Sustainable Development and its Origin

Fatima Mubarak
Senior Environmental Officer
Environmental Center for Arab Towns- Dubai Municipality
Introduction and overview

Sustainable development has been defined in various ways, but the common widely used definition is based on "Our Common Future" Report published during the Brundtland commission in 1987 and what it states basically is that:- "Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Definitions of sustainable development might vary but at the end they lead to the same approach as shown in figure (1).

Acceptance of the term by the United Nation General Assembly has given the term somewhat political importance and it has also led to the development of the sustainable development principles during the year of 1992 by leaders and key players at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (WCED) in Rio de Janeiro-Brazil. Sustainable development is a visionary model and over the past 20 years governments, civil societies, businesses and NGO's were able to make progress in the sustainable development process. However, the concept remains vague and it has been proved that the implementation process is still difficult. Many unsustainable trends continue to run without any political entries found in process. Accordingly, climate change became the de facto proxy of the sustainable development agenda.

Sustainable development consists of 7 main key concepts which are the following:-

Key concept 1: Interdependence: meaning that one should understand how the environment and economy are interlinked at all levels from local to global.

Key concept 2:- Citizenship and Stewardship: responsibilities are to be taken by each individual within the community to ensure the world is a better place.

Key concept 3:- Needs and Rights of Future Generations: Understanding the basic needs of the community and the implications of actions taken today for the needs of the future generations.

Key concept 4:- Diversity: respecting and valuing cultural, social and economic differences.

Key concept 5:- Quality Of Life:- acknowledging that global equity and justice are essential elements of sustainability and are also basic needs that must be met universally.

Key concept 6:- Uncertainty and precautions:- different approaches to sustainability should be acknowledged and the constant change of situations and your acknowledgement of lifelong and flexible learning approaches.

Key Concept 7:- Sustainable change: - understanding that resources are limited and this might result in a negative impact on people's lifestyles

The 3 pillars of Sustainability

In addition to the key concepts there are also three pillars of sustainability. These are economic, environmental and social pillars which lie beneath the whole approach to sustainable development. The entire idea of the three pillars was adopted into UK policy planning.

The origins of sustainable development

The structure of sustainable development evolved between the years of 1972 and 1992 through a series of summits and conferences. The concept was first introduced during the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972, it was the first international platform gathering to confer sustainability at a comprehensive scale. The conference resulted in the creation of a series of recommendations that has led to the establishment of the UN Environment Program (UNEP) as well as the emergence of many national environmental protection agencies.

In the year of 1983, the UN assembled with the WCED chaired by the Norwegian Former Prime Minister Gro Harlem. A commission was created to tackle rising concerns of the collapse of human environment and natural resources and the consequences of the collapse for economic and social development. Four years later, the group has published a report to address these issues Our Common Future (also known as the Brundtland Report). The report has provided a stark analysis of the state of the environment as well as popularizing the most commonly used definition of sustainable development: “Development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987, p. 45).

The Brundtland report was the milestone of the Rio Summit held in 1992 in which it has laid the fundamentals for the global incorporation of sustainable development. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21 were adopted by the Earth.

Summit and has outlined a global action plan for sustainable development The Rio Declaration consisted of 27 principles of sustainable development, including principle 7 on “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which stated: “In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. Agenda 21 included 40 separate chapters, setting actions in regard to the social and economic scope of sustainable development, conservation and management of natural resources, the role of major groups, and means of implementation. Three mechanisms of Environmental governance were established during the Rio Summit: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the non-legally binding Statement of Forest principles. The Rio summit was very successful from a political angle it had the world’s engagement and attendance by every national leader. A number of international conferences on sustainable development have been conducted including the Earth Summit +5 in New York and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in the year of 2002.

Progress on sustainable development

Progress has been made on sustainable development metrics. In view of the fact that concerns over environmental degradation and increasing pollution have led to increased investment in green technologies. The implementation process remains a challenge, but there is evidence of advancement. Advances have been made on poverty mitigation through the efforts of halving the proportion of people whose income are less that 1 US dollar per day. The environment is a a main concern for governments and firm over the past 20 years, and there are a number of efforts to incorporate environmental considerations more effectively into economic decision-making. Examples on that is integration of governmental efforts in diverse developed countries to place a price on carbon, a growing recognition of the value of eco-system services to business and society, and efforts to assess advancements towards Sustainable development. Global concerns over environmental degradation and the increase pollution have led to increased investment in green innovations. The Montreal Protocol for example has been successful in banning all the ozone-depleting substances. Despite the progress on sustainable development, negative unsustainable trends continue to happen. Rio Summit has been fed the economic growth by resource and material consumption and related environmental impacts.

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