11 March 2018

History and The Future of Sustainable Development: A Brief Review

Historically, sustainable development has arisen from a series of conferences and summits which looking for the global solutions of 21st Century problem such as extreme poverty, inequality, and the environmental degradation. The term of sustainable development began to gain its popularity in the late 80’s after the Brundtland Report (1987). The ideas expressed from Brundtland Report recognize the dependency of humans on the environment and against human domination over nature lives (Castro, 2004. Hopwood et al., 2005). This report defined sustainable development as simply development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet theirs.” These “inter-generational equity principles” provide a useful basis for the future trends of Sustainable development (Hopwood et al., 2005).

Sustainable development was going beyond borders, particularly in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1992). This summit, also known as UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), has declared the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. The Rio Declaration states that long-term economic development is only ensured if it is counted with the environmental protection and must establish a new global partnership involving governments, civil society, and other sectors. Agenda 21 is the action plan and program that adopted by the UN, multilateral organization, and governments around the world to support sustainable development agenda. Since the Earth Summit, the UN has created a series of agreement and conventions on the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, such as the creation of the Commission for Sustainable Development (1993), UN Millennium Declaration/Millennium Development Goals (2000), The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2012.
In the context of policy debate, sustainable development tends to be framed by some general conceptual framework. For instance, the weak-strong sustainability model from Pearce (1989), a matrix of sustainability from McManus (1996), Deep Sustainability from Rikoon (2012), and a political economy typology of sustainability from Davidson (2011) (Rikoon, 2012, Davidson, 2011). Each of these frameworks has strength and weaknesses. However, each of this framework can illustrate how debates over solutions to environmental and socioeconomic crisis pursued by different actors, institutions, organization, and even ideological alignment. For instance, actors or institutions that categorized as neoliberal may claim that natural environment and social justice are secure within the control of business activities, but then the radical actors may argue that they need a mandatory regulation and report from the impact of corporate actions toward environmental sustainability.
Most of Sustainable Development framework is trying to shift our focus from pursuit of material economic growth (techno-centered) to pursuit of sustainable prosperity (eco-centered).  Given that economic growth is the top priority for all nations, how we can pursue prosperity without growth? What happens when people won’t relinquish materialism and economies can only survive if they grow? These questions are always confronting sustainable development idea at every turn. Tim Jackson (2009) may give us some answer and explanation about how we can gather and share prosperity without growth. In his book, “Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for A Finite Planet,” he argues that there is some strategy to transform our traditional economic model to adapt to sustainable development framework.
First, establishing the limits. Establishing environmental limits or clear resources and integrating these limits into both economic, social, and political functioning is essential. For instance, taxing carbon sends a clear signal to people about the value of the climate and encourages them to shift to less carbon-intensive processes, technologies, and activities. The argument and principle of ecological tax reform is a shift in the burden of taxation from economic goods (incomes) to environmental bads (pollution). A similar approach should be established for the extraction of scarce non-renewable resources, for the emission of wastes (particularly toxic and hazardous wastes), for the drawing down of ‘fossil’ groundwater supplied, and for the rate of harvesting of renewable resources as well.
Second, fixing the economic model. The question of productivity is always crucial, both in developing or in developed countries. Ecological investments will have different rates and periods of return. In conventional terms, they are likely to be ‘less productive’ than economic investment as usual. Developing technical capacity for what we might call ecological macroeconomics is a critical step. This ability would mean being able to understand the behavior of economies when they are subject to strict emission and resource use limits. Exploring how economies might work under different configurations of consumption, investment, labor employment, and productivity growth is also necessary for a new economic model.
Ecological investment has some clear targets, such as carbon-saving measures, renewable energy technologies, redesigning utility networks (the electricity grid), public transport infrastructures, open spaces, and ecosystem maintenance and protection. We also need to revise the GDP as national accounts. The GDP is really nothing more and nothing less than a measure of ‘busy-ness’ in the economy. It measures the amount of spending and saving by consumers, or equivalently the value added from economic activities. The case against the GDP has attracted a lot of attention over the years.
Third, changing the social logic that locks people into materialistic consumerism as the basis for participating in the society. Working time policy (reduce working hours) will support a sustainable economy in the future. Tackling inequality would minimize social costs, improve quality of life and change the dynamic of status consumption. These include revised income tax structures, minimum and maximum income levels, improved access to good quality education, anti-discrimination legislation, anti-crime measures and improving the local environment in deprived areas. A whole raft of policies is also needed to build social capital and strengthen communities. Systematic attention to all these plans is vital for now and for the future. Jackson stated that for the advanced economies of the western world, prosperity without growth is no longer a utopian dream. It is a financial and ecological necessity.

Castro, Carlos J. 2004. Sustainable Development: Mainstream and Critical Perspectives. Organization and Environment, Vol 17 No 2, 195-225
Davidson, Kathryn. 2014. A Typology to Categorize the Ideologies of Actors in the Sustainable Development Debate. Sustainable Development, 22, 1-14
Hopwood, Bill, Mary Mellor, and Geoff O’Brien. 2005. Sustainable Development: Mapping Different Approaches. Sustainable Development, 13, 38-52
Jackson, Tim. 2009. Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for A Finite Planet. London: Earth Scan
Rikoon, Sandy. 2012. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: On the Politics of Sustainability in the U.S. Journal of Landscape Ecology, Vol 5, No 2.

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