The simplest definition of sustainable development derives from the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development conference held more than a decade ago. Sustainable development, defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”, has become the accepted definition of sustainable development.
The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 was the first to examine progress towards the goal of sustainable development. Each of the five global conferences held since then has, in one way or another, addressed sustainable development.
The Debate Continues
Debate continues over whether the three elements of sustainability, the environment, economic development and social equality, can be equally intertwined. Many people, especially environmentalists, think that because the problem is so great, sustainable development will never be achieved. Despite this negativity, many countries and cities are actively working towards a sustainable future goal.
The United States established the Sustainable Development Council during the Clinton administration. This council included representatives from environmental organisations, business and government sectors. They have developed policies to promote a growing economy along with a healthy environment that is essential to our national and global security.
Everyone seems to agree that it is necessary for all groups to 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 to achieve this is the subject of heated debate.
Fortunately, sustainable development is getting attention. A Google search returned samples of 23 million words on the Internet. The term is so well known that it is often abbreviated as “SD”. Yet, despite its growth in popularity, the definition remains unclear and difficult to define.
After the second world war, four common themes emerged as the values that the people of the world wanted to achieve. These values are peace, freedom, development and environment. World summits held since then took these four common themes into account and SD has evolved.
The three components, environmental, economic and social, overlap and no field can exist alone. While sustainable development is thought of as a goal, a concept, or a movement, SD is holding on at the international, national, institutional, city and local levels. Covering all components of sustainable development remains a complex issue because everyone has their own idea of what SD is and how it can be achieved.
The Future of SD
What this simply means is that our activity should not cause our natural resources to be depleted faster than they can be replaced. Using our resources faster than they can be naturally replaced would, in theory, lead to a situation where the planet could not sustain human life. The ultimate result of this catastrophic failure could lead to the extinction of the human race.
So what is sustainable development? The full answer is not entirely clear, and it may never be, but the direction we need to go is getting clearer all the time.