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Since the late 1980s, sustainable development has garnered much interest from government agencies, businesses, non-government organizations, and civic groups, resulting in policy initiatives in both the public and private sector. Yet, people and organizations citing sustainable development as an objective often lack a firm grasp of the origins and true meaning of the concept. Such an understanding is important as it provides a holistic perspective on development against which a sectoral—e.g., transportation-specific—focus on sustainability can be considered. This chapter explores the evolution of sustainable development through the perspective of international conferences and publications often referred to in discussions of sustainability. The chapter then introduces the challenges that are frequently confronted when trying to conceptualize sustainable development through different disciplinary lenses. It concludes with a discussion of the need to adopt a holistic and integrative approach to the design of policies and initiatives aimed at achieving more sustainable forms of development.
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Outside of the UK and the USA, a similar environmental awareness was emerging in other developed regions. In Japan, problems such as the “Minamata” disease (caused by mercury poisoning in the city of Minamata) starkly revealed the downsides of heavy industrial development.
Source: UN General Assembly, Resolution 38/161, Process of preparation of the Environmental Perspective to the Year 2000 and Beyond, 19 December 1983, Section 8 (a), http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/38/a38r161.htm (accessed on April 19, 2015).
Source: UN General Assembly, Resolution 42/186, Environmental Perspective to the Year 2000 and Beyond, 11 December 1987, 2, http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/42/a42r186.htm (accessed on April 19, 2015).
Source: UNCED Declaration on Environment and Development, http://www.un.org/documents/ga/conf151/aconf15126-1annex1.htm (accessed on April 19, 2015).
Ashford and Hall ( 2011) argue that a similar situation occurs today with employment, which they view as a critical, but often forgotten, element of sustainable development.
Source: Nobel Foundation, The Nobel Peace Prize 2007, http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2007/ (accessed on April 19, 2015).
The importance of maintaining a holistic approach to development is discussed in Sect. 2.5.
For example, see the Friends of the Earth Rio+20 blog that describes the unwillingness of governments to commit to a new set of principles (source: http://www.foei.org/news/blogs/rio-20/rio20-summit-condemned-as-sell-out-of-people-and-the-planet-2/, accessed on April 19, 2015), and Greenpeace’s press statement on Rio+20 that called the conference a “failure of epic proportions” due to its lack of commitments and targets (source: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/Greenpeace-Press-Statement-Rio20-Earth-Summit-a-failure-of-epic-proportions/, accessed on April 19, 2015).
See, for example, the extensive list of pre-conference publications listed on the website of the United Nations Conference of Sustainable Development, http://www.uncsd2012.org/resources_publications.html (accessed on April 19, 2015).
In the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, this position is being challenged by the “new economics” or “degrowth” movement that calls for a fundamental reorganization of social activity, where progress is not measured by economic growth. See, for example, D’Alisa et al. ( 2014).
These issues cover inequalities, governance, growth and employment, health, education, environmental sustainability, food security and nutrition, conflict and fragility, population dynamics, energy, and water. Source: The World We Want, Thematic Consultations, http://www.worldwewant2015.org/sitemap#thematic (accessed on April 19, 2015).
See the World We Want, National Consultations, http://www.worldwewant2015.org/sitemap#national (accessed on April 19, 2015).
The 27 member High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda was created in July 2012, by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise on the global development framework beyond 2015. Information on the activities of the panel can be found on the UN Secretary-General's website: http://www.un.org/sg/management/hlppost2015.shtml (accessed on April 19, 2015).
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in August 2012, to mobilize “scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector in support of sustainable development problem solving at local, national, and global scales” (source: SDSN, Vision and Organization, http://unsdsn.org/about-us/vision-and-organization/, accessed on April 19, 2015). The group aims to overcome the compartmentalization of technical and policy work by identifying “integrated” solutions to the environmental, economic, and social challenges confronting the world (see Sect. 2.5 for a discussion of the importance of adopting a holistic and integrative approach to sustainable development).
A detailed list of documents, publications, and statements related to the post-2015 agenda development process can be viewed via the OWG’s website: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/owg.html (accessed on April 19, 2015).
Ayres ( 1978) presented a convincing case that the laws of thermodynamics place limits on the ability of human-made resources to replace or substitute natural capital. The basic argument is that human-made capital is built and maintained using natural capital. Thus, both forms of capital are complementary and cannot be substituted for one another. It follows that the maintenance of natural capital stock is, therefore, essential for the economic process. A reduction in the availability of natural capital will reduce the productivity of human-made capital that depends upon ecosystem goods and services. The same argument is also made by Georgescu-Roegen ( 1993). Similarly, Ayres ( 1997) argues that the neo-classical view of externalities as exceptional occurrences in a larger economic context is incorrect. He considers environmental externalities to be pervasive, since the real economy depends upon extracting, processing, and converting materials (and energy), which creates waste residuals that can have negative environmental and economic consequences. Since these consequences are not priced in the real economy, the environment is treated as a free good and medium for disposal.
The macroecology of sustainability is based on the principles that “1) physical conservation laws govern the flows of energy and materials between human systems and the environment, 2) smaller systems are connected by these flows to larger systems in which they are embedded, and 3) global constraints ultimately limit flows at smaller scales” (Burger et al. 2012, p. 1). Thus, the macroecological perspective requires that all systems and their interrelations must be considered within the context of the global system. Developing a decision-support framework in which such an analysis can occur is perhaps the most important challenge for sustainability science. See Holden et al. ( 2013) for a commentary on the need to link sustainable passenger transportation to ecological sustainability at a global level.
In general, ecological economists, especially those focusing on steady-state economics, are concerned with the size of the economy relative to the ecosystem. The efficient allocation of resources is a concern, but it is not the primary focus as in neoclassical economics.
To help describe the SSE, Daly ( 1991b) compares it to a steady-state library, where the addition of a new book would mean the removal of an old book. Thus, while the quantitative physical scale remains constant, the library would continue to improve in a qualitative sense.
This principle relates to the rebound effect, whereby efficiency gains can result in additional consumption due to lower costs that undermine or eclipse the environmental gains.
The concepts of an indicator and performance measure are discussed in detail in Chap. 6.
See the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Compendium of Sustainable Development Indicator Initiatives, http://www.iisd.org/measure/compendium/ (accessed on April 19, 2015).
Over the past 40 years, the environmental factors that underlie the concern for sustainable development incorporated—to varying degrees and at different times—what can now be identified as four different environmental concerns (Ashford and Hall 2011). First is the disruption of ecosystems and loss of biological diversity and the indirect effects these have on human health and well-being. The second concern relates to the world’s finite resources and energy supplies, and asks the question of whether there are sufficient resources to fuel the economy in its current form. A corollary concern is what will the environmental impact be of using a significant proportion of the existing resources? The third concern is that toxic pollution directly affects human health and the health of other species. The final concern is that greenhouse gases from anthropocentric (human-driven) sources are leading to a disruption of the global climate. The first, third, and fourth environmental concerns are connected with the unintended effects of human development/growth, while the second deals with increasing shortages of resources needed to fuel development/growth.
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- Sustainable Development
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