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Sustainable development

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Sustainable development has also been defined as the process of balancing the need of humans for economic and social development with the need to protect the natural and built environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but in the indefinite future. The term was used by the Brundtland Commission which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need."[1]

The field of sustainable development can be conceptually broken into four constituent parts: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, social sustainability and political sustainability.

Scope and definitions

Sustainable development does not focus solely on environmental issues. More broadly, sustainable development policies encompass three general policy areas: economic, environmental and social. In support of this, several United Nations texts, most recently the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, refer to the "interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars" of sustainable development as economic development, social development, and environmental protection.

The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO, 2001) elaborates further the concept by stating that "...cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature”; it becomes “one of the roots of development understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence". In this vision, cultural diversity is the fourth policy area of sustainable development.

Sustainable Development can also be explained as a process rather than an end goal. This process requires further analysis and knowledge of alternatives than does traditional development processes. Simply put, if there are two alternatives that satisfy the same need, but one provides a better solution relative to sustainability, the more sustainable alternative is chosen.

Green development is generally differentiated from Sustainable development in that Green development prioritizes environmental sustainability over economic and cultural sustainability. Green development is not necessarily practical in all applications, so sustainable development provides a context in which to improve overall sustainability when cutting edge Green development is unattainable. For example, a cutting edge treatment plant with extremely high maintenance costs may not be sustainable in regions of the world with less financial resources. An ideal plant that is shut down due to bankruptcy is obviously less sustainable than one that is maintainable by the indigenous community, even if it is somewhat less effective from an environmental standpoint.

Some research activities start from this definition to show that the environment we inherited and that we will transmit to future generations is a combination of nature and culture. The Network of Excellence "Sustainable Development in a Diverse World" SUS.DIV, sponsored by the European Union, works in this direction. It integrates multidisciplinary capacities and interprets cultural diversity as a key element of a new strategy for sustainable development.

The United Nations Division for Sustainable Developments lists the following areas as coming within the scope of Sustainable Development;

Sustainable development is an ambiguous concept, as a wide array of views have fallen under its umbrella. The concept has included notions of weak sustainability, strong sustainability and deep ecology. Different conceptions also reveal a strong tension between ecocentrism and anthropocentrism. Thus, the concept remains weakly defined and contains a large amount of debate as to its precise definition.

Environmental sustainability

For more information, see: Environmental degradation.

Environmental degradation is the damage to the biosphere as a whole due to human activity. Environmental degradation occurs when nature's resources (such as trees, habitat, earth, water and air) are being consumed faster than nature can replenish them, when pollution results in irreparable damage done to the environment or when human beings destroy or damage ecosystems in the process of development. Environmental degradation can take many forms including, but not limited to, desertification, deforestation, extinction and radioactivity. Some of the major causes of such degradation include: man-made climate change from GHGs, overpopulation, urban sprawl, industrial pollution, waste dumping, intensive farming, over fishing, industrialization, introduction of invasive species and a lack of environmental regulations.

The goal of environmental sustainability is to minimize these, and other causes, to halt and, ideally, reverse the processes they lead to.

An unsustainable situation occurs when natural capital (the sum total of nature's resources) is used up faster than it can be replenished. Sustainability requires that human activity, at a minimum, only uses nature's resources at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally.

Theoretically, the long term final result of environmental degradation would result in local environments that are no longer able to sustain human populations to any degree. Such degradation on a global scale could imply extinction for humanity.

In the short-term, environmental degradation leads to declining standards of living, the extinctions of large numbers of species, health problems in the human population, conflicts, sometimes violent, between groups fighting for a dwindling resource, water scarcity and many other major problems.

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Consumption of renewable resources State of environment Sustainability
More than nature's ability to replenish Environmental degradation Not sustainable
Equal to nature's ability to replenish Environmental equilibrium Steady-state Sustainability
Less than nature's ability to replenish Environmental renewal Sustainable development

Criticism of the term

Many environmentalists have criticized some interpertations of the term "sustainable development" as an oxymoron, claiming that economic policies based on concepts of growth and continued depletion of resources cannot be sustainable, since that term implies resources remain constant.

Many people prefer the term "developing sustainability", as it does not imply that something needs to be created. Simply that we need to alter the way we exist.

Development Project Examples

See Also

Notes and references

  1. United Nations. 1987. "Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development." General Assembly Resolution 42/187, 11 December 1987. Retrieved: 2007-04-12

External links and resources