“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (UN Brundtlandt report, p. 37). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. A recent ICCP report claims that the climate change is real and dangerous (2022). In the report they write: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss the brief, rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future”. For generations we have grown up with the warnings of an unsustainable future for planet Earth.
Sustainability and sustainable development are by now largely accepted notions. The fear of the atomic bomb during the Cold War and the repeated oil crises of the 1970s as well as the emerging awareness of pollution resulted in a general disenchantment with science and technology. Rachel Carson had published her book Silent Spring about the dangers of pollution in 1962. A decade later the Club of Rome published its first report, Limits to Growth in 1972, which made consumers aware of world-wide poverty, environmental pollution, and depletion of sources. People became conscious of the dependence on fossil fuel in a globalized world. In the same year Peter Singer published a seminal article on poverty and famine. The first oil or energy crisis happened in 1973 and in the same year Ernst Schumacher published his critique of capitalism: Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. All of these publications show the rising awareness of the limits of ruthless capitalism and the exploitation of both people and the Earth.
In Limits to Growth, the Club of Rome understands sustainability as both ecological and economic. It argues that a new balance is needed to safeguard the future. The goal for this diverse group of thinkers, scientists, business people, politicians and activists is: “the transition from growth to global equilibrium” (p. 24). A definition of sustainability as such is not yet given.
The next big moment in thinking about and acting on sustainability was the so-called Brundtland report, written by the UN Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, in 1987. They give the definition that is also mentioned above: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (p. 37). It is interesting to see here that sustainability is already linked to development.