Third World Centre for Water Management

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Sustainable Development: A Critical Assessment of Past and Present Views

In developing sustainable goals, both the social and environmental dimensions should be considered. Social sustainability is essential because poverty is both a cause and an effect of environmental degradation. A society festering with social tension will not have the means or inclination to make the consideration of the social and the environmental issues a priority. It is necessary to remember that the environmental degradation is not a necessary outcome of development. It results from a set of historically contingent choices for technology, production processes, and consumption patterns. Similarly, poverty and extreme inequity are not inevitable, but are the outcome of a specific set of social policy choices. Reversing the negative trends, and creating a transition to global sustainability will not be easy. It will require a widespread conviction that action is necessary and will depend on finding sufficient political will for action. The institutions, policies and technologies for translating intentions into real world solutions must be harnessed. The primary agents for change are governments, businesses and the new institutions of civil society, the proliferating collection of non-governmental organizations engaged in addressing the full range of environmental and social issues (Hediger, 2000). Sustainability efforts should be judged by the quality of processes, the ability to build relations between the appropriate stakeholders that reflect trust, and enhanced learning and understanding of different values and meanings. Support of the policy and its capacity to endure over time is the material outcome (Meppem, 2000).

Cecilia Tortajada, Background Paper for the Workshop on ‘Reassessing Sustainable Development Paradigm in the Context of the Water Sector’, Alexandria, Egypt, 2002
Background Paper online

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