Sustainable Development

Environment and economy are interdependent and need each other. Hence, development that ignores its repercussions on the environment will destroy the environment that sustains life forms.

What is needed is sustainable development – development that will allow all future generations to have a potential average quality of life that is at least as high as that which is being enjoyed by the current generation.

The concept of sustainable development was emphasised by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which defined it as –

‘Development that meets the need of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their own needs’.

The term ‘needs’ and the phrase ‘future generations’ in the definition are the catch phrases.


The use of the concept ‘needs’ in the definition is linked to distribution of resources.

The seminal report – Our Common Future – that gave the above definition explained sustainable development as ‘meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life’.

Meeting the needs of all requires redistributing resources and is hence a moral issue.

Edward Barbier defined sustainable development as –

  • One which is directly concerned with increasing the material standard of living of the poor at the grass root level — this can be quantitatively measured in terms of increased income, real income, educational services, health care, sanitation, water supply etc.
  • In more specific terms, sustainable development aims at decreasing the absolute poverty of the poor by providing lasting and secure livelihoods that minimise resource depletion, environmental degradation, cultural disruption and social instability.
  • In this sense, sustainable development is a development that meets the basic needs of all, particularly the poor majority, for employment, food, energy, water, housing, and ensures growth of agriculture, manufacturing, power and services to meet these needs.

Future Generations

The Brundtland Commission emphasises on protecting the future generation.

This is in line with the argument of the environmentalists who emphasise that we have a moral obligation to hand over the planet earth in good order to the future generation; that is, the present generation should bequeath a better environment to the future generation. At least we should leave to the next generation a stock of ‘quality of life’ assets no less than what we have inherited.

The present generation should promote development that enhances the natural and built environment in ways that are compatible with –

  • (i) conservation of natural assets;
  • (ii) preservation of the regenerative capacity of the world’s natural ecological system;
  • (iii) avoiding the imposition of added costs or risks on future generations.

According to Herman Daly, a leading environmental economist, to achieve sustainable development, the following needs to be done –

  • (i) limiting the human population to a level within the carrying capacity of the environment. The carrying capacity of the environment is like a ‘plimsoll line’ of the ship which is its load limit mark. In the absence of the plimsoll line for the economy, human scale grows beyond the carrying capacity of the earth and deviates from sustainable development
  • (ii) technological progress should be input efficient and not input consuming;
  • (iii) renewable resources should be extracted on a sustainable basis, that is, rate of extraction should not exceed rate of regeneration;
  • (iv) for non-renewable resources rate of depletion should not exceed the rate of creation of renewable substitutes; and
  • (v) inefficiencies arising from pollution should be corrected.


Bibliography : NCERT – Indian Economic Development


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