It’s Sustainable Development, Stupid

Twenty years have passed since the first sustainability summit in Rio de Janeiro and, in this time, the world has changed considerably. Globalisation is on the rise. Throughout the world, priority is given to the “free market” and a substantial expansion of international trade, which is characterised by its large scale and reduced state impacts. Institutions that govern the global economy have become stronger, while organisations that seek social equity and environmental sustainability have remained weak.

Earth summit, Rio de Janeiro, 1992

We are at a crossroads. Do we strike the right path towards sustainability or do we let chaos prevail and allow the pollution and destruction of the planet to continue? The choice is in our hands.

It will depend on how we make use of the chaos that is today evident all around us. You don’t want to end up with chaotic systems or anarchy but too stable bureaucracies don’t work either. It is, in practice, extremely difficult to find the middle ground but what we should not do is reduce diversity without giving a broad range of sustainable solutions a chance.

When forecasting, we often distinguish four scenarios along two axes: global vs regional; and emphasis on economic growth vs the emphasis on social and environmental aspects. Globalisation, coupled with concern for the environment and society, appears to be the most sustainable option. This allows for greater equity, a more reasonable economic development and a mitigation of environmental problems. We really are at a critical point. If we are not careful, however, climate change, ecosystem degradation and infectious diseases will run out of control. It is time to understand that economic growth should no longer be our only guide. “It’s sustainable development, stupid.”

An article by Professor Pim Martens


Pim Martens holds the chair “Global Dynamics and Sustainable Development” at Maastricht and Leuphana University, The Netherlands, and is a honorary professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He is also Director of the International Centre for Integrated assessment and Sustainable development (ICIS) and the Academic Director of the Maastricht University Graduate School of Sustainability Science (MUST).

Pim is also co-editor of the book, The Social and Behavioural Aspects of Climate Change. Buy it direct from Greenleaf Publishing and receive a 30% discount off hardback and 10% off the PDF version. Just use voucher code sbacc298 at the checkout.

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One thought on “It’s Sustainable Development, Stupid

  1. G8 article. Have been considering how the 40 year long tussle over economic growth corresponds with the 40 year long ineffectiveness of responses to global problems (since 1972 Stockholm summit). Problem may be the polarised positions of pro and anti growth when we should really be talking about destructive and regenerative models for growth. The pro-growth position reinforces continuing destruction. Ironically the anti-growth position reinforces the same since it has failed to offer a regenerative vision of growth. A pity since such a vision is not complex nor unattractive.

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