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Humankind is now entering into the first decades of the 21st century with three outstanding features: sustainable development as the strategic development objective of the whole world, integration and globalization and, climate change as the biggest challenge. A development mode moving towards an environmentally and socio-economically better world is really of great concern to all humankind (Christopher, J., and Dimitri, R., 2012). Over the last three decades, the definition of sustainable development delivered by the World Commission on Environment and Development has been still an alarm bell to target a common future, where “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987). The definition is still controversial and ambiguous when not yet clearly clarifying two concepts “needs” and limitations within the biosphere’s ability to meet the present and future’s needs. However, it has been regarded as the guiding principle and operational standard for long-term global development, in which each nation stresses three pillars: economy, society and environment in a balanced manner. The essay will focus on a number of basic contents of sustainable development, then propose the solutions to best deliver the WCED’s goal.
In the first place, the relation between economic development and environmental problems should be explored through the study of the history of sustainable development. Looking back on the history, humankind suffered unforeseen consequences in the process of economic development without any attention to environment. The green revolution occurring between 1950 and the late 1960s helped the world face up with mass famine through adoption of modern farming techniques like use of machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. These inventions were seen as breakthroughs in terms of science and technology, however, following the remarkable results of mass production, human beings faced threats such as soil degradation, the disappearance of helpful organisms and the cause of cancers. That is why the environmental issues were therefore put on the development agenda for the first time during the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. Then, in 1980 the term “sustainable development” was first introduced on a quite basic level by the World Conservation Strategy “conserving natural resources”. Not until 1987 was this concept widely quoted in the Brundtland Report by the World Commission on Environment and Development in the context of the world facing many critical survival issues, particularly environmental problems following tragedies such as the African famine, the leak at the pesticides factory at Bhopal, India and the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, USSR, global warming. All of the issues listed have one thing in common that they have become issues due to the way people deplete the natural resources (Islam, M., 2017). Since then, the efforts of international community to address the world’s issues were discussed and documented in agendas as Agenda 21 (known as a product of the Earth Summit 1992), then the 2030 Agenda (adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in 2015). The 2030 Agenda set 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets that move towards building a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world in a changing global context (United Nations, 2015). Through strong commitments made by the United Nations and new challenges human beings are facing today such as food safety and food security for more than seven billion people, waste, scarcity of non-renewable minerals and electronic waste and nuclear war, we ourselves must question: how can we get to have a sustainably liveable planet by 2050 and what can we do to realize our vision from where we are today (Jonathon, P., 2013). A number of solutions are given as follows: i) Ensuring food safety and food security through development of sustainable agriculture and renewable energy resources and; ii) De-growth associated with changing consumption patterns; iii) The political involvement of all groups or all stakeholders in all dimensions of economy, society and environment, particularly for gender equality and climate change. It is noted that there is no single best solution to making our planet more sustainable, but that the combination of a range of solutions and approaches is likely to provide the best way forward.
Firstly, the solution to sustainable development is to ensure food safety and food security through developing sustainable agriculture and renewable energy resources. It is obvious that the agriculture plays a very vital role in eradicating hunger and poverty by producing food, water and preserving fresh air for human beings. The Asia’s green revolution during 1960s proved that the appropriate adoption of technology and science-led approach was the key to rapid productivity growth. Hundreds of millions of people were relieved from starvation due to mass production of major staple crops like rice, wheat and maize. In addition to the increase of productivity, today we pay more attention to environmentally friendly practices or in other words we are attempting to grow food in a more sustainable way (Dean, C., 2013). Israel is an example of a nation that has no favorable natural conditions but has leveraged science and technology to build its agriculture as a highly developed industry and a world-leader in agricultural technologies. Israel’s drip irrigation systems, biological pest control products, fishing on the desert are becoming new methods introduced worldwide to increase productivity, save water and reduce wastes. Many countries are pushing to transform non-renewable resources into the use of sustainable energies such as solar and wind (Priyadarshi, R. and Vaibhav, C., 2013).
Secondly, de-growth combined with changing consumption patterns will help to deploy natural resources properly and avoid unnecessary wastes. De-growth does not mean giving up the path to economic growth and lead to poverty, instead to achieve a higher level of development that emphasizes spiritual values such as good health, happiness, longevity and education. When each citizen and each nation is more aware that the income is not the ultimate goal to achieve, they will spend more time on other matters such as caring for communities, relaxation, improvement of their health and rebuilding of degraded environment. The evaluation of social and economical development levels should not solely be based on gross national income and gross domestic products. It must change competition among nations from economic-based approach to an ecological- based approach (Cengiz, T., 2013). The United States is a typical example where the economic growth pressure and social welfare for 300 million American people has forced the US government to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change Mitigation because of its disadvantage to the industrial sector despite the status of the United States as the greatest emitters of carbon dioxide. In addition, changing consumption patterns is also very important in reducing the negative effects on the environment. According to Dean Carlson, human beings are consuming 10 calories of fuel for every calorie of food that they produce, mostly in transportation (Dean, C., 2013). People also discharge millions of tons of solid waste each day, which it may take thousands of years to be decomposed. It is estimated that by 2100 we will be producing three times more solid waste than we do today. We can choose more economical ways of living that are close to nature to reduce the use of oil, such as cycling, walking, public transport and promotion of environmentally friendly products. Ireland is a nation pioneering in building green economy and green city through issuance of environmental protection policies. For example, Ireland is successful in reducing use of plastic products by imposing levy of 0.15 euro on plastic bags at points of scale. As a result, in one year use of single-use plastic bags decreases by 90%. The environmentally friendly practices should be adopted worldwide by nations not only in the developed countries but also in the developing countries.
Finally, all countries and all stakeholders act in a collaborative partnership to promote development and sustainability. Whether 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets set in the 2030 Agenda as a vision towards the future that are achieved or not depends on the political commitment and political wills across the world. For governments, it is necessary to mainstream socio-economic development in associated with environmental protection into planning, implementation and evaluation of the nation’s policies and programs and promulgate laws and strict regulations on natural resource conservation. In addition, governments must consider ecologically sustainable economic development as a priority axis for policies (Georgia, M. and Kostas, B., 2013). With reference to the successes and failures of a developing country like Vietnam, the role of the state and all stakeholders have been demonstrated clearly on the path to sustainable development. Experiencing a dramatic environmental destruction owing to the process of industrialization and modernization with environmental sacrifice during the periods of “open door” policy adoption, the Government of Vietnam firmly recovered consequences by taking series of actions; e.g issuance of environmental law, establishment of its own Agenda 21, integration of gender equality and climate change as cross-cutting themes into the policies and programs, active participation and effective input contribution in the international events related to sustainable development. For business, the companies can deliver very positive impacts and contribute to sustainable development through various means – job creation for example. Providing employment, helping to ensure that people are paid a living wage, protecting their rights also contribute to economic and social progress and development. Businesses actively take part in research, development and application of environmentally friendly technologies and alternative resources. The involvement of each individual and organizations are also very crucial in successfully implementing the initiatives of sustainable development. Deepening our understanding of the sex-disaggregated impacts of poverty, inequality, climate change and conflict will be critical for inclusion and ensuring that women and girls are not left behind. In this regard, we should use social media as an effective tool in raising awareness of all stakeholders in the gender equality and environmental protection.
To conclude, I would like to quote from Jonathon Porritt, “brilliant, genuinely sustainable way of life is still available to all of us” (Jonathon, P., 2013) to reaffirm my view that if we jointly implement the solutions of sustainable agriculture, use of renewable energy resources, de-growth associated with change of consumption patterns and engagement of all stakeholders, we can believe in a sustainable future where our needs are met, but within the limitations of the ecosystem’s carrying capacity with a reference to next generations.
- Cengiz, T., 2013. A methodology to analyse the relations of ecological footprint corresponding with human development index: eco-sustainable human development index. International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, 20 (1): 9-19.
- Christopher, K. and Dimitri, R., 2012. Sustainable and Integrated development – A crticial analysis. Sustainability. 4(1): 141-153.
- Dean, C., 2013. Why Sustainable Farming Matters. TEDxPhoenixville. http://plicatus.org.
- Georgia, M. and Kostas, B., 2013. Ecologically Sustainable Economic evelopment in Aquatic Ecosystems: from Theory to Environmental Policy. Sustainable Development, 21(1), 60-72.
- Islam, M., 2017. Sustainability through the Lens of Environmental Sociology: An Introduction. Sustainability, 9 (3), 474-485.
- Jonathon, P., 2013. Sustainability for Us. TEDxExeter 2013, Video. http://tedxexeter.com/category/Jonathon-Porritt/
- Priyadarshi, R. and Vaibhav, C., 2013. Sustainable Energy Transformations in India under Climate Policy. Sustainable Development 21(1): 48-59.
- United Nations, 2015. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. United Nations – Sustainable Development knowledge platform.
- WCED, 1987. Our common future (Brundtland report). Oxford (UK): Oxford University Press.
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