Understanding Sustainable Development

Current development in the western world is draining the planet’s resources. This doesn’t seem fair, considering that many countries don’t even have access to these resources. Given this situation, the concept of sustainable, equitable and measured development was first introduced at the end of the 1980s. The idea is great, on paper, but how can such an idea be put into action?

Imagine a world where everybody has a car, enough food to eat, running water and electricity… Imagine a world where everyone has the same standard of living as those in the western world… Is this just a dream? Maybe. According to UN figures, 20% of the total global population consumes 80% of its natural resources. Therefore, the first step would be to learn how to share, particularly due to the fact that these resources are drying up. Is there anyone who has never heard of the gradual removal of forests (deforestation), the drying up of oilfields, the pollution of the water tables that supply, among other things, our tap water? These are the hard facts that can no longer be ignored.

There aren’t a million solutions to these problems. The way we live and consume has to be brought into question and development methods have to be created that can be implemented across the globe, so that natural resources have the chance to be renewed. This is why the concept of “sustainable development” was adopted at the end of the 1980s. It was first defined in the UN Brundtland Report in 1987, as a development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." In other words, we have to do everything possible to leave the planet in such a state that our children can live as well as us.
Sustainable development brings up various issues: the Economic aspect (to produce and distribute wealth to everyone, and not only to make benefits), the Environmental aspect (to protect the environment), and the Social aspect (to strive to eliminate inequality in education, health care and diet…). Concrete implementations have rapidly been put into place. Regional bodies have spent time thinking about these issues. The Essonne region, for example, has improved the speed and frequency of public transport facilities to encourage people to stop using their cars. The quality of rivers has also been improved and citizens were encouraged to take part in the clean-up scheme. Companies have also gotten involved. Some have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions due to government support. Others have designed biodegradable packaging or have promised not to exploit employees in developing countries, by paying them correctly and not hiring children.

So, what now? We still shouldn’t be too optimistic. Sustainable Development Laws have to be introduced and money needs to be in injected to get things moving. And yet, since 9/11, priorities in the western world have changed: the war against terrorism, among other things, is top of government financing lists, ahead of sustainable development.

This being said, it is everyone’s responsibility. Simple, everyday actions can make a difference: using less water and paper, turning off lights when leaving a room, buying only recycled or fair trade products… Don’t forget to recycle either. In France, every individual produces, on average, 1 kilo of waste per day and only 20% of this is recycled or incinerated. So, don’t forget to put plastic bottles and cardboard packaging in the right bins!

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