development sustainability

Development and sustainability can’t be separated

The Millennium Development Goals run will have run their course by 2015, and there’s a good deal of debate going on about what should replace them. One key aspect of the debate is that the MDGs never integrated sustainability into development goals, and climate change wasn’t even included. There was no recognition that, if separated, development and sustainability can work against each other.

Whatever the post-millennium goals might be, it’s a good opportunity to hardwire sustainability into the development agenda, argues Alex Evans of New York University.

“Climate, scarcity, unsustainability and development have long since morphed into a single challenge” he writes. “Poverty reduction is the first casualty of unsustainability, with poor people disproportionately reliant on natural assets and vulnerable to climate and scarcity risks. At the same time, current models of development are also the main driver of unsustainability”.

Sustainability is a clunky and much maligned term, but sustainable development is essentially progress that can be maintained long term. That shouldn’t be controversial. “Development that is not sustainable is not worth having” says Evans, “given that unsustainable models of development will only end up a victim of their own success.”


  1. I think the global South pursuing sustainable development should be really high up the global agenda. No one can expect the poorer nations to reject development, and yet the planet cannot sustain that many industrial revolutions, with all that entails. I really believe there can be a way for needs (and wants) to be met in a sustainable manner..

  2. I know Jeffery Sachs from the UN has mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals and there is a page on the UN website –

    Good news is people are getting out of extreme faster and cleaner than ever before thanks to technologies and more awareness, however the big question remains once we have the bascis needs of everyone met how do we control ‘growth’ from there…

    Having played both sides of the fence working in developed and developing countries it is about meeting in the middle (which is far more towards the developing country’s way of life). This is the almost impossible task of – expecting people to have less, who have everything and others stopping having more, when they want everything!

  3. For the next few years I will be working on a research project about a complete renewable energy transformation for the Republic of the Philippines. As part of that endeavor I study all economic reports and cross read sociology, policy and also ethnological and anthropological studies, and I am baffled once again how severely limited mainstream economic thinking is. It begins with a -intellectually rigorous, mind you – report on the state and future of the Philippine economy by nobody less than Paul Krugman, written in 1992. Now Krugman already is on the progressive end of mainstream economics, nonetheless reading this as a natural scientist, I can only shake my head. Clearly the economy has become the all dominating factor for everyone, but when reading Krugman one gets the impression that, once again, Economics is a hard science where everything can be expressed in terms of simplified financial models. Reality seems to consist of nothing else but interest and inflation, trade balances, currency evaluations, comparative productivity, fiscal policy, tariffs, debt service, investment incentives, the all curing strategy of liberalization and, of course, all in the name of growth, growth, growth, at the end of which magically (invisible hand, over and again) welfare for all emerges. Which, however, isn’t quite the case, except for very limited numbers and under very narrow definitions. Until now humans don’t seem to play much of a role in the game of economy, except as consumer and as labor as a productive factor. Culture, psychology, traditional social structures, ethics, moral, religions – human society at large – has no place in this all dominating thing called the economy, economics. And even the physical world, resources, limited sources and sinks, carrying capacity – even soil, ground, agricultural land, play no or only marginal roles in economic theory. Limitations that can be overcome by market forces. The horizon that can be pushed ever further. At its core economics as a science has a major flaw: it confuses the subjects it creates itself for reality. I see a form of magic thinking, where causes and effects move around in artificial circles, in models of virtual nothingness, with some incidental beneficial side effects that feel more like temporary chance results occurring despite and not because of this form of economic activity.

    Old German saying goes: Wir leben nicht um zu arbeiten, wir arbeiten, um zu leben (We don’t live to work, we work to make a living). In his Novel “The Fear Index” Robert Harris beautifully described how “the economy” became something that at one point began to prey on humans, that reduces humans to means for its own sustenance. I also feel reminded of the constant artificial crisis in George Orwell’s 1984. The literature I am reading on Filipine economics, politics and more spans more than a century. In his book “The Philippines 100 years hence” the national hero José Rizal spoke of the current crisis. Krugman in 1992 wrote about the crisis. The Economist Prof. Brodbeck, in a general critique of economics, in 2002 emphasized, you guessed it, the crisis. And an official 2012 UNDP report about the Philippine economy lamented, well, the crisis. Yawn. In order to grow the economy needs consumers. Happy, healthy and relaxed people don’t consume all that much. They eat moderately, sleep well and peacefully sit on their balcony, enjoying the sun set, listening to the birds. Happy, contented people are LOUSY consumers! They are DEATH for THE ECONOMY. So I see that people in the Philippines, who are constantly in crisis (and really so, in comparison to Western Europeans) are much more concerned about status, possessions, the latest mobile, fashion – you name it – than about, say, pension, health insurance and other essential real life aspects. On top of it the country is in the grips of a rather disturbing brand of extreme catholicism. Last year a Bishop declared the Typhoon that hit Mindanao was Gods punishment for discussing the new health bill in parliament – which would render contraceptive measures and in extreme cases even abortion legal.

    Instead of being an objective science of reality economics feels much more like just another unfounded set of ideological beliefs. It does not acknowledge that all economic activity is carried out by human beings and embedded in the physical and natural world. It does not make clear statements about it ends, i.e. “All economic activity aims at benefiting all members of the human race.” The limited abstract definitions of “welfare” are mere claims.

    Indeed, in the long run there can be no such thing as sustainable development as long as resource base, population growth and critical loads and levels are ignored. And as for welfare: only yesterday I saw a report about Malaysia’s growing problem with the elderly. Old people suffering from dementia regularly are just dumped on the doorsteps of hospitals and then “stored away” in cheap, low cost mass housings, in one case in an industrial building, above a factory. No care, no visits, no money. And here we are talking about a “Tiger State” that once was a bright and shining example for the neoclassical economic model. Growth, liberalization, privatization, the Petronas Towers. All temporary, limited, illusionary, unsustainable. The global market is one huge Potemkin Village, the growth economy one huge Ponzi scheme. In the shadows of that economy are humans who are dumped, ignored, who suffer, who die, because they, quite simply, have no economic value as production factors or consumers. Period. “The Economy” even became a thing that could easily exist and function entirely without humans. It already is an apparatus detached from reality. It could become entirely virtual, entirely simulated. Perhaps we transfer that simulation into a huge computer and shoot that into the sun. And then we start from scratch…

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