Sustainable Development
Sustainable Development

Sustainable development means, in the words of the 1987 World Commission on Environment, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In other words, sustainable development is a comprehensive approach to promoting development in ways that do not harm the environment or deplete natural resources so that they still will be available in the future.

This strategy is guided by the international agreement called Agenda 21, or the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which focuses on the goals of sustainable development. These goals include economic prosperity in combination with and alongside protection of the world’s atmosphere, promotion of sustainable farm production, combating deforestation and desertification, protection of the oceans, maintenance of biodiversity, and protection of water resources (United Nations, n.d.).

As a strategy, sustainable development recognizes that past policies sometimes achieved development by means that could not be kept up over time. For example, in the 1990s, between 10,000 and 30,000 square kilometers a year of Brazilian rainforest were cleared, fueling rapid economic growth in farming and ranching operations (Butler, 2012). In the short term, the practice created jobs and increased food production, but environmental damage caused by the clearing made much of the newly cleared land unusable in the longer term; the net result in many cases was a negative economic outcome.

On the other hand, a sustainable development project is, for example, a program funded by the Canadian International Development agency that worked for almost three years to help farmers in drought-prone regions of Zimbabwe and other Sub-Sahara African countries develop better farming techniques.  Through this program, farmers learned how to use new technologies of irrigation and soil conservation, and obtained drought-resistant types of seeds of indigenous species of plants. The program also helped the local government officials work more closely and efficiently with the citizens to foster these policies, leading to improvement in what is known as “sustainable livelihoods” for the farmers (Canadian International Development Agency, 2006).

For more on sustainable development, refer to the Environment Issue in Depth (Is Sustainable Development the Way Forward?) and the news analysis “Rio 20+, a Failed Effort to Build a New Worldwide Sustainability Agreement.


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