Climate Change/Mitigation Strategies/Sustainable Development

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More than a decade after the Rio Summit in 1992, the challenge of moving economic development forwards, without compromising the availability of resources for future generations and at the same time protecting the environment and cultural heritage has become more urgent than ever.

Appearing on the scene with the publication of Limits to Growth, it was not until the 1987 Brundtland Report, produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development, that sustainable development entered the political arena. The idea was to identify a “pathway” through which people could create sustainable policies and practices rather than to develop a blueprint for action.

Ever since, the concept of sustainable development (SD) has managed to “stay alive” and has actually created much dispute and discussion. Since its emergence, SD has been widely embraced by government bodies and other influential organizations around the world, yet the actual behaviour of institutions that have claimed devotion to sustainability has been much criticized.

Sustainable development and sustainability have been used differently, but there is no evident consistency of difference. There has been much debate about whether and how the usages have differed or should differ, but these debates are unresolved. There is not even much agreement on which term is broader, or which carries more undesirable baggage. Here, the two terms are synonymous.

One of the drawbacks of SD as a concept has been the lack of agreement on its definition and guiding principles, although this is probably also a reason why the term has lasted for a long time and has become so widely accepted and debated. However one may choose to define it, sustainability stands as a critique; it is a challenge to prevailing assumptions, institutions and practices.

It relates to the basic non-viability of current development trends and practices and, therefore, it implies a need for significant change. Sustainability is indeed a challenge to conventional thinking. It requires the capacity to adapt to constantly changing conditions, as well as the flexibility to work with uncertainty, and with differences in local conditions and in public expectations shaped by culture, values and experience. Above all, it is participatory, ensuring that local communities and individuals have substantive input into designing and implementing development programs and projects.

Sustainability is more than setting up a system of compatible relations among biophysical, social, and economic aspects. It is also a matter of culture and governance. How relations are built with each other, what habits of thought and behaviour we establish and how we go about making decisions are central to sustainability.

It implies considering both the present and future, the incorporation of economic, environmental and social considerations into planning and management, the recognition that our institutions must evolve so that they can deal with the linkages and complexity of the world, the combination of technical and local knowledge systems, and to seek to change underlying values, beliefs and attitudes.