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NSCF 2018

Sustainable Development

By 2050, the UN predicts the global population will be over 9 billion. This explosive population growth will see the addition of nearly 2 billion people in just 32 years. The impacts will be enormous. We will need more food and water, our consumption of natural resources will increase, there will be more young people looking for work.


The world is also changing around us. For the first time in human history more than half of our planet is urban. We have become a planet of cities, teeming with wealth and opportunity, but also inequality and squalor. We drag nets through our oceans, but increasingly those nets are coming up empty. People are looking for work and finding a global economy that has left them behind.  As humanity moves forward, to 2050 and beyond, we must consider the impacts that our actions have on our planet. We must develop sustainably.


This year's theme is broken into four interrelated pillars around sustainable development. Only through the incorporation of each pillar can the world sustain itself and its future generations.


Sustainable Communities - Planning for 9 billion in an increasingly urbanized world.

Environmental Sustainability -  Feeding 9 billion without destroying the environment.


Economic Sustainability- Employing and engaging 9 billion in a changing economy.

Sustainable Governance - Leading 9 billion.

To begin exploring these concepts, click on one of the following images and jump to a secton. Continuously navigate the site using the anchor menu sidebar.

For better performance, use the desktop version.

More About the Commmonwealth

Click an Image to Jump to one of the four pillars

What is the Commonwealth?

A voluntary association of 53 member states dedicated to consensus based decision making to improve  democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Who is the Commonwealth?

53 incredibly diverse equal and sovereign states spanning five regions make up the Commonwealths members. For detailed information on these states, visit the link below.

Sustainable Communities

Planning for 9 billion in an increasingly urbanized world.


Key Terms*

  • Urbanization: The process increasing the share of population in urban areas

  • Urban: Generally, “a concentration of population at a high density” (Statistics Canada 2011). But the term is defined differently by different countries. Canada’s definition requires over 1000 people (Statistics Canada 2011). While India’s requires over 5000 (Census of India 2011).

    • A Note: Urban can be defined numerically, but also as a state of mind and lifestyle.  It can encompass the concentration of business and goods, services, and governmental institutions.

  • Rural: Variable  but generally those living outside urban areas.

  • Megacity: A city with a population of over 10 million.

  • Demographics: Statistical data relating to the population and particular groups within it.

  • Ecological Footprint: The impact of a person or community on the environment, expressed as the amount of land required to sustain their use of natural resources.

Introduction and Outline

In 2008 a fundamental and radical shift world occurred in population demographics.For the first time in history, urban populations exceeded rural ones (UN, 2014). The change was subtle but significant.  The increasing urbanization of the global population is concentrating people and all of their problems. Garbage and waste, pollution and traffic congestion, technology and income inequality.

A sustainable community is one that is economically, environmentally, and socially healthy and resilient (Institute for sustainable communities, 2018). It incorporates all other pillars of this theme but focuses on urban planning. Communities need to be designed around sustaining large numbers of people in concentrated spaces, requiring a focus on urban planning and sustainability.


This pillar will first illustrate the context of urbanization and the context of the challenge it poses to the development of sustainable communities. It will then provide a focused look at some case studies of these problems, and examine some potential solutions that you can employ in resolution building.

This section recognizes that it has an urban focus, and addresses that flaw in two ways. First, the problems described in this section are told in the context of an urbanizing world to communicate a message about the problems we face. Readers should consider how these issues apply to a rural context. Consider how problems like infrastructure access and waste management impact rural communities Is it the same? How is it different? Using the information gleaned from this section one can apply solutions that help rural and urban actors, we leave that exploration up to you. Second, you will soon explore further how urbanization is a growing force of influence across the Commonwealth and is thus worth considering for every country.

The Context of Urbanization


Having surpassed the 50% urban threshold, Earth has become a planet of cities, and those cities are still growing in number and in size.

  • By 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet. This, combined with urbanization, will lead to 2.5 billion more people living in cities, 66% of the global population.

  • This growth will occur most rapidly in Africa and Asia, where 90% of this urban growth is to be concentrated.

  • The rural population of the world is expected to reach its peak in a few years and begin to decline past 2020.

  • The bulk of this rural population will remain in Asia and Africa, despite higher rates of urbanization


  • Latin and North America, the Caribbean, and Europe are already characterized as highly urban. In some places populations will be up to 80% urban by 2050.

Data: United Nations World Urbanization Prospects (2014)




So urbanization is making cities bigger and more numerous, let’s look at that a little more in depth. 


  • In 1990 there were ten megacities. They had a combined population of 153 million people, less than 7% of the global population.

  • In 2014 there were 28 megacities, with a combined population of 453 million or 12% of the global population.

  • Most megacities and large cities are located in the global South. India is projected to have seven megacities by 2030, Africa will add another three: One in South Africa, one in Angola, and one in Tanzania.


Data: United Nations World Urbanization Prospects (2014)

Urbanization: A Challenge to Sustainable Communities

Concentrating thousands of people in a small area means that they cannot live off of the resources available to them, vital resources must be brought in, and waste must be taken out. People need transportation, water, food, and luxury items. Beyond essential resources, cities are a hub of consumerism and the impacts of this consumption are felt inside and out of cities. One can conclude, therefore, that as urbanization increases the share of people living in cities there will be increased strain on the world's resources. This section will now examine some of the issues that face sustainable communities. Despite a particular focus on the urban environment, readers should notice that cities cannot exist sustainably on their own, and sustainable communities must incorporate broader sustainable development.

“The global effort for sustainability will be won, or lost, in the world’s cities.”
(Global Footprint Network, 2018).

Examining ecological footprints is an effective way to measure the sustainability of cities. If we examine the ecological footprint of urban areas, we find that it is much higher than rural areas and even national averages. Many major cities are above the national average ecological footprint.

Consider the following mental experiment: 

“First, imagine what would happen to any modern city as defined by its political boundaries if it were enclosed in a glass or plastic hemisphere completely closed to material flows. This means that the human system so contained would be able to depend only on whatever remnant ecosystems were initially trapped within the hemisphere. It is obvious to most people that the city would cease to function, and its inhabitants would perish within a few days. The population and economy contained by the capsule would have been cut off from both vital resources and essential waste sinks leaving it to starve and suffocate at the same time.” (Rees & Wackernagel, 2017)

Key Terms:

Building Sustainable Communities:

Challenges and Solutions

Use this section as a guide to identify key issues around sustainable communities. Some ideas will be covered extensively, and others touched on more briefly. Remember that the best solutions encompass addressing multiple issues. Be creative and apply the knowledge in this section to your own ideas, country, and resolutions. 

  1. Consumption

  2. Pollution & Waste (coming soon)

  3. Urban Planning Solutions

A sustainable community is one that is economically, environmentally, and socially healthy and resilient (Institute for sustainable communities, 2018).

The biggest risks facing cities -- and some solutions. Ted Talk by Robert Muggah


"Cities are the most extraordinary experiment in social engineering that we humans have ever come up with. If you live in a city, and even if you live in a slum -- which 20 percent of the world's urban population does -- you're likely to be healthier, wealthier, better educated and live longer than your country cousins. There's a reason why three million people are moving to cities every single week. Cities are where the future happens first. They're open, they're creative, they're dynamic, they're democratic, they're cosmopolitan, they're sexy."  

"But cities have a dark side. They take up just three percent of the world's surface area, but they account for more than 75 percent of our energy consumption, and they emit 80 percent of our greenhouse gases... In Brazil, where I live, we've got 25 of the 50 most homicidal cities on the planet. And 1/4 of our cities have chronic water shortages - and this, in a country with 20 percent of the known water reserves."-
Robert Muggah

Challenge 1: Consumption: The Input Side of the Ecological Footprint

Let’s explore the challenge that consumption poses to making communities sustainable. Go back to that idea of the dome coming in around the city. Not a real concept right? What if fuel prices increase by 10% overnight? What happens to the cost of goods? What if there is a drought and water starts to run dry? These kinds of supply shocks can cause massive disruption. A resilient community can respond to these shocks, but to do so we must acknowledge and examine the role that consumption plays in sustainability. The fragility of cities in your country can be examined in the interactive map linked in a button above. And here.

Water Consumption

Cities consume lots of water. Issues of infrastructure and access are important factors in sustainable use of water resources. Consider once more the supply shocks we discussed earlier and what it means to be resilient. With water, the future is more variable and less dependable. According to the UN, water shortages could affect five billion people by 2050. (Watts, 2018). As climate change increases the variability of rainfall, causing droughts in some regions and floods in others, cities must become resilient and implement sustainable water practices to survive. Infrastructure around sanitation and other water uses are also vital to urban and rural life. 

Day Zero: Cape Town Runs Dry

In Capetown, South Africa, water is running out. Day zero is approaching, the day when city officials will be forced to turn off the taps for all but essential services. Though the date has been pushed back; the situation is a case study for how cities are at risk. 

Click the water drops for more resources,
like this link to view water footprints by country.

"The overriding story of the coming decade is going to be about how well our institutions deal with the increased rate of change." - Geoff Dabelko

How Could This Happen?

The National Geographic article linked to the photo on the right explains "Why Cape Town Is Running Out of Water, and Who’s Next." Here are some highlights:

  • "The fundamental problem is the kind of lifestyle we're living. There's almost a sense of entitlement that we have a right to consume as much as we want."

  • At the same time, as with Mexico City or Jakarta, infrastructure is often inadequate. Water management is unsanitary, leaky, polluted by heavy metals, or not sufficient to deliver enough supply to support demand. "It's simply not up to the task,"


Explore these ideas:

  • Government: Regulate water usage, develop infrastructure, inform citizens

  • Individuals: Limit water usage, change the culture of consumption

  • Technology; new water supply sources and conservation methods

UN on Consumption


Nature based solutions

Water from thin air?

Urban water solutions

(Ted talk)

Our freshwater future

(Ted Talk)

Energy Consumption

 Cities consume energy at an enormous rate. They consume about 75 percent of global primary energy and emit between 50 and 60 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gases (UN Habitat, 2012). 

  • Buildings consume energy when they are constructed and during their lifetimes. The shimmering glass towers rising above the city may look spectacular, but spectacular also is the energy cost to keep them cool. 

  • Urban sprawl, the uncontrolled expansion of urban areas, also increases the energy cost of cities. Inefficient or nonexistent public transportation networks encourage the use of private transport like cars, increasing fuel consumption. The development of better public transit could be a key focus area for sustainable communities. 

A decade ago Dubai had one of the largest ecological footprints of any city in the world. By 2050 it wants to have the smallest. Can it get there?

Case study: Dubai, UAE.

 Dubai is notoriously wasteful. A city rising in the desert, it takes enormous energy to power. A decade ago, almost all of that energy came from fossil fuels. Now? Dubai is on a quest for sustainability.


What Dubai is doing:

  • Innovative energy reducing building methods

  • Long-term planning with measured action and goals

  • Changing energy sources

  • Read more about this case here 



What if buildings powered themselves? Learn more about the push to reduce the energy consumption of buildings and design them differently. Why take electricity from the grid when you could sell electricity to the grid?

Challenge 2: Pollution and Waste, the Output Side of the Ecological Footprint. 

Processing garbage, and human waste, requires logistical organization and innovative solutions. It is a vital service which, once well implemented, can have repercussions on other infrastructure and service programs that municipalities implement 


Key Facts:

  • Trash generation will rise from the current 1.3 billion tonnes a year to 2.2 billion by 2025 (Tran, 2012). 

  • In developing countries, waste management is often one of the largest budget items for cities (Tran, 2012).

  • "Some 98 per cent of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality limits"(United Nations, n.d).

  • More than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality below the standard set by the World Health Organization (United Nations, n.d).

Focus 3:

Urban Planning Solutions

Urban planning is the planning and regulation of space concerning its use and the economic, social, and environmental impacts of that use. It often involves data collection, goal setting, long term planning/strategy, forecasting, and predicting consequences of changes. (Fainstein, 2016). Read more.


This is a key focus towards sustainability, think about how it connects to water and energy challenges, the growing populations of urban centers, and waste management. But do not just think that the solution is a resolution that calls for increased urban planning. Instead, be specific in your goals and innovative in your idea process. The concept of urban planning can be a springboard for your resolutions and resolution ideas, it doesn't have to be the resolution itself!

Robert Muggah’s Ted Talk (the same as shown earlier, 11 minutes in) has a great discussion of urban planning and the key solutions cities need to pursue to attain sustainability. All five of his principles incorporate urban planning in some manner. Here are his principles:


  1. Cities need a plan and a strategy to implement it

  2. Energy autonomy

  3. Invest in integrated and multi-use solutions.

  4. Build densely but also sustainably. The death of all cities is the sprawl.

  5. Steal. The smartest cities need tomorrow's technology today, and they're going to leapfrog to get there. (The concept here is sharing information between cities).

Building Cities that interact sustainably with the natural environment

Sustainability through nature. Using biological design in human design. 

Click the image to hear about healthy urban planning from The World Health Organization.

Case Study: Singapore and Smart Cities. 

The idea is simple. More information means better planning. Using sensor-equipped objects like streetlamps, traffic lights, harvesting data from citizen smartphones, and installing hundreds of camera's and sensors, Singapore has created a real-time data monitoring system that allows for short and long-term planning and problem-solving. 

In Singapore, this "city brain" is being used to manage traffic congestion, increase the level of care for the elderly, monitor weather impacts, and gather data on long-term planning needs (Hamblen, 2016).

Click the image for an excellent interactive map of "Smart Nation Singapore"!

Click the image for an article and video on "Smart City Singapore"!



Sustainable fisheries and  agriculture: Developing environmentally sustainable food security for 9 billion.


Key Terms*

  • Monoculture: The cultivation or growth of a single crop or organism especially on agricultural or forest land

  • Cash crop: A crop produced for its commercial value rather than for use by the grower.

  • Bycatch: The unwanted fish and other marine creatures caught during commercial fishing for a different species.

  • Aquaculture: The rearing of aquatic animals or the cultivation of aquatic plants for food.

  • Systems approach: Tackling a problem through the holistic view of all the systems in interaction with that problem. 

    • A Note: In the case of agriculture this would be incorporating the systems of production, processing, transport, storage, consumption, and waste recovery.

      *Definitions provided by Merriam Webster dictionary unless otherwise noted

Introduction and Outline

As the global population approaches 9 billion, increasing demands are being placed upon the world's food supply. Food security and agricultural development is an important issue. Island and coastal nations have a particular interest in promoting the sustainability of small fishing communities considering that around 30% of global fish stocks are overfished (Link). Discussion of food security should address best practices and innovation regarding increasing production while reducing environmental impact.

This section will discuss how sustainable development relates to food security through sustainable
fisheries  and sustainable agricultural. It will illustrate the problems and solutions associated with both. This will be followed by a discussion around changing the way we consume, and a systems approach to facilitate change of our food system.
(Coming soon!)

A helpful way to understand how food security, agriculture, and fisheries, relate to sustainable development.

Sustainable Fisheries


Over three billion people worldwide rely on fish for their primary source of protein (Fox, 2018). But with declining fish stocks worldwide, humanity is straining this natural resource to the brink of destruction. By 2050 we may not be able to provide fish for the today’s population levels, let alone the 9 billion expected. Here is a snapshot of the global situation, what’s causing it, and what we can do.

According to a 2016 UN Fisheries and Agriculture Organization report:

  • 11% of stocks are underfished, with room for expansion.

  • 58% of stocks are fully fished, with no room for expansion.

  • 31% of stocks are overfished, with production levels that cannot continue at current levels.

All this, while estimates indicate a 50% increase in fisheries production to be needed by 2050 to feed global populations sufficiently. When factoring in overall projected impacts of climate change this number climbs to 66% (Rice, 2017).

Impacts of Overfishing

The impact on food security is clear, but the impact of overfishing is more pronounced. Environmental impacts include:

  • Ecosystem collapse and/or change

  • Destruction of vital marine habitat on ocean floor

  • Bycatch destruction of multiple species

Creating Sustainability

There are a number of solutions to preserve the marine environment while meeting demand for fish. We will examine two of these schools of thought in greater detail.

Governance: Protecting our oceans

Innovation: Changing the way we harvest our oceans

Governance: Protecting our Oceans

One way to protect ocean environments is to designate areas as protected; closing them to fishing. These solutions require enforcement and strong institutions to enforce, but can be very impactful. Other governance solutions include reducing quotas for fish catches, shortening seasons, and engaging more strict enforcement of exsisting laws.

Case Study: Baja Mexico

In small communities in Baja Mexico, fisherman took it upon themselves to increase the sustainability of their fisheries. They established self policed, self studied areas of marine protection. These areas, tiny in comparison with most marine reserves, are hotspots of marine biomass and diversity.
Fishermen also self regulate their fishing seasons, opening later, and closing earlier, than the Mexican government officially allows. These two policies have resulted in increased harvest and wealth for fishermen. “Today Abreojos and a few like-minded Baja communities following the same strategy catch more than 90 percent of Mexico’s abalones”


“The idea is to have like a savings account,” says José Manuel Rondero, a 35-year-old fisherman who has watched lobster and fish populations plummet.


Now he is watching them rebound. Can Baja be a model for global fisheries?

Read the whole case study here

Innovation: Changing the way we harvest our oceans

Some authors argue that reducing the amount of fish we harvest, and protecting marine areas, can't work because of the growing demand for fish and especially because of the economic and social implications of fishing around the world (Rice, 2017). An alternative then, is to change the way we harvest. This can be done through changing fishing practices, shifting to aquaculture, and focusing on small scale fisheries.


One solution to the destruction of fish stocks is to harvest more from aquaculture. Already aquaculture provides almost half of all fish for human consumption, but there are environmental risks to this approach as well.

Read a
 good analysis on risks and benefits here.

Find tons of resources on aquaculture here

Changing Practices

Solutions include (click the fish for more!)

  • Diversifying catch species

  • Designing new fishing gear that limits bycatch, bottom drag (reef destruction).

    • Gear like selective traps and nets

Sustainable Agriculture

The oceans alone cannot provide the food for 9 billion people, agriculture is vital in achieving this goal. But modern agricultural practices are often environmentally degrading. Only through incorporating sustainable agriculture will we truly be able to develop sustainable to meet our future needs.

The problems with agricultural practices are extremely broad, and go beyond environmental impacts. To better understand this concept, consult the mind map below on unsustainable agriculture. Click the photo for a link to the full map if you have difficulty seeing it. This section will focus on the environmental impacts

"Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals — environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity" (Feenstra, n.d).

The environmental impacts of agriculture fit broadly into categories: Water, crops/practices, and land. We will discuss the first two, use the knowledge from these sections and the citations provided to evaluate the third yourself!



Many areas of the world will experience acute water shortage by 2050, as discussed in the sustainable communities section. Agriculture consumes vast amounts of water. It takes 40 gallons of water for a slice of bread, and 4650 gallons for a beef steak. Agriculture draws 70% of total global water use. There is a clear risk of water scarcity affecting agriculture, and efforts must be made to reduce water consumption.

There remains another problem with water use, however, one that stems from having too much water. Runoff from farms carries fertilizer, sediment, and pesticides into natural waterways. Typically this occurs when substances are applied excessively or just before rainfall (EPA, n.d). Here these chemicals and sediments impact the natural environment in a variety of ways.


  • Excessive nitrogen from fertilizer can cause algae blooms. These blooms use up all of the oxygen in the water, choking out natural life (EPA, n.d).

  • Sediment buildup clouds water, blocking out sunlight, and can clog fish gills (EPA, n.d).

  • Pesticides can be toxic to human and marine life. (Aktar, Sengupta, Chowdhury, 2009).

  • Agricultural runoff is even “one of the most significant threats to the long-term health of the Great Barrier Reef” (Queensland Government, n.d).




  • Matching substance use to crop needs: Maximizing the efficiency of say, nitrogen fertilizer use, can ensure that crops receive enough fertilizer that they can absorb it all. This reduces excess substance available for runoff.

  • Optimize irrigation: This solution reduces the runoff that carries harmful substances. Farmers and ranchers can reduce runoff by 20% - 90% using practices to decrease the flow rate of water and keep soil in place (EPA, n.d). Irrigation techniques like drip irrigation can reduce water use, and constant monitoring can optimize use. This has implications for water consumption and runoff.

  • Reduce substance use: A simple, yet impactful, solution: use less of the substances and there will be less runoff. The implications of reducing substance use are wide-reaching. Consider the economic and health implications for small farmers in particular. “In Tanzania, where annual per capita income is less than $1600, it costs 500 000 Tanzanian shillings (more than $300) to buy enough fertilizer and pesticide to treat a single acre.” (Folger, 2014).