How can we make development more sustainable?

Essay 2011 9 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Development Politics



One could wonder what to say bad about development and aid or even against sustainable development. Over the past few years, sustainable development has emerged as the latest catchphrase. Non-governmental as well as governmental organizations agree talking about this term, because it is one of those magical fields in which hardly something can go wrong.

This attitude lead to a blurring and forgetting of what sustainable development truly is.

The purpose of this essay will be to re-elaborate and define the terminus “sustainable” in context to development followed and supported by a historical approach on the pre-Agenda 21 framework.

Therefore the results will be clarify by a case-study.

Upon these pillars the conclusion will point out how development can be made more sustainable in future or if it has become already more sustainable.


As mentioned beforehand, the absolute terminus ofsustainability is not quite clear. The World Bank Group, which is the biggest supplier of information in the terms of development suggests a definition from the World Commission on Environment and Development’s (the Brundtland Commission) report: “Our Common Future” According to this sustainability is "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (The World Bank Group, 2001)

This definition, even chosen by an institution with such a high expertise, can not stand with a further determination. For a clearer insight it is useful to distinguish which fields are included. Those are sustainability in connection with the environment as well as the so called social sustainability and the economic parts ofthe whole task identity. “Environmental and Social Sustainability is the adoption and integration of precautionary environmental and social principles and considerations into decision making processes.”(UNEMG) Already here it can be seen that the high interdependence of both fields makes it impossible or would cause a high imbalance to work on them separated from each other.

The aims in these fields are “to prevent and mitigate undue harm to the environment and people at the earliest possible planning stage.” (UNEMG)

Economic sustainability is achieved, when the development, which moves towards social and environmental sustainability, is financially viable. (Commonwealth Association of Architects, 2006)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Again we see that the three parts are interdependently, if not even conflicting each other in their objectives to reach. Most of these conflicts arise from a too short-term view and long-term thoughts quickly reveal the benefits in future times. For example: the sustainable use of natural resources now will help ensure that there are resources available for sustained industrial growth far into the future. (The World Bank Group, 2001)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Image: http://www.sustainablemeasures.com/node/26

As this figure once more illustrates, the parts as unity build up the full term of sustainable development. Only the integration of environment allows a enduring development, because it is our basic requirements, the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breath. With in the environment lies the human society, which are all the human relations, including the high specific construct of the economy. Economy exists entirely within society, because all parts of the human economy require interaction among people. (Sustainable Measures, 2011)


The idea of sustainability is a quite old one. As early as in the 17th century, sovereigns realised, that it is much more useful to only chop down as much wood from the forests, as you plant new trees. re-grow. By this they were sure to have a secure, long-term economic benefitfrom theirforests guaranteed.(Nolte, 2006, p. 30) Somehow during the industrialisation, this idea got lost in favour of massive short­term benefits and rapid economical development.

Motivated by the continuing material growth since the fifties of the 20th century and the uncritical handling of the long-term consequences from the political side, the Club of Rome was founded in 1968. (Heins, 1997, p. 40) The founders of this think- tank were 70 experts and politicians One of the most influential studies was their in 1972 published book "The Limits to Growth"(Meadows, Randers, & Meadows, 2004), which still has a to the current time updated edition[1]. In the study, the limitation of natural resources and the absolute limit of growth were displayed.

The same year the book was published, another milestone in sustainable development took place in Stockholm, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. This was the first World Conference on the environment and sustainable development ever in Human history. The developed and developing countries drafted a declaration, in which 26 principles for environment and development were set as a fix framework. (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 1972) Additional to that another part of the outcome were 109 recommendations how to implement these principles are documented. Such as a establishment of a global Earth observation system (Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS). As said beforehand, this was the firs declaration building upon a international cooperation in environmental protection. The right ofa state to exploit its own resources, was subordinated to the duty, not to damage other states due to actions within its own territory. During the whole conference a big clash kept going, rooting in the lack of trust between developing and developed countries representatives. The Global-North was suspected just to strengthen their own economic and political supremacy by using the instrument of sustainable development, in order to keep the dependency ofthe Global-South. This North-South conflict was continuing for the next twenty years and is even today still going on. (Heins, 1997, p. 40)

To again stimulate the discussion about the population growth under the aspect of poverty, ecocide and increasing resource consumption in the industrialized countries, the some Scandinavian states In 1987, the United Nations General Assembly realized that there was a heavy deterioration of the human environment and natural resources due to the the issues of poverty-related population growth, environmental degradation. To move this again in the international focus, a formation of a Environmental Commission. By getting granted a three-quarters majority and the permission to change the name from Brundtland[2] commission into "World Commission on Environment and Development.", the developing countries were willing to participate.

The objective of the Commission war to suggest long-term environmental and development strategies, so that sustainable development could be possible and guaranteed by the year 2000 and after it.

This Commission was the first which interconnected the three pillars of sustainable development as mentioned in the introduction (Environmental Social and Economic sustainability). This ground breaking approach not only provided our nowadays definition of sustainable development but also united the Global-north with the Global-South (North-South conflict), and both unite under the term "sustainable development". The outcome was the so called “Brundtland Report.” (Heins, 1997, p. 42)

Quite recent and most imported agenda is the “Agenda 21” from 1992. This project name comes from the vision to supply a framework how sustainable development can be applied for the 21th century. Almost every state in the world (172 countries) participated in the Conference in Rio de Janeiro . the Agenda, namely Conference on Environment and Development of the United Nations (or short UNCED) A new feature of the At this meeting was the integration and participation of, many non-governmental organizations who took part alongside government representatives. The definition of the World Bank Group, which is used as basis for this work, is also dates back to this Agenda for the 21th century in Rio de Janeiro. by a change in economic, environmental and development policy to the needs of the present generation are met without compromising the ability of future generations. This concept demands, that on one hand, the industrialized countries have to adjusted their economic factor and by this the energy, agricultural and trade sectors, because their consume and use of resources is in no relation to their total population.


[1] Available under: http://www.sustainer.ora/pubs/limitstoarowth.pdf

[2] Mrs. Gro Harlem Brundtland is the Norwegian politician, who had led the commision


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Ritsumeikan University – Graduate School of International Relations
Sustainability development Agenda 21 Earth Summit Case Study



Title: How can we make development more sustainable?