Sustainable Development Introduction
Author and Page information
- This page: https://www.globalissues.org/article/408/sustainable-development-introduction.
- To print all information (e.g. expanded side notes, shows alternative links), use the print version:
On this page:
What is Sustainable Development?
The idea of sustainable development grew from numerous environmental movements in earlier decades and was defined in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission 1987) as:
- Sustainable Development
- Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This contributed to the understanding that sustainable development encompasses a number of areas and highlights sustainability as the idea of environmental, economic and social progress and equity, all within the limits of the world’s natural resources.
Little Progress So Far
However, the record on moving towards sustainability so far appears to have been quite poor.
Though we might not always hear about it, sustainable development (and all the inter-related issues associated with it) is an urgent issue, and has been for many years, though political will has been slow-paced at best. For example, there are
- 1.3 billion without access to clean water;
- about half of humanity lacking access to adequate sanitation and living on less than 2 dollars a day;
- approximately 2 billion without access to electricity;
- Sources(For sources to these figures quoted as well as additional facts and statistics, see this web site’s poverty facts and stats.)
And this is in an age of immense wealth in increasingly fewer hands. The inequality of consumption (and therefore, use of resources, which affects the environment) is terribly skewed:
20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3% according to the 1998 United Nations Human Development Report.
The Earth Summit in 1992 Attempted to Highlight the Importance of Sustainability
The 1992 Rio Earth Summit was attended by 152 world leaders, and sustainability was enshrined in Agenda 21, a plan of action, and a recommendation that all countries should produce national sustainable development strategies. Despite binding conventions and numerous detailed reports, there seems to have been little known about the details to ordinary citizens around the world.
In the 10+ years since Rio, there has been little change in poverty levels, inequality or sustainable development, as the World Development Movement notes.
Despite thousands of fine words the last decade has joined the 1980’s as another .
lost decade for sustainable development with deepening poverty, global inequality and environmental destruction
As LEAD and Panos highlight,
In the ten years since Rio, sustainable development hasn’t been very high on international agendas and criticizes both rich and poor nations alike:
The Political Challenge
As hinted to above, how sustainability is viewed is itself a factor, as it has different meanings to different people. And this impacts how policies may or may not be pursued, and who may participate, who may be affected, and who may benefit.
Consider for example, the following:
The above highlights the need to consider multiple angles and perspectives.
More focus is needed on developing technologies that are
environment friendly. Advances in such technologies would have a profound impact on all manner of society. Yet, achieving sustainable development seems primarily a political task not a technological one, though technology may be one of the many factors that could play an important part in moving towards more sustainable development. Without the political will to overcome special interests, it will prove difficult and those without voices to be heard, such as the poor that make up the majority of the planet, would be impacted the most.
The rest of the pages on this site’s section on sustainable development hopes to introduce some of these challenges and look at primarily the political aspects affecting the issue of sustainability. (Over time this section is expected to grow.)
Back to top