Sustainable Development is a concept that is becoming increasingly important throughout the world today. There are many different definitions of sustainable development so let me give you one that is widely accepted. According to the World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainable development is " development that meets the needs of the present with out compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". To be sustainable, development must improve economic efficiency, protect and restore ecological systems and enhance the well being of all peoples.
This challenge faces all levels-of -analysis – system, state, and individual. In order to achieve the goal of sustainable development we need participation and cooperation at all of these levels.
Sustainable development at the system level is very important. The goal of sustainable development will never be achieved if it does not have the participation of every thing in the system and below. Sustainable development must be implemented in all countries, whether they are developed or developing, democracies or autocracies, or capitalist of socialist.
Because the environment is a global issue and transcends state boarders, problems that are obstacles to sustainable development can not be fixed by individual states. Likewise policies adopted by states, although helpful, can not achieve sustainable development. An example of sustainable development at the system level is the problem of the Greenhouse effect. This problem effects everything and definitely transcends state boundaries. It is not enough if one country, or even 12, decide to reduce the amount of CO2 and other gases released in the atmosphere.
NGOs and TNCs are also highly involved in sustainable development. For TNCs, sustainable development means a re-prioritization of issues. As companies all over the world are becoming more aware of the importance of sustainability. However most TNCs are working on Eco-efficiency (producing more product in a way that is better for the environment) than sustainable development, but actually slowing environmental degradation does not translate into environmental protection. NGOS have been extremely helpful in promoting the idea of sustainable development in government and international society- such as the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
The state level-of-analysis for sustainable development is defined by the fact that each state has the ability to make and enforce policies that support the idea of sustainable development. States are effected by sustainable development. If we run out of oil or fossil fuel, our state will not be able to support its people. That will undermine the legitimacy of the state and threaten its existence. States individually can take many actions to promote sustainable development. For example, government has the ability to enforce spend and tax policies that encourage the transition to sustainable development. A state can also design trade and investment policies that advance sustainable development. Grants can also be given to study the problems of sustainable development. Society is also included in this level-of-analysis and it plays an important role in sustainable development. According to a society sustainable development is important because it effects our way of life and even the very existence of it. If society fully backs policies of sustainable development than the implementation of these policies is likely.
Another very important set of actors in sustainable development is IGOs-specifically the UN. The UN has taken a large role in dealing with the challenges of global change and sustainability. They sponsored the Earth Summit (1992- the largest political gathering in history), the Commission on Sustainable Development, the UN General Assembly Special Session and Agenda 21, of course. All of these have been designed to improve the well being of present and future generations through the promotion of treaties and conventions. The Kyoto Protocol is one such treaty that attempts to limit the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. The UN has greatly promoted the idea of sustainable development to governments and other bodies.
Sustainable development with the individual level-of-analysis is very important. Individual leaders can be very influential. In fact, even though the idea of sustainability for a long time, many people consider the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring in 1962 was a turning point in our understanding of the interconnections among the environment, economy and social well being. An individual's way of life can be completely changed these environmental concerns. The extinction of fossil fuels would definitely change our life, as we would not be able to drive our cars or use electricity and other tasks we depend on fossil fuels for.
Sustainable development can be achieved with the help of all participants in all levels-of-analysis. If we accomplish sustainable development (which I hope we do) than the benefits will be for all individuals, societies, organizations, states, and our entire system. Linkages definitely occur between these levels-of-analysis and many conflicts regarding sustainable development exist. Sustainable development is not near being achieved and it will take a lot more intervention and support by all levels in order to make our dream of sustainable development a reality.