The short-long term approach of financing sustainable development

The short-long term approach of financing sustainable development

Securing funding for sustainable development goals is often a challenge considering the fact that such projects need to adopt a long term vision and do not always directly impact human’s daily lives in a very obvious way. Perhaps a hybrid approach of combining long term sustainable development goals with other measures that have direct short term benefits on current society would have greater chance of success.One of the challenges of financing sustainable development projects is the long term perspective of such initiatives. Indeed, sustainable development looks into views in the medium to long term when in fact most modern society models are based on short term returns or benefits. This simple and fundamental mismatch is slowing down sustainable development goals significantly.Sustainable development is defined as development that meets the needs of the present (short term) without compromising the ability of future generations (long term) to meet their own needs. We have lost track of this short-long term relationship in sustainable development strategies.There are many examples we could use to illustrate the problem. For instance, if we analyse the predictions of global sea level rise in response to global warming trends, many drastic actions requiring significant investments should be taken today to avoid large-scale social risks in the future. These projects of gigantic proportions would involve aspects such as re-engineering coastlines, changing construction codes or even progressively relocating entire sensitive coastal communities. However, none of these are presently taken very seriously by governments (as they require a long term approach) and we continue to build on the coast lines or reclaimed land (short term approach) regardless of the fact that there is a high probability that these investments are doomed in the medium term, based on sea level change projections alone. 

It is apparent that one of the failures of sustainable development strategies has been to separate the two concepts of short and long term strategies when in fact the solution relies in a continuity and synergy between the two

It all comes down to the reality that political agendas or business investment most often have very short term goals which are dominated by duration of mandates or the fastest financial return model.

The need for long term sustainable development goals

It has been very clear for a long time that the lack of actions to prevent issues such as global climate change, poverty, biodiversity losses or various types of chemical pollution will significantly impact current, and to even greater extents, generations to come. However, many of the worsening impacts (e.g. sea level rise) are either very progressive or will only start to become significantly apparent into the future.

While adaptation strategies now seem inevitable, prevention should still be on the agenda (to lessen the severity of the impacts to come) and new strategies to finance much needed long term development plans need to be applied. The hybrid short-long term approach is perhaps the best option and the less damaging to the economy.

The need for short term financially viable goals

While long term goals are needed, the point here is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to fund such projects if there is no direct financial returns and benefits to current communities.

It is apparent that one of the failures of sustainable development strategies has been to separate the two concepts of short and long term strategies when in fact the solution relies in a continuity and synergy between the two.

While it is difficult to obtain funding for sustainable development plans, short term high-added value projects that benefit current communities and can contribute to the economy are abundant and finding a way to tap on these projects to meet longer term plans is key if viable sustainable development strategies are to be achieved.

The approach of ‘investing for the future’ separately of current needs is clearly one that hasn’t been successful. It is clear that arguments such as ‘we must invest in generations to come rather than the current needs’ or ‘we won’t see the impacts now but it is for the greater good of future generations’ despite true and much needed are outdated and unsuccessful. What we need is an approach that clearly benefits the present while at the same time having a longer term agenda and this should be a systematic approach to development.

There are two human psychological factors that development goals should pay much more attention to: first, we don’t react well to long term progressive threats (e.g. climate change) and second, we are much more effective at short term goals than long term ones.

Identifying opportunities

There are many opportunities to link short term benefits with long term goals.

Sports is one of the greatest and easiest targets for obvious reasons: it is popular, it directly benefits the people (health and entertainment benefits) and it drives funding.

A good case study to illustrate the short-long term approach is the community cycling lanes combined with green corridors.

There are several successful examples of cycling lanes which have been developed around an ecological conscious concept. These cycling-pedestrian developments are surrounded by green corridors that actually have a significant benefit in terms of allowing species to migrate between parks. It is unlikely that these green corridors would have taken place (or, in other words, obtained the required funding) without the human benefit factor provided by the sport facilities. Short term goal: providing sport infrastructures for people to exercise. Longer term goal: insuring a sustainable management of biodiversity resources by providing habitats and connectivity for species to migrate between these habitats.

Tourism is another priority target sector. Indeed it is an interesting one because it is easy to use the short-long term model through the development of eco-tourism. Eco-tourism is a fast growing trend with high financial potential but at the same time provides means for government and the private sector to invest in environmental conservation.

A final word

We must find ways to better utilise mainstream development goals with direct short term impact on current human societies to also serve sustainable development goals as they are more likely to be successful.

The link between short and long term goals must become much more comprehensive and apparent in developments strategic planning. We shouldn’t keep on making distinctions between short term financially viable projects and longer term sustainable development objectives but on the contrary systematically incorporate longer term objectives within short term ones.

For sustainable development strategies to spread, a longer term agenda should always be hidden behind short term goals

by sylvain richer de forges


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