Sustainable development aims at ensuring more prosperous and secure global future. The process of securing such future comprises all segments of human activity, including trade, production, politics, and technology. It embraces cooperative and mutually supportive engagements on behalf of individuals, as well as nations at whatever level of economic development (Elliot 2006). Notably, there are numerous factors and events that drive the interest in sustainability. However, main underlying causes of sustainable development include adverse environmental impacts, changes in urban infrastructure and dislocation of populations (Roosa 2006). This paper discusses the trends that contributed to the emergence of sustainable development as an important but contested concept.
It is worthy of note that non-sustainable development comprises activities that fail to take into consideration environmental safety and sustainability of resources. However, sustainable development promotes long-term habitation of the Earth by putting certain factors in place. The concept encourages ecologically appropriate and environmentally safe physical progress. Efficient exploitation of natural resources is at the centre of sustainable development. It builds on a framework that enables improvement of the human condition. The motivation is to ensure a good living condition for the current, as well as the future generations. Sustainable development also envisions manageable urban growth (Roosa 2006).
In 1987, The World Conference on Environment and Development (WCED) released a report named “Our Common Future.” In the report, WCED defined the phenomenon of “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Elliot 2006, p.7). The publication of “Our Common Future” reportedly placed sustainable development steadfastly into the political realms of global progress thinking (Elliot 2006). The work of the commission, including the definition of “sustainable development,” was contested from the outset. Strikingly, today the concept of sustainable development remains highly contested and imprecise (Thakur et al 2006).
There are several factors that prompted the initiation of sustainable development. The factors include economic concerns, social issues, allocation of resources, and degradation. Other forces that necessitated sustainable development include population growth, energy usage, health and accessibility to potable water. Among these factors, population growth, urban development and urban energy use appear to have propelled sustainable development onto the global stage (Roosa 2006). Urban development often results in reduced environment quality as well as environmental degradation. Activities such as transportation and industrial emissions are among sources of pollution in urban setups (Roosa 2006).
Increase in population is a powerful force, prompting the increase in demand of resources across the world. The rapid advancement in urban population has continually put pressure on resources. Questions are raised on whether urban settings will be able to sustain their populations in the near future. Proponents of sustainable development suggest increase in urban densities rather than enlargement of the cities. Urban density can be achieved by rapid development, improved infrastructure, and preservation of existing structures (Roosa 2006).
Though there are varying definitions, it is evident that a sustainable development encompasses three inter-reliant pillars, including economic, social and environmental spheres. Sustainable development was the first policy statement that effectively linked environment to evolvement (Thakur et al 2006). Nonetheless, linking global trade to the environment is a highly contested concept. The liberal economic views disregard the association between the environment and trade. They argue that the connection is indirect. While dismissing the notion that trade contributes to environmental degradation, they argue that the increase in global trade is beneficial to the environment (Bingham 2003). They observe that the global trade leads to increase in wealth that results in improved awareness of environmental concerns. In is turn, the increased wealth provides a greater capacity for various stakeholders to avoid environmental destruction. With increased wealth, stakeholders would also have enhanced capacity to ‘clean-up’ any destruction, resulting into excessive global trade. The liberal economists argue that the increase in global trade enables the advancement in technology necessary for cleaner production processes (Bingham 2003).
Conversely, the radical and reformist environmentalists argue that the relationship between the two aspects cannot be assumed. Even though they admit that the global trade is not the sole factor, they maintain that it largely contributes to environmental degradation (Bingham 2003). Although global trade might be harmful to the environment, the reformists produce reasons that growth in affluence enables environmental protection. They underscore the need for trade towards the increase of wealth to enable greater environmental protection. For instance, trade can act as a means through which environmental protection knowledge is enhanced by employing consumer actions. However, the radicals maintain that in its current form, global trade is socially and environmentally harmful. Nevertheless, they also subscribe to the reasoning that trade can be beneficial to the environment. The benefits can only accrue if trade is focused on social and environmental justice (Bingham 2003).
Gunnarsson and Hojer (2008) note that a sustainable development has grown into a conventional but elusive engagement. The manner in which sustainable development seeks to attain various goals within a single holistic passage appears as the concept’s strength. Interestingly, this combination of goals can also act as the greatest weakness of sustainable development. In essence, the various goals and existence of miscellaneous actors within the concept are to blame for its varying definitions. The open involvement of different actors gives each group the liberty to defend its definition and act to fulfill its interest. While some people might be seeking social equity, others may be concerned with ensuring environmental gain. The rest might be focusing on building their economic prowess (Cox et al 2008).
Critics of sustainable development argue that the concept is new, and its variability remains untested and unproven. They also perceive the primary structure of the concept as undemocratic, unfounded and questionable. They claim that ways for implementing sustainable development remain limited. Hence, thoughts of achieving sustainability are only mythical rather than achievable. In addition, they assert that attempts to implement sustainable development might only result into grave economic disruption. Due to the inherent challenges in achieving sustainable development, critics believe that it is not a worthy course to pursue (Roosa 2010).
Conversely, proponents are hopeful that governments can work together for the sustainability of the dwindling resources and prevention of pollution. The Kyoto Protocol is a typical example of how nations can join hands in making a better tomorrow. Operations of the protocol aim at dealing with global warming. It limits emission of greenhouse gasses by setting targets that nations should achieve. In order to enforce compliance, the protocol put certain sanctions on member states who failed to meet their targets (Baker 2006). However, even the Kyoto Protocol is highly contested. It failed to garner universal support with the United States, declining to sign the agreement in 2001. The country argued that the protocol would adversely affect its economy. Moreover, the country complained that the protocol favored developing countries unfairly. Emissions by U.S. at that time constituted 35% of the world’s carbon emissions. Several observers did not find the protocol worthwhile if countries that had huge emissions were not participants (Elliot 2006).
Energy is another crucial sustainability concept. Numerous aspects of the economic world rely on oil. For instance, 90 percent of transport globally depends on oil. Other sectors such as communications, furniture, and pharmaceuticals require oil. Roosa (2006) notes that there is no sector of human activity that affects the environment more persistently than the exploitation and use of energy. Energy consumption is associated with sustainable development in numerous ways. Hydrocarbon-based fuels consumption has degrading effects on the environment. Their use pollutes natural waterways and atmosphere, contributing to climate change. In addition, the vast exploitation of fossil fuel has failed to take the future into consideration. Fossil fuel is a finite resource; therefore, its exploitation reduces the quantity available in the reserves at any point. Its uncontrolled use will ultimately expedite depletion, thereby plunging the future generation into a crisis. The effect of the reduction of oil reserves is already being felt; prices have increased, thereby enhancing the cost of production. This trend has resulted into much debate on sustainability (Roosa 2010).
Despite the impending depletion, oil is not a renewable source. Therefore, it is prudent that the international community embraces sustainable energy exploitation in order to ensure its availability as long as possible. With regard to fossil fuels, there is a wide agreement on the necessity of sustainable development. Nonetheless, there are capitalists who are ready to disregard the positives of sustainable development and settle on the negatives (Roosa 2010). The suspicion on whether sustainable development is attainable also makes its application on oil exploitation cumbersome. Besides, no nation is willing to make the first move towards implantation of sustainable development in this line. Most countries treat each other suspiciously. Oil exploitation is often surrounded by much tension since oil-producing countries fear that they might lose their resources while attempting sustainable development.
Environmentally insensitive and inefficient uses of fossil fuel diminish sustainability of urban settings. The reduced sustainability is due to environmental impacts emanating from energy use. There are also economic concerns that arise because of unsustainable use of energy. However, energy conservation, improved energy efficiency, and adoption of alternative energy sources are among the interventions that can be embraced to ensure sustainable development. Solar power, wind power, biomass fuels, fuel cells and hydropower are among renewable sources of energy that nations can adopt in order to ease the pressure on fossil fuel (Roosa 2010).
Climate change is another important aspect in the sustainable development concept. Sustainability pays attention to the impacts of development of the environment. The impacts include loss of wetlands, deforestation, greenhouse effect, and degradation of the ozone layer. Air and water pollution, destabilization of microclimates due to expansion of urban settings, and acid rains due to emission of acid gasses are among other effects of trade on the environment (Roosa 2010). However, some critics argue that solutions for worldwide problems cannot be crafted on the global stage since they are only symptoms of local problems. Moreover, transnational corporations largely control world trade today. Unfortunately, most of them view sustainable development as a luxury, making it cumbersome to improve environmental standards (Elliot 2006). They avoid participation in sustainable development due to the fear that it will cost them much money, and thereby reduce their earnings.
Sustainable development is a concept, which has elicited the momentous attention across the world. The discussion on sustainable development is evidently relevant in the current society. Environmentalists are dedicated to guaranteeing that sustainable development makes an impact. Sustainable development does not support capitalistic gain; instead, it stimulates socialist values. Despite its importance towards ensuring a better future, the concept is highly contested. Critics of the concept are comprised of those who do not believe in the connection between development and environment. Moreover, most of the critics are capitalists who view sustainable development as an unnecessary burden. Therefore, they would come up with every little excuse in order to avoid participation in the drive.