Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and a continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well being. However integration of environment and development concerns and a greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can - in a global partnership for sustainable development.
Preamble to Agenda 21, 1992
There are many definitions of sustainable development. Two of the most common are:
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, 1987
Sustainable development means improving the quality of life whilst living within the carrying capacity of the supporting ecosystems.
The World Conservation Strategy, Caring for the Earth, 1990
Michael Jacobs (The Politics of the Real World, 1996, p. 26) outlines the core meanings of the term sustainable development;
They are that the environment must be protected in such a way as to preserve essential ecosystem functions and to provide for the well-being of future generations; that environmental and economic policy must be integrated; and that the goal of policy should be an improvement in the overall quality of life; not just income growth; that poverty must be ended and resources distributed more equally; and that all sections of society must be involved in decision making.
Sustainable development rests on ethical foundations and is about four sets of values:
- protecting the environment
- providing for the future
- quality of life
These values are reflected in The Rio Declaration (from the Earth Summit,1992), in Agenda 21 (the agenda for the21st century agreed at that summit) & Caring for the Earth (the World Conservation Strategy). They suggest that sustainability has ecological, economic, social, cultural and personal dimensions. We should move towards forms of development that sustain or improve our ecological, economic, social, cultural and personal welfare.
Agenda 21 discusses the substance of what sustainable development would mean, the
process through which it can be decided on and achieved, and the management
tools needed to achieve it.
|Reduce use of resources and production of waste, increase resource efficiency, reuse, recycle
Conserve fragile ecosystems
Social equity (between and within countries and across generations)
Quality of life (broader than standard of living)
Respect for traditional knowledge, ways of life, diversity
|Active planning and management
Consultation, participation, empowerment
Decisions at most local possible level, local government pivotal
Partnerships and collaborations between all sectors
|Education, information, awareness raising
Capacity building, institutional know how, confidence, experience
Regulations and enforcement
Market management, taxes, levies, subsidies
Sustainable development is the goal of the European Union, the UK Government, and most local governments within the UK
UK local government endorses the objectives of sustainable development. This means:
- staying within he capacities of the natural environment while improving the quality of life;
- offering our children opportunities at least as good as those available to us;
- ensuring that the poorest and most disadvantaged in society are not by reason of their poverty forced to ignore the obligations of sustainable development;
- integrating environmental policy objectives with social and economic policies.
We acknowledge that:
- the changes required will not happen automatically;
- markets need to be managed through intervention to change the choices and behaviours of consumers and businesses;
- regulations and economic mechanisms and measures to increase public awareness must be used to achieve these ends;
- we need to develop ways to win the support of all citizens in meeting the challenge.
The UK Local Government Declaration on Sustainable Development, 1995
In moving communities towards sustainability local governments are guided by 13 general indicators of a sustainable community:
- Resources are used efficiently and waste is minimised by closing cycles
- Pollution is limited to levels which natural ecosystems can cope with and without damage
- The diversity of nature is valued and protected
- Where possible local needs are met locally
- Everyone has access to good food, water, shelter and fuel at reasonable cost
- Everyone has the opportunity to undertake satisfying work in a diverse economy. The value of unpaid work is recognised, whilst payments for work are fair and fairly distributed
- People's good health is protected by creating safe, clean, pleasant environments and health services which emphasise prevention of illness as well as proper care for the sick
- Access to facilities, services, goods and other people is not achieved at the expense of the environment or limited to those with cars
- People live without fear of personal violence from crime or persecution because of their personal beliefs, race, gender or sexuality
- Everyone has access to the skills, knowledge and information needed to enable them to play a full part in society
- All sections of the community are empowered to participate in decision making
- Opportunities for culture, leisure and recreation are readily available to all
- Places, spaces and objects combine meaning and beauty with utility. Settlements are 'human' in scale and form. Diversity and local distinctiveness are valued and protected.
Local Government Management Board, 1994
Sustainable development will require substantial changes in behaviour at every level, giving priority to such unfashionable ideas as planning, community and greater equality. Existing patterns of consumerism, private ownership, individualism and the free market are deeply rooted in Western society and have spread far across the globe. Attempts to uproot them seem hopelessly idealistic. But we are reaching the point where self-interest and a common interest in survival converge. Already changes are occurring in local communities, in the world of business, in national policies, and in international
Andrew Blowers, Planning for a sustainable environment, 1993