Sustainable development

Sustainable development is 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs', according to Our Common Future, a 1987 report from the UN. One of the factors which sustainable development must overcome is environmental degradation.

For some, the issue is considered to be closely tied to economic growth and the need to find ways to expand the economy in the long term without using up natural capital for current growth at the cost of long term growth. For others, the concept of growth itself is problematic, as the resources of the Earth are finite.


Environmental degradation

Environmental degradation refers to the diminishment of a local ecosystem or the biosphere as a whole due to human activity. Environmental degradation occurs when nature's resources (such as trees, habitat, earth, water, air) are being consumed faster than nature can replenish them. 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 to the point where they can be replenished naturally:

  • Human consumption of renewable resources > Nature's ability to replenish: Environmental degradation
  • Human consumption of renewable resources = Nature's ability to replenish: Enviornmental equilibrium / sustainable growth.
  • Human consumption of renewable resources < Nature's ability to replenish: Environmental renewal / also sustainable growth.

The long term final result of environmental degradation will be local environments that are no longer able to sustain human populations.

Popularization of the concept of sustainable development

The idea of sustainable development did not become popular until the 1990s. It was during this decade that scientific evidence began to mount indicating that human actions were having a negative impact on the environment on a global scale, leading to outcomes such as global warming. The idea of sustainable development became a widespread concern when enough people concluded that the current path of human activity was unsustainable in the long term and changes in human society were needed.

The first major manifestation of this popularization of sustainable development occurred at the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in 1992.

The conference was prompted by the report Our Common Future (1987, World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Brundtland Commission), which called for strategies to strengthen efforts to promote sustainable and environmentally sound development. A series of seven UN conferences on environment and development followed. The Brundtland Commission coined the most widely used definition of sustainable development, which contains two key concepts: The concept of "needs", in particular the essential needs of the world`s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.

Sustainable development demands that ways of living, working and being that enable all people of the world to lead healthy, fulfilling, and economically secure lives without destroying the environment and without endangering the future welfare of people and the planet.

The precise meaning of sustainable development has been widely debated. For example, two years after the Brundtland Commission's Report popularised the term, over 140 definitions of sustainable development had been catalogued. However, the term "sustainability" has since been defined with reference to sound scientific principles (see The Natural Step).

The United Nations Environment Programme's position is as follows:

The intensified and unsustainable demand for land, water marine and coastal resources resulting from the expansion of agriculture and uncontrolled urbanisation lead to increased degradation of natural ecosystems and erode the life supporting systems that uphold human civilisation. Caring for natural resources and promoting their sustainable use is an essential response of the world community to ensure its own survival and well being. (source: Sustainable Management and Use of Natural Resources (

Many people reject the term sustainable development as an overall term in favor of sustainability, and reserve sustainable development only for specific development activities such as energy development.

Sustainable development is one of the issues addressed by international environmental law.

Sustainable development in the law

A few countries have introduced the principle of sustainable development into their laws. Among them is Poland. The article 5 of the 1997 Constitution says:

The Republic of Poland shall safeguard the independence and integrity of its territory and ensure the freedoms and rights of persons and citizens, the security of the citizens, safeguard the national heritage and shall ensure the protection of the natural environment pursuant to the principles of sustainable development.

In principle it means that the Constitutional Tribunal may strike down any law it deems incompatible with the principle of sustainable development. However, as in the last decades the enviromental regulations have, with few exceptions, only become stronger, it's unlikely that the Tribunal will exercise this power anytime soon.

In France in 2004, along with the lists of human rights set out in the 1789 Declaration of the rights of man and the citizen and in the preamble of the 1946 constitution of the Fourth Republic, an Environmental Charter was added to the Constitution, recognizing among others a duty to preserve the environment and the right to live in a "balanced and health-respecting" environment.

The proposed Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe also includes sustainable development, as one of the European Union's objectives.

See also

External links

de:Nachhaltige Entwicklung es:Desarrollo sostenible eo:Daŭrivo fr:Dveloppement durable he:פיתוח בר קיימא is:Sjlfbr run it:Sviluppo sostenibile nl:Duurzame ontwikkeling zh:可持续发展


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools