The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) defined Sustainable Development as “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” But Sustainable Development is more complex than this simplified definition. Sustainable Development has many issues concerning it such as development of underdeveloped nations, climate change, environmental damage, environmental regulation, addressing the problem of world poverty, population control, sustainable tourism, ecosphere preservation, urbanization, and conservation of earth’s resources. Sustainable Development is truly a challenge that is global in nature as it concerns the earth’s biosphere. In other words countries can no more be living in isolated worlds. The burden on the earth both as to its resources-depletion and pollution can no more be confined as any single country’s responsibility. United Nations held “World Commission on Environment and Development” in 1987 (also called Brundtland Commission) with the objectives of evolving long term environmental strategies, greater cooperation among developed and developing countries for Sustainable Development, finding effective ways & means to deal with environmental concerns, and creating shared perceptions & a long term agenda in world community dealing with problems in protecting & enhancing the environment.
The 1987 commission was necessitated because a threat to the world environment was perceived in the earlier 1984 meeting of the UN commission on the same subject. The nature of the threat was twofold, depletion of the earth’s resources and pollution. Manmade mishaps added another dimension to it since the 1984 meet. A leak of poisonous gas from a pesticide factory at Bhopal, in India resulted in a catastrophe killing thousands and maiming over 200,000 people. Explosion of liquid gas tanks in Mexico City killed thousands and made thousands homeless. The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, in the then Soviet Russia released a radioactive plume that spread across Europe increasing the risks of nuclear-radiation related human cancers. A ware house fire in Switzerland caused agricultural chemicals, solvents and Mercury to flow into the Rhine River killing millions of fish and threatening drinking water in Federal Republic of Germany and Netherlands. Unsafe drinking water was responsible for death of an estimated 60 million people most of whom were children. All these incidents since the 1984 meet made it clear that protection of environment requires global cooperation as accidents happening in one country can affect other countries or even globally. In addition to addressing the problems of resource-depletion and pollution, preventing incidents in business enterprises that can affect the environment adversely occupy the important place in the agenda of Sustainable Development.
Resource depletion is characterized by consumption of fossil fuels, exploitation of the earth’s resources like mineral deposits for manufacturing goods, soil fertility for food production, and water for industrial and human needs. These resources are not unlimited. The human population is ever increasing causing ever increasing consumption of the earth’s resources. According one statistic the world population will become double the present figure by the year 2030. Man’s average life has also increased. All this will put a greater demand on the resources and consequently faster depletion of the earth’s resources in future.
Industrialization resulted in Carbon emissions from factories. The greenhouse gasses like CO2 emitted by factories and automobiles, scientists warn, will cause global warming. The global warming produces adverse climatic changes. Developed nations produce the largest portion of the world’s greenhouse gasses while consuming most of the earth’s resources as their multinational business houses operate across the globe. As the awareness about these environmental issues has increased the developed nations want to cut in carbon emissions across the globe. Developing countries are in dire need of socio economic development which requires them to industrialize. This makes them reluctant to cut down emissions. The increase in population requires increase in food production, expanding businesses or establishing new businesses to provide employment. While development is responsible for pollution the need for development is also increasing. The question now is “Is it difficult to implement Sustainable Development in a Real-World Context?” The answer is “Yes”. But it is achievable if all nations come together and coordinate to make Sustainable Development possible. If mankind has to avoid an ecological catastrophe in future Sustainable Development is inescapable.
The question about what will happen if we continue like in the past was addressed in the Prototype Global Sustainable Development Report, issued on 1 July 2014 under the aegis of UN. The report notes that:
“The majority scientists are of the opinion that by 2050 the world would be beset with issues like as accelerating climate change, global collapse of ocean fisheries, economic growth, inequity, poverty and hunger The dynamics-as-usual world in 2050 is a “growth first”- scenario. It is one of excessive material consumption by 6 billion people in both “North” and “South” which will be at the expense of another 3 billion people living in abject poverty eventually leading to global collapse.” (Prototype Global Sustainable Development Report 43)
That is to say if no attention is paid to Sustainable Development, there would be dire consequences for the future generations; and people will term the current generation as irresponsible. There are three dimensions to Sustainable Development namely economic, social, and environmental. In 2012 United Nations in its conference for Sustainable Development reported that the three dimensions are interlinked and there is a need to integrate them (1). This requires close coordination between multiple agencies both at national and international level. Describing the goals of Sustainable Development, Clutter et al argue that while some goals of Sustainable Development are primarily economic, or social, or environmental, others are multi-dimensional with a need for integrated sustainability approach (Sustainable Development Goals and Integration 3).
The Food Scenario. There are signs of crisis in food sector. Even though there is no lack of resources in agriculture or dearth of food production, many in underdeveloped countries have gone hungry. There is poverty amidst plenty in the world not only across countries but within some countries. In India tons of food grains rot in government godowns while the food prices in India are high for many of its poor. Lack of proper policies has resulted in developing countries having stunted growth and health risks due to malnutrition; (Report of World Commission on Environment and Development; Ch.1). Deforestation and soil erosion severely affect agricultural production. Not addressing these two important problems may result in land productivity. The necessary increase in the annual agricultural production rate may not be achieved to sustain future food needs.
The Environment. Since the Industrial revolution development had increased wealth and produced some advanced countries. Gradually industrialization spread to most countries on the globe. There was no significant effort to recognize and understand the costs humanity paid for development till perhaps the 1970s. Perhaps the first awareness about the effects of industrialization on the environment came when scientists warned about the global warming. Once the awareness came there had been an emphasis on studies of the environment and the earth’s biosphere. Ozone layer depletion due to use of certain chemicals was discovered. Air and water pollution became a major issue. Many chemicals and synthesized medical formulations which were used for a long time were discovered to be extremely harmful to both man and environment. A collective action through international cooperation is the only way the environment and pollution issues can be effectively tackled.
Manmade disasters like large scale industrial accidents killed and maimed thousands and polluted the environment. This calls for safety guidelines, checks and balances for prevention of disastrous Industrial accidents.
THE ACTION SOFAR
As a result of awareness of the costs of development some actions have been initiated such as banning use of chlorofluorocarbons and substituting safer alternatives. Chemicals, medical formulations that were proven to be harmful were banned. The need for spreading safety awareness was recognized. Systematic methods for prevention of industrial accidents were developed and knowledge disseminated. International agencies either under aegis of UN or separately were established to address environmental and human welfare issues. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) formulates and monitors nuclear safety standards. Nations have established authorities at their level to monitor environment and for regulating businesses that have a bearing on environment. The concept of Sustainable Development is now well recognized. The United Nations organization held three summit meetings on Sustainable Development in 1987, 1992, 2012; UN identified issues and goals and formulated action plan for Sustainable Development. UN is also coordinating efforts for Sustainable Development at nation level.
Honey Care Africa (HCA), a private sector company established in the year 2000 in Kenya provides beehives and related equipment to organizations, communities and individuals. The income generated helped the beneficiaries rise above poverty line. These projects will also lead indirectly to additional pollination and increase in crop yields (Innovation for Sustainable Development: Local Case Studies from Africa 10-11).
A low cost village water supply scheme jointly designed, funded and built by villagers, Catholic Church, and UN is serving the whole community in Lufumbu, a small village in Tanzania. There were eight other cases reported by UN where successful sustainable Development programs were under taken.
Conclusion. The world is now a global village. Developed and developing nations cannot remain in isolation. The inequity in development forces developing nations to industrialize and increase production. The burden on environment is bound to increase. Developed nations have morally higher responsibility for cutting down carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. Ethics should be integrated with businesses so as to adopt environmentally safe methods. Technologies should be improvised to cut down emissions for the same output of machines. Nations have to come together to coordinate for implementation of Sustainable Development. This may not be easy but there is no other go for the world. Even as the task is daunting, realization that preserving the earth’s biosphere is critical for the survival of humanity will make the world to work and achieve Sustainable Development.
1. United Nations. Report of World Commission on Environment and Development: An Overview by the World Commission on Environment and Development. New York: Development and International Economic cooperation: Environment., 1987. Web 23 Jun. 2015.
2. United Nations. Prototype Global Sustainable Development Report. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development., 2014. Web 23 Jun. 2015.
3. United Nations. The future we want. Rio de Janeiro: United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development, Division for Sustainable Development., 2012. Web 23 Jun. 2015.
4. Clutter Amy et al. Sustainable Development Goals and Integration: Achieving a better balance between the economic, social and environmental dimensions. Stakeholders Forum, German Council for Sustainable Development., Web 23 Jun. 2015.
5. United Nations. Innovation for Sustainable Development: Local Case Studies from Africa. New York: Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development., 2008. Web 23 Jun. 2015.