Sustainable development is development which satisifies the current needs of society without compromising the needs of future generations. One of the factors which sustainable development must overcome is environmental degradation.
For some, the issue is considered to be closely tied to economic growth and the need to find ways to expand the economy in the long term without using up environmental capital for current growth at the cost of long term growth. For others, the concept of growth itself is problematic, as the resources of the Earth are finite.
Environmental degradation refers to the diminishment of a local ecosystem or even the biosphere as a whole due to human activity. Environmental degredation occurs when nature's resources (such as trees, habitat, water, air) are being consumed faster than nature can replenish them. An unsustainable situation occurs when environmental capital (the sum total nature's resources), is used up faster than it can be replenished. Sustainability requires that human activity, at a bare minimum, only uses nature's resources to the point where they can be replinshed naturally:
Human consumption of renewable resources > Nature's ability to replenish: Environmental degredation Human consumption of renewable resources = Nature's ability to replenish: Enviornmental equilibrium / sustainable growth. Human consumption of renewable resources < Nature's ability to replenish: Environmental renewal / also sustainable growth.
The long term final result of environmental degredation will be local environments unlikely to be able to sustain a human population.
Popularization of the concept of sustainable development
The idea of sustainable development did not becompe popularized until the 1990s. It was during this decade that increasing scientific evidence were mounting that human actions were having a negative inpact on the environment on a global scale, such as global warming. The idea was popularized when some individuals believed that the current path of human activity was unsustainable in the long term, and changes in human society were needed.
The first major manifistation of this popularization of sustainable developement started with the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in 1992.
The conference was prompted by the report Our Common Future (1987, World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Brundtland Commission), which called for strategies to strengthen efforts to promote sustainable and environmentally sound development. A series of seven UN conferences followed on environment and development. They coined the most widely used definition of sustainable development, which contains two key concepts: The concept of "needs", in particular the essential needs of the world`s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment ability to meet present and future needs.
Sustainable development demands that ways of living, working and being that enable all people of the world to lead healthy, fulfilling, and economically secure lives without destroying the environment and without endangering the future welfare of people and the planet.
The precise meaning of sustainable development has been widely debated. For example, two years after the Brundtland Commission's Report popularised the term, over 140 definitions of sustainable development had been catalogued.
The United Nations Environment Programme position is:
The intensified and unsustainable demand for land, water marine and coastal resources resulting from the expansion of agriculture and uncontrolled urbanisation lead to increased degradation of natural ecosystems and erode the life supporting systems that uphold human civilisation. Caring for natural resources and promoting their sustainable use is an essential response of the world community to ensure its own survival and well being. (source: Sustainable Management and Use of Natural Resources)
Many people reject the term sustainable development as an overall term in favor of sustainability, and reserve sustainable development only for specific development activities such as energy development.
Sustainable development is one of the issues addressed by international environmental law.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:21:32