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Sustainable development

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Sustainable development is a way for people to use resources without the resources running out. It means doing development without damaging or affecting the environment. The term used by the Brundtland Commission defined it as development with sustainability that "meets the needs of the present and don't compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."[1]

Everyone wants a better place to live. Some people want better homes and housing, while other people want better schools, more jobs, better shops, or cleaner and safer streets. Others may want all these things. Whatever the problems in any neighbourhood, they can usually be grouped into three issues. People need:

  • a better environment – that means green spaces, play areas, no litter, nice gardens, decent houses, less noise and pollution. The resources used should renew over generations.
  • a better economy – that means jobs, reasonable prices, cheaper heat and light, no loan sharks
  • better social conditions – that means good leisure facilities, lots of community groups offering sports and arts, friendly neighbours.
Graphic explanation from UNHCR

But many people now realise that if we are to tackle one issue, then we'll probably have to tackle the others as well. For instance, new shops are unlikely to open in an area where crime and poverty levels are very high. Similarly crime is unlikely to fall in an area where the housing has been improved unless there are jobs available. People may move into an area where housing and jobs are available, but if the surroundings are run-down and public transport is poor, they may well not want to stay

This is not just a local issue. The same problems are faced at a national level. If the governments of the world are to deal with poverty, they do not just need to provide money and food aid, they need to help local people get educated and get jobs. People also need a safe environment with adequate homes and drinking water. To make these things work, governments also need to make sure that people have an effective voice in deciding what happens where they live.

This approach is called ‘sustainable development’. While this phrase can be confusing, it's now used in many government documents and in funding programmes. Sustainable development has three parts: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and sociopolitical sustainability.

At the core of this idea is the matter of meeting people's needs – for a home, for a decent job, for education for their children, for good health care, and for a safe and healthy neighbourhood to live in.

Most people in the rich nations have most of these needs, but there are still many people living in poverty and in poor quality homes. Even if these basic needs are met there are still plenty of ways in which their ‘quality of life’ is under threat: from crime, from pollution, or from living in neighbourhoods where no-one in authority seems to care.

Many areas have programmes to promote ‘local sustainability’: many are called ‘Local Agenda 21’ plans, named after the international Agenda 21 action plan for sustainable development agreed at the United Nations Earth Summit held in 1992.

Notes and references

  1. United Nations. 1987. "Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development." General Assembly Resolution 42/187, 11 December 1987. Retrieved: 2007-04-12

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