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Understanding and applying the concept of innovative communities, to achieve sustainable development
Sustainable Development: Innovative Communities
Starting at the Community Level
for Innovativeness

There is a growing body of knowledge demonstrating the fact that the causes and pressures of any of today's environmental problems can be traced back, directly or indirectly, to the local level - and to the lifestyles, choices, values and behaviours of local communities. Research into the concept of ecological footprint shows that the average American uses 30 acres to support his or her current lifestyle. This corresponds to the size of 30 football fields put together. In comparison, the average Indian lives on a footprint one-tenth this size.

Environmental problems that are becoming apparent at the global level - for example, climate change, loss of biodiversity, increasing desertification - are being tackled internationally through a variety of multilateral conventions and agreements. While coordination mechanisms and information sharing systems between international bodies, UN agencies and national governments has been set up, it is obvious that the long-term success of such mechanisms and systems can be ensured only if it is accompanied with strong local action, and involvement of local stakeholders.

Thus, the success of implementation of policies developed at the international and national levels largely depends on how well they are understood, interpreted and implemented at the local level. Conversely, it is equally important for the global policy making processes to take into account the needs, wishes and concerns of local communities.

This is because the forces and processes that constitute 'local activity' have far-reaching and long-term effects not only on its immediate boundaries, but also on the entire region in which it is positioned. An oft-quoted example is that of Netherlands. Netherlands uses a great deal of agricultural land beyond its borders - some 15 million hectares are used: five million hectares for consumption, ten million hectares for agricultural products, and a further six million for imports of timber. The spatial impact of the Netherlands on agricultural land and forests in other countries is therefore five times the size of the Netherlands itself.

Therefore, real environmental action takes place at the local level. As the slogan 'think global, act local' extols, it will be micro-action, taken by individuals and communities, on a daily basis, that will cumulatively be able to reduce and mitigate the impacts of global environmental problems. This recognition of the criticality of local communities can be seen in the 1992 Agenda 21 too - almost every chapter emphasizes the need for community involvement in managing and solving the environmental problems that it covers .

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