The simplest definition of sustainable development comes from the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development Conference held over a decade ago. Sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” and has become the accepted definition of sustainable development.
In 1992, the Earth Summit in Rio was the first summit to examine progress towards the goal of sustainable development. Each of the five global conferences has since addressed some form of sustainable development.
The debate continues
The debate continues as to whether the three elements of sustainability, environment, economic development and social justice can ever be equally intertwined. Many people, especially environmentalists, believe that sustainable development can never be achieved due to the sheer scale of the problem. Despite this negativity, many countries and cities are actively working towards the goal of a sustainable future.
The US established the Presidents Council on Sustainable Development during the Clinton administration. This council consisted of representatives from environmental organisations, business and the government sector. They developed strategies to foster a growing economy coupled with a healthy environment essential to our national and global security.
Everyone seems to agree that it is important that all groups work together to improve the quality of life on our planet. Efficient ways must be developed to use our natural resources, protect our global commons, manage human settlements, manage our chemicals and waste, and achieve sustainable economic growth. How this is to be done is debatable.
Fortunately, sustainable development is gaining attention. A Google search turned up 23 million instances of the word across the web. The term is becoming so well known that it is often abbreviated to “SD”. However, despite its growing popularity, the definition remains unclear and difficult to define.
After World War II, four common themes have emerged as values that people around the world want to achieve. These values are peace, freedom, development and environment. World Summits held since then have addressed these four common themes and SD has evolved.
The three components environmental, economic and social overlap and no area can exist alone. Whether sustainable development is viewed as a goal, concept or movement, SD prevails at international, national, corporate, city and local levels. The integration of all components of sustainable development remains a complex issue as everyone has their own idea of what SD is and how it can be achieved.
The SD future
This simply means that our activities should not result in our natural resources being depleted faster than they can be replaced. Depleting our resources faster than they can be naturally replaced will theoretically lead to a situation where the planet is no longer able to support human life. The end result of this catastrophic failure could be the annihilation of humanity.
So what is sustainable development? The full answer is certainly not clear and may never be, but the direction in which we should be going is becoming clearer and clearer.