Sustainable development not so easy

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A thriving economy based on clean, green industries is still an idea supported by many in the Australian government and business sector, but any real movement toward "ecologically sustainable development" is considerably lacking, a recent survey of government agencies reveals. Sustainable development-which aims for economic growth without jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet their needs-is mainly hampered by lack of knowledge, says Neil Byron from the federal Productivity Commission, which completed the survey in April. Most public officials can only identify sustainable development on a small scale-such as recycling-while failing to understand that it is "not just about whales or wood chipping but about the type of development Australia wants to pursue," says Byron. The Murray Darling Basin Commission, which looks after Australia's largest river basin, is one of the few positive examples so far, but Byron says this commission has been able to succeed because it looks after just one area. "If it had to look after all rivers, it couldn't cope with such a huge task-the problems just become unmanageable," he says. The Productivity Commission offers ways to improve the implementation of sustainable principles, including the forming of policy that builds "multi-dimensional bridges" between economic sectors "instead of just making policies of what's best for one industry," Byron says. "We need a voice for the future," he stresses, citing possible models for Australia such as Canada's environmental "round tables" or commissions for sustainable development as in Europe.

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