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Sustainable Development

Since from the beginning, the phenomenon of globalization has captured world attention in various ways. The tremendous change in the countries caused erosion of environmental quality to a large extent. Hence the concept of sustainable development has gained importance since Rio Declaration.

The central purpose of it is to create an enabling environment in which all human beings lead secure and creative lives. This paper focuses on the adverse effect of globalization on environment, and the need for sustainable development of environment with the industrial growth. The concept of sustainable development has undergone various developmental phases since its introduction.

The historical development of the concept saw participation of various organizations and institutions, which nowadays work intensely on the implementation of its principles and objectives. The concept has experienced different critiques and interpretations over the time while being accepted in different areas of human activity, and the definition of sustainable development has become one of the most cited definitions in the literature.

In its development, the concept has been adapting to the contemporary requirements of a complex global environment, but the underlying principles and goals, as well as the problems of their implementation, remained almost unchanged. Still, some goals have been updated, and the new goals were set. These goals are united in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals 2015 which outline the challenges that humanity has to fight not only to achieve sustainable development but to survive on Earth as well.

Overall development of humanity over the last decades has led to the increasingly unfavorable climate changes and natural disasters, but also wars and political and socio-economic instability. Through their action, humans have negatively impacted on the environment, endangering the survival of the Earth and the future generations.

These conditions have indicated changes in the behavior aiming towards more rational and efficient management of all resources that will allow less pressure and environmental impact. Such responsible behavior that will ensure the long-term exploitation of resources, without jeopardizing future generations is considered within the concept of sustainable development evolving in the 70s and especially in the 80s of the last century.

The concept of sustainable development is based on the concept of development (socio-economic development in line with ecological constraints), the concept of needs (redistribution of resources to ensure the quality of life for all) and the concept of future generations (the possibility of long-term usage of resources to ensure the necessary quality of life for future generations).

The essence of the concept of sustainable development derives from the Triple bottom line concept, which implies the balance between three pillars of sustainability-environmental sustainability focused on maintaining the quality of the environment which is necessary for conducting the economic activities and quality of life of people, social sustainability which strives to ensure human rights and equality, preservation of cultural identity, respect for cultural diversity, race and religion, and economic sustainability necessary to maintain the natural, social and human capital required for income and living standards.

Complete sustainable development is achieved through a balance between all these pillars, however, the required condition is not easy to achieve, because in the process of achieving its goals each pillar of sustainability must respect the interests of other pillars not to bring them into imbalance. So, while a certain pillar of sustainable development becomes sustainable, others can become unsustainable, especially when it comes to ecological sustainability, on which the overall capacity of development depends.

Inner and Outer Limits of Sustainable Development:

The noted environmentalist and a devoted protagonist of sustainable development, Barbara Ward, first coined the words inner and outer limits of sustainability' to express the different limiting forces that works against sustainable development. The inner limits are always re�flected by the internal socio-economic inequality within the population while outer limits are social cohesion.

Beyond these two limits, sustainable development cannot sustain, it breaks down suddenly. Social disharmony and inequality among inhabitants lead to environmental disorder, war, social tensions or ethnic conflict.

To break or broaden the outer and inner limit of growth certain measures are recom�mended:

  1. Present pattern of production and consumption should be in accordance with strict environment norms, so that it could be both socially and environmentally sustainable.
  2. Inequality among people should be minimized.
  3. Enhancing creativity and sensitivity, so that life-style and activities should be di�verse and people would get plenty of consumption choices.
  4. Ethical and moral values should be preserved and mass education should be im�plemented to curb materialistic consumption.
  5. Participation of the people in the decision-making process.
  6. Diversification of economy to enable the population to select their life-style.
  7. Poverty alleviation programme and eradication of economic imbalance.

Recent Efforts for Sustainable Development:

The Norway Round Table, in 1995, laid down some basic principles on sustainable devel�opment.

To achieve the goal of sustainable development, the convention uttered:
The use of goods and services that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life, while minimizing the use of natural resources, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle, so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations

Regarding the identification of problems of sustainability and recommending the way out, the convention pointed out some key aspects:

  1. Unsustainable consumption pattern is more visible in physical infrastructures like energy, housing, transport and waste management. Cultural habits and societal outlook is responsible for that.
  2. The business and industrialist community has specific role to manage environ�mental impacts of the goods and services it provides.
  3. Political institutions have a role to change consumption pattern rather than con�sumption volumes.
  4. For rectification in chain of production-consumption and final disposal govern�ment must provide incentive measures, infrastructural facilities, proper leader�ship and legislative regulations.
  5. Responsible organizations like trade unions must involve themselves in the agenda of consumption and production pattern change.
  6. Individuals have the great role in different aspects like consumer, householder, worker, decision-maker and even as voter.
Sustainable development (SD) refers to a model of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come.

The term sustainable development was used by the Brundtland Commission (1987) which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable development does not focus solely on environmental issues. The United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document refers to the four 'interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars' of sustainable development as including: economic development, social development and environmental protection. The fourth pillar is indigenous people and culture.
Proponents of Sustainable Development argue that it provides a context in which overall sustainability is improved where cutting edge Green development is unattainable. For example, a cutting edge treatment plant with extremely high maintenance costs may not be sustainable in regions of the world with fewer financial resources.

An environmentally ideal plant that is shut down due to bankruptcy is obviously less sustainable than one that is maintainable by the community, even if it is somewhat less effective from an environmental standpoint.

During the last ten years, different organizations have tried to measure and monitor the proximity to what they consider sustainability by implementing what has been called sustainability metric and indices. Sustainable development is said to set limits on the developing world. While current developed countries pollute significantly during their development, the same countries encourage developing countries to reduce pollution, which sometimes impedes growth.

Environmental sustainability is the process of making sure that the current processes of interaction with environment is pursued with the idea of keeping the environment as pristine as naturally possible based on ideal-seeking behavior. 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 only use nature's resources at a rate, which they can be replenished naturally. Inherently, the concept of sustainable development is intertwined with the concept of carrying capacity. Theoretically, the long-term result of environmental degradation is the inability to sustain human life. Such degradation on a global scale could imply extinction for humanity.

Equitable Use of Resources for Sustainable Development

Sustainable development basically means that the process of development needs to be sustained or the development of a region should be planned in such a manner that it should go on for a quite long time. Therefore, it calls for planned or judicious utilization of available limited resources with least possible degra�dation of environment while maintaining quality of life at the same time.

In other words, the development of a region is a limited process or has limits to growth, based on availability of natural resources, rather than keeping it under constant degradation state, in order to meet needs/comforts of human popula�tion and industrial/economic centers.

The commission on environment and development in its report Our Common Future defined sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.

However, economists define sustainable development as being an economic process in which the quantity and quality of our stock of natural resources (like forests) and integrity of biogeochemical cycles (like climate) are sustainable and passes on to the future generation unimpaired. In other words, there is no depreciation of world's natural capital. Closely associated with sustainable development are the concepts of carrying capacity and green accounting.

Carrying Capacity:
Carrying capacity of a region/system could be described broadly as number of individuals of a species that it can sustain. In case of human beings, it is rather a complex situation, wherein the region/system has not only to bear the load of his basic needs but also all other associated activities including industrial/de�velopmental projects which has direct impact on limited natural base and envi�ronmental quality. The carrying capacity can be divided into two parts i.e. sup�porting capacity and assimilative capacity.

The supporting capacity of a region/system provides an assessment of the stock of available resources with their regenerative capacity on natural/sustainable basis. The assimilative component of carrying capacity is an assessment of the maximum amount of pollution load that can be discharged without violating the best designated use of these basic components of environment.

The carrying capacity of a region/system thus gets affected if we use resource base beyond regenerative capability of their supporting capacity or if discharge/ generation of pollutants/waste products is not within the assimilative capacity.

Green Accounting:
Green accounting is a widely prevalent concept both in developed and develop�ing countries. It underlines basically the same principles as enumerated in con�cepts of sustainable development and carrying capacity i.e. use of natural re�sources base in planned and judicious manner without impacting (or minimum impacting) the quality of environment.

However, it conveys by providing us an economic interpretation of both resource base and environment quality as against the conventional accounting in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). It pre�cisely gives us a uniform level by converting both natural resource base and environmental quality in monetary terms, therefore, making the task easier for planners and policy makers to formulate further programmes/strategies of de�velopment.

Important Measures for Sustainable Development

  1. Technology:
    Using appropriate technology is one which is locally adaptable, eco-friendly, resource efficient and culturally suitable. It mostly involves local resources and local labour. Indigenous technologies are more useful, cost-effective and sustainable. Nature is often taken as a model, using the natural conditions of that region as its components. This concept is known as design with nature. The technology should use less of resources and should produce minimum waste.
  2. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Approach:
    The 3-R approach advocating minimization of resource use, using them again and again instead of passing it on to the waste stream and recycling the materials goes a long way in achieving the goals of sustainability. It reduces pressure on our resources as well as reduces waste generation and pollution.
  3. Promoting Environmental Education and Awareness:
    Making environmental education the center of all learning process will greatly help in changing the thinking pattern and attitude of people towards our earth and the environment. Introducing subject right from the school stage will inculcate a feeling of belongingness to earth in small children. 'Earth thinking' will gradually get incorporated in our thinking and action which will greatly help in transforming our lifestyles to sustainable ones.
  4. Resource Utilization as Per Carrying Capacity:
    Any system can sustain a limited number of organisms on a long-term basis which is known as its carrying capacity. In case of human beings, the carrying capacity concept becomes all the more complex. It is because unlike other animals, human beings, not only need food to live, but need so many other things to maintain the quality of life. Sustainability of a system depends largely upon the carrying capacity of the system. If the carrying capacity of a system is crossed (say, by over exploitation of a resource), environmental degradation starts and continues till it reaches a point of no return.

Carrying capacity has two basic components:
  1. Supporting capacity i.e. the capacity to regenerate
  2. Assimilative capacity i.e. the capacity to tolerate different stresses
    In order to attain sustainability, it is very important to utilize the resources based upon the above two properties of the system. Consumption should not exceed regeneration and changes should not be allowed to occur beyond the tolerance capacity of the system.
  3. Improving Quality of Life Including Social, Cultural and Economic Dimensions:
    Development should not focus just on one-section of already affluent people. Rather it should include sharing of benefits between the rich and the poor. The tribal, ethnic people and their cultural heritage should also be conserved. Strong community participation should be there in policy and practice. Population growth should be stabilized.

To conclude, although industrialization is seen as a solution to providing economic growth and increasing economic levels, all inevitably produce discharges and wastes that are capable of polluting. Where high population and economic growth demands resources and discharges in the form of pollutants, not many industries have arrived at suitable suggestions on sustainable measures, thus putting pressure on the environment.

The phenomenon of globalization has led governments and individuals to realize the international and trans-boundary dimensions of environmental issues, which later led to recognize the concept of sustainable development. The WTO, which is considered as an apex institution in matters of international trade also aims to protect the environment while encouraging the international trade.

The Rio Declaration brought together some concepts like polluters pay principle; inter-generational equity, etc., to reserve and preserve the environment for future generation with sustainable growth of the industries. But self-awareness of protection of environment and preserving it for future generation is the need for the hour.

Written By:  Mohd. Amaan - Amity University Lucknow

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