Sustainable Development: A Sham?

The two-pronged concept of trade and environment is what forms the modern-day notion of development. Though they are at the epicenter of the globalization debate, there is much discord between them in the domestic as well as the international community. Both trade and environment are but imperative elements of globalization; however, harnessing one by harming the other would do nothing but cause irretrievable damage to Planet Earth.

Initially, economic growth and the consequences of such growth on the environment was thought of as disconnected from one another. Today, however, when a lot of harm has been done to the environment and the damage is irreversible, the international community including both developed and developing countries have begun to recognize the problem of the trade-environment debate.

Keeping this debate in mind, modern environmentalists discovered, with much elation, the concept  of ‘sustainable development’ in the late 1980s. Sustainable development, according to the Brundtland Commission Report (or, ‘Our Common Future’), “is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

It can be conceptually broken down into environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and socio-political sustainability. There have been several conferences and summits throughout the world addressing the concept of such development. The United Nations International Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in 1972 decided that the international community would not consider environment and  economic and social development policy objectives separately. In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or the Rio Earth Summit, a blueprint of humanity’s interaction with the environment through sustainable development, was prepared. Recently, in 2009, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was held.

However, these summits/conferences are of little or no use. There is no legal force to compel  nations to adhere to these environmental agreements and no international police force to take action if these nations flout the rules. Factories and industries in several nations continue to emit harmful gases. For roads to be built, forests are fast disappearing. Plenty of people in various nations even now waste resources. So, is sustainable development only a concept, only a notion fabricated by the world to hoodwink itself from impending doom?

Scores and scores of conferences have been held, millions of people have met, and terms have been discussed and debated. However, the environment has not been freed from the fetters of pollution. The environment still continues to die a silent death. So, is the much-hyped concept of sustainability an empty phrase? Is it a sham, a creation of the modernists to keep the world from seeing that one day it shall all come to an end?

My perspective on sustainability might seem extremely cynical and I might dress it up as a ‘postmodernist view’ but the situation is as Canadian Environmentalist, David Suzuki, has described, “we’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit”. It is a truism that in the hustle-bustle of the environmental debate, all nations are but chasing world-power. In such a situation, the concept of sustainable development seems to be only a lie that nations tell their people.

Deya Bhattacharya