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What Is Sustainable Development and Why Is It Important – Importance of the Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is one of the key challenges of this new age. Our world is currently under a lot of tension. Poverty is spreading among communities and families. Climate change has become much considerable threat to the world. Those crises will worsen until we change our ways of living. The world needs new development agenda. So that is why we have to understand what is sustainable development and why it is important.

History of sustainable development and the meaning of the term “sustainable development”

History of the sustainable development

Term sustainability as applied to ecosystems goes a long way back. In 1972, there was a conference on the human environment conducted by the UN in Stockholm. There the “challenge of maintaining sustainability in the context of economic growth and development” first came to the general public. Also, in that same year a book called “Limits to Growth” which was published by the “Club of Rome”, discussed the earth’s finite, limited resources and the effects of the continued economic growth and development.

After eight years of the above events, in 1980, the term “Sustainable development” was introduced in a publication titled World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development.  The main purpose of this publication was to “help to achieve sustainable development while the conservation of the resources”.

Meaning of the term “sustainable development”

The commission called The Brundtland Commission, has defined sustainable development as

Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

(Brundtland 1987, 41)

This concept of sustainable development was widely adopted. In 1992, at “The Rio Earth Summit” one of the primary principles of their “Rio Declaration” was that “present development processes must not threaten the requirements and survival of future generations and also the current generation”.

At the UN world summit on sustainable development (in 2002) (WSSD), in Johannesburg, they focused on “the integration of the three components of sustainable development—economic development, social development, and environmental protection—as interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars”.

Age of sustainable development

We are living in a new era. Communities, people, and global societies are interconnected with each other as never before. New businesses, technologies, people, and also even diseases spread across the globe with much higher speed and intensity. This new information era also leads to global-scale environmental disturbance.

New technologies, and new business/ industrial practices evolving rapidly. Also, the population growth is considerably larger. These events come with lots of new opportunities (a much more comfortable lifestyle, improving technology, higher life expectance, better healthcare service, and more) and also with lots of risks (like climate changes, global warming, deforestation, global pandemics, pollution, and more).

So, to balance these issues and development, the world is currently stepping into a more sustainable solution. So, the world has arrived at an “Age of Sustainable development”.

Sustainable development is focused on building an interlinkage between economic, social, and environmental changes. This new era is described by new global goals, known as the “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

There are nearly 200 countries (195) in the world now. So, this is a complex, “multipolar” world (with much regional power). So, World governments and nations must find a way to preserve global peace, attain good economic development, and address and face the predictable and unpredictable environmental challenges of this new age. This will play a major role in reaching the new “SDGs”.

Why Sustainable development?

Sustainable development is a key concept in this new age. Sustainable development is a way of understanding the world and is also a way to solve a global problem. So, let’s talk about what sustainable development is.

Earth is a very crowded planet now. There is nearly 8 billion human population now. But only 800 million people lived in 1750. As a result of the industrial revolution, the population increased dramatically.

World population growth
Figure 01: World population growth

Because of this population growth, there is a struggle among humans to find resources (food, safe water, health care, shelter…) to survive. Those 8 billion people are trying to achieve better economic improvement. Because of that effort, the world economy is increasing along with the development of interconnected areas of the economy like trade, finance, technology, migration, and production.

The world economy is much larger and it is rapidly growing. But the distribution of wealth is very unequal in the world. While some people enjoy a comfortable life while some people live in absolute poverty.

wealth inequality in the world
Figure 02: wealth inequality in the world

The world economy is not only unequal among the people but also a huge threat to the earth itself. Like all other species and organisms (living beings), humans also depend on nature and its resources. (Nature provides food, water, and materials that require for survival, and safety from environmental disasters).

But as a species that fully depends on nature, humans do a very poor job of protecting it. Simply put, humans destroy the physical basis of their very survival! So, this huge economy is causing a gigantic environmental crisis. That is a huge threat to the existence of not only billions of people but also millions of other species.

We can observe the environmental crisis in several forms. Climate changes, Global warming, reduction of availability of freshwater, pandemic situations, and losing habitats for other species are some of them. Those crises have done a huge impact on the function of key processes/ primary processes of the earth such as the cycle of water, the cycle of nitrogen, the cycle of carbon, and more. Life is depending upon the proper functioning of these processes. Interfering those is very dangerous to the existence of life.

So, it is required to move into a sustainable development solution. Sustainable development tries to address the interconnection between three complex systems; The world economy, the global society, and the environment. With proper management of these three systems, sustainable development can address most of the above issues with a positive response.

What is sustainable development and why is it important?

Sustainable development is a kind of measurement of the world. That means, sustainable development defines and recommends a set of goals/ tasks that the world should achieve. Nations and societies will adopt SDGs as a guideline to focus on social, economic, and environmental development in those nations and the planet.

Sustainable development tries to build a world in which,

  • Economic development is widespread
  • No more extreme poverty
  • Has a trustworthy community (social trust is encouraged)
  • No more environmental degradation – protected environment

Sustainable development recommends societies/ communities focus on economic, environmental, and social goals. To obtain these SDGs, there should be a fourth objective, good governance/ Good administration. Good government is the primary key to prosperous societies. Good government should,

  • Provide social services like health care, education
  • Development of infrastructures such as roads, power, ports, air pots
  • Proper law enforcement and protect individuals from violence and crimes
  • Development of new technologies
  • Protect the environment (by the implementation of regulations)
  • And much more

Considering the above facts, sustainable development visions of four key objectives for building a good society

  1. Economic prosperity
  2. Social equality
  3. Environmental sustainability
  4. Good governance (by governments and businesses)

Achieving the above facts and achieving sustainable development is no easy task. There are many practical challenges. But achieving sustainable development in an overpopulated, unequal, and the degraded world is the most important challenge in modern days. But if we fail, the future of the earth won’t be much brighter.

Sustainable development as a science of complex systems

A system is a collection of interconnected components that forms a unified whole. Complex systems have much more unusual properties. Often complex systems respond to changes in a nonlinear way. That means a slight change in one component can cause a large or even catastrophic change in the performance of the whole system. So, a small change in the physical environment sometimes can cause a huge threat to the whole ecosystem. Failure of a small business also can cause huge damage to the global economy. There ate many examples of that kind of event in history.

Sustainable development involves four of those complex interacting systems.

  • Global economy – Spans across the world
  • Social interactions – trust, ethics, equality, communication, social support in communities
  • Environment (earth’s ecosystem) – ecosystems, climate changes, natural resources, pollution
  • Governance – performance of the governments and businesses

So, managing four complex systems is no easy task. Some mistakenly believe that sustainable development problems can solve using one idea or one solution. Complex systems and their problems need a certain level of complex thinking.

The role of technology in sustainable development

Think about the “Maglev” train transportation system. That is a huge achievement of transportation technology. It travels at speeds of 400kmph. Because of its speed, it is a more efficient transportation system. It uses magnetic levitation technology that is very energy efficient. It is extremely environmentally friendly – with nearly zero carbon emissions. This is the best example of how modern technology can help to achieve sustainable development.

Maglev train transportation system - What Is Sustainable Development and Why Is It Important
Figure 04: Maglev train transportation system

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References and Attributes

Sachs, J., 2015. The Age Of Sustainable Development. New York: Columbia University Press.


Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Robert Jones from Pixabay
Image by Ria Sopala from Pixabay
Image by Götz Friedrich from Pixabay

Images are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Population growth graph– link
Polar bear– link
Luxury train- link
Extreme poverty and hunger- link

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