for us to survive as a human species. For this reason, it is essential to recognize such limits and begin to search for a type of development that is more sustainable in the long term, taking into account the specific and limited conditions of the ecosystem we call Earth.

In view of this need, in 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission, named after its president, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland) defined the term 'sustainable development' as the type of development that ensures that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. However, the key to achieving such development is to satisfy both the needs of the present, by promoting an economic activity that provides the necessary goods for the entire world population, as well as those needs that may arise in the future, while minimizing the negative impacts of the economic activity, so that they are bearable for the next generations.

According to an analysis by the University of Navarre, in Spain, in order for a development to be considered as sustainable it should: 1) seek strategies in which the economic activity maintains or improves the environmental system; 2) ensure that the economic activity improves the quality of life for all, not only for a few; 3) use resources in an efficient manner; 4) promote maximum recycling and reuse; 5) place confidence in the development and implementation of clean technologies; 6) restore depleted ecosystems; 7) promote regional self-sufficiency, and 8) recognize the importance of nature for human well-being.

The United Nations: promoter of sustainable development
Sustainable development initiatives in the Dominican Republic
Presidential Commission on the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development

The United Nations: promoter of sustainable development

During the past 20 years, the United Nations (UN) has played a key role in promoting the concepts of sustainable development. In December of 1992, for example, it established the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), in order to follow-up, monitor and inform on the implementation of the agreements of the Earth Summit that took place in Rio de Janeiro in June of that same year. These agreements, which are designed to achieve a more sustainable development in our planet, had been formulated in the so-called Agenda 21. This program contains a comprehensive plan of action with the aim of achieving a more sustainable human development for the entire world, with special emphasis on north-south relations, between developed and developing countries. At the same time, it clearly recognizes that the current actions of human beings adversely affect the environment, putting their own future as a species at risk. In fact, the environment depends on our collective actions and will be conditioned by the actions we take today.

In 2002, the UN held the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (South Africa), which was a very important opportunity for the world to move forward in favor of sustainable development for a future in which all people can meet their present and future needs, without harming the environment. This meeting helped to address, in a different way, the topic of development, which entails a new form of international cooperation, which recognizes that the decisions taken in one part of the world can affect people in other regions. In Johannesburg, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) were adopted, which propose actions that look towards the future and encourage world progress for the benefit of all. These objectives focus on poverty eradication, social and economic development, the protection of the environment, desertification, water, energy, health, agriculture, biodiversity, employment, education, oceans, forests, arid lands, swamps, global warming and the atmosphere, among many other themes. In addition, it gives attention to issues of peace and security, human rights and humanitarian affairs, and the situation of women, youth and indigenous peoples, among other economic, social and environmental aspects.

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Sustainable development initiatives in the Dominican Republic

At present, there are many initiatives in the Dominican Republic that are geared towards a more sustainable development. For example, the Sur Futuro Foundation and the technological institute, Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo (INTEC), began to work on a more appropriate use of soils, combined with measures for overcoming poverty in the southern region of the country. The efforts are focused on the technical-economic validation for agricultural production systems, coffee berry borer control practices, alternatives to fertilization, integrated pest management and irrigation management. Likewise, work started in the year 2004 on a project to recycle waste. This project began as an initiative proposed by the Dominican Institute of Research and Development, in partnership with the Municipality of Juan de Herrera and was endorsed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with the purpose of using earthworm humus to create clean and high quality compost. The successful results of the initiative led it to be recognized as a model project for the southern region of the country.

Another initiative for sustainable development that is of great interest is the project between Haiti and the Dominican Republic which proposes the sowing of macadamia nuts, which would generate over 2,000 jobs and contribute, through reforestation, to the conservation of the environment. This project, which has been proposed by the National Competitiveness Council (CNC, for its initials in Spanish) as an opportunity for sustainable competitiveness for The Hispaniola, can make both countries leaders in the production of this fruit and its derivatives in the American continent, and, at the same time, can contribute to the conservation and forest recovery of the island.

The recent creation of new protected areas through Decree 571-09 is another good example of the commitment of Dominican society to achieve a more sustainable development. In October 2009, a total of 37 new protected areas were established, including parks and natural monuments, biological and scientific reserves, marine sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, all in accordance with the generic categories proposed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Thus, the objective is to ensure the protection of the country’s nature, the ecological integrity of its habitats, the conservation of selected river basins, the continuity of hydrological regimes to provide drinking water and irrigation, the prevention of soil erosion and flooding in low-lying areas, and the mitigation of the threat of climate change. Among the new protected areas are the National Park of The Hispaniola, the Biological Reserves of Sierra Prieta and Loma Charco Azul, and the Salcedoa and Dicayagua Scientific Reserves.

In terms of actions in the area of energy, it is important to mention the recent Palomino Hydroelectric Project, which will be completed during the year 2011. The megawatts that this project will generate will be clean, in the sense that they will not produce carbon emissions, as is the case with the burning of fossil fuels such as oil. The project estimates that when this hydroelectric dam is incorporated into the country's energy grid, oil imports will be reduced by 400,000 barrels. Moreover, Palomino’s clean energy will increase the national generation of energy from dams by 15%. However, it will be key to the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems in the area, in other words, the rivers- that sufficient precautions are taken when building dams, so as to ensure long-term ecological viability, as connectivity between the upstream and downstream river basins depends on it.

Planting trees is a vital strategy for sustainable development, especially in areas that have suffered extreme deforestation in the past. In 2007, strengthening community-based organizations in the upper basins of the Sabana Yegua dam was achieved by supporting 329 producers that implemented sustainable agricultural practices. This took place through a project of sustainable land management which resulted in the integrated planting of 70,000 forest trees, 8,000 fruit trees and 120,000 coffee plants. In addition, a Program of Comprehensive Compensation for Environmental Services was established and aimed at obtaining funds from users of water from a hydroelectric dam, in order to permanently finance the activities of basins which help reduce soil erosion, deforestation and poverty in general.

Likewise, the so-called Month of Reforestation, declared by the Government of the Dominican Republic, is very important and is held each year during the month of October. In 2010, the Ministry of the Environment, through the national plan Quisqueya Verde, sowed 11,400,000 trees of various species, among them mahogany, pine, ceiba, creole, cedar, tamarind and oak. This reforestation effort, which resulted in the planting of 130,000 trees, was also carried out in areas near the border, with the collaboration of Haiti. This activity helps to raise awareness among islanders in regards to the importance of forests and forest plantations, and the services they provide to society.

The Ministry of the Environment has declared 2011 as the "International Year of Forests," with the objective of encouraging their protection and increasing forest coverage. This is done because, despite the fact that forest coverage has increased by 5.4% between the year 1996 and the present, it is necessary to continue reducing the problems of deforestation and soil erosion that affect the country and which can produce natural disasters in times of heavy rain.

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Presidential Commission on the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development

At the political level, in 2004, the Dominican Republic created the Presidential Commission on the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development (COPDES), headed by the President of the Republic, and which is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the progress of the country in the achievement of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This agency covers the various government sectors, the business sector, civil society and the UN agencies, as well as its Millennium Project. Among COPDES’ most important functions are: 1) to work as a multi-sector institution that manages the government's cooperation with the United Nation’s Millennium Project and with other agencies of that organization in the country; (2) to promote a multi-sector collaboration among national government institutions and the private and business sectors, civil society and local authorities in order to coordinate interactive public consultations between these entities and maintain a close and proactive relationship with the people of the Dominican Republic; 3) to monitor and evaluate the progress of the Dominican Republic with regards to the fulfillment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); (4) to serve as a central institution to coordinate the preparation of a Poverty Reduction Strategy (ERP for its initials in Spanish) and a National Strategy for Sustainable Development (ENDS for its initials in Spanish), both of which are based on the Millennium Goals; (5) to make recommendations to the President of the Republic on opportunities to implement multi-sector development projects to facilitate compliance with the Millennium Goals; 6) to recommend the establishment of partnerships between local, national, regional and international institutions with the purpose of enhancing inter-agency collaboration and the promotion of sustainable development, and (7) to evaluate Dominican public policies and make recommendations to the President, with the objective of facilitating compliance with the Millennium Goals and maintaining consistency between national policies and global agreements.

Currently, the greatest challenge for Dominican authorities is to advance in the fulfillment of the MDGs. However, overcoming the fundamental challenges of development, synthesized in the eight MDGs, is difficult, especially due to the lack of adequate resources to achieve the goals by 2015. It is unlikely that the Millennium Goals will be attained within just a few years, not only in the Dominican Republic but also in the rest of the world. However, we must see these objectives of sustainable development as a series of goals that inspire society to follow the path of sustainable development, to ensure the well-being of future generations in a just world, where everyone will live in harmony with the environment, beyond the year 2015.

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