Sustainable consumption: The task
cannot afford to ignore the consequences of their consumption patterns
and lifestyles on the environment. Money spent on household consumption
worldwide increased 68% between 1980 and 1998. Ever increasing consumption
is straining the environment, polluting the Earth, destroying the ecosystem
and undermining living conditions. This is a deadly side effect of the
development model and lifestyles of the developed countries in the North
and emulated by the rich in the South. Such consumption is not environmentally
sustainable. Humans must learn to manage their consumption patterns in
an equitable manner and nation states must adopt environmentally and socially
sustainable patterns of consumption.
the Asia Pacific region, there are several critical factors and pressure
points that make sustainable consumption a complex and inter-related problem.
Population increase bring with it greater consumption pressure. Population
in the Asia Pacific region, home to two-thirds of the world population,
is increasing at a rate of 1.2 % every year, and is estimated to reach
4.7 billion in 2025. China already has 1.3 billion people and India, over
1 billion. The Asia Pacific is also an area of rapid urbanisation. The
urban population is currently growing at twice the rate of the total population
and it is projected that in 2025 over half (51%) of the population will
be urban (ESCAP, 2001). Urban populations everywhere consume more resources
than their rural counterparts.
intensity of consumption and the emerging middle class
The level of consumption, however, is not dependent on total
population only. More significant to the level of consumption is the intensity
of resource utilisation. Population and consumption are two interactive
sides of man's impact on the environment. Indeed, overpopulation is the
over consumption of environmental goods and that over consumption may
be the result of too many humans contending over a limited resource base
or an economic elite using that resource base excessively and abusively
to the detriment of poor nations, future generations, and non-humankind.
This is a growing phenomenon in developing countries where a section of
the population enjoys a standard of living, and even lifestyles, similar
to, if not even more lavish, than that of the populations of the developed
countries. One estimate suggests that by 1996, the emerging middle class
of China, India, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia,
Malaysia and Thailand amounted to roughly 750 million, almost as many
of the 880 million in the industrialised countries. The rich contribute
more to outdoor pollution, global warming, acid rain and toxic. But the
poor bear the brunt in loss of lives and risks to health from pollution
and toxic and in loss of livelihoods from soil degradation, desertification,
deforestation and biodiversity loss.
The foremost concern of any consumption policy is meeting the consumption
needs of the current poor feeding, clothing, housing, educating, and healing
the ill among the poverty stricken of the world. It is meaningless to
talk about consumption that is sustainable, when the basic and primary
current consumption needs of society are not yet met. This is especially
relevant for the Asia Pacific region. It is in Asia that the bulk of humanity
resides and where rapid economic growth has occurred especially during
the decade of the nineties. However, though much of Asia has grown rapidly,
the progress achieved in the region continues to exclude a vast majority
of its poor and undernourished. At the same time, the region is slated
to become "more degraded, less forested, more polluted and less ecologically
diverse in the future" (UNEP and Earthscan, 1999, 72). It is paradoxical
that a region that has abundant resources and is consuming its resources
rapidly is still unable to provide a decent living for the majority of
Consumption in the Asia Pacific is also growing rapidly due to
greater expansion in access to information and communications tools. Access
to consumer goods and services have been revolutionised. Billboard, Radio,
Television, Cinema and Internet advertising have all grown greatly. Products
and services from all corners of the globe are being increasingly promoted
and influence the consumption patterns of millions of consumers in the
developing countries of the Asia Pacific, especially the younger generation.
Growth of advertising in developing countries has been spectacular. Between
1986 and advertising expenditure in China grew by more than 1,000%, in
Indonesia by 600%, in Malaysia and Thailand by 300%, and in India, the
Republic of Korea and the Philippines by more than 200% (UNDP, 1998).
Consumers have been inundated with media messages urging them to consume
more and more.
Economic globalisation has further exacerbated the gap between
rich and poor nations. There have been negative consequences with economic
globalisation that are evident in the depletion of natural resources as
a result of globalised trade, and abrupt investment shifts. In some instances,
trade liberalisation has resulted in communities and small producers falling
further into poverty, as they are unable to compete with the larger and
more powerful multinationals that have entered and cornered their local
markets. So far, the benefits of international trade have been felt the
least by the people of the developing world.
Narrowing the consumption gap between the rich and the poor is
obviously a key global priority. There is also a growing consensus that
developing countries need not follow the unsustainable path taken by the
developed countries. There is a real opportunity for the developing world
to leapfrog to growth patterns that are good for the environment and rise
from poverty. Very importantly, the sustainable consumption debate needs
to shift its focus to the unsustainability of affluent lifestyles of the
rich in both the developed and developing world. Towards this end, an
alliance needs to be forged between governments, the corporate community
and consumers to ensure that the sustainable consumption obligations in
the UN Guidelines are successfully implemented.
International, a coalition of 250 organisations in 115 countries working
for the protection and protection of consumer's rights.