Sustainable Development: Solution for Environmental Issues

Author: Nivedita Saxena, Research Associate

The Environment V/s Development debate has gone on for centuries now, and has been an issue ever since Indian Independence. Development is the progressive growth of the economy and society in general. Development as a whole does not just comprise of economic growth, there are other aspects to it, like the welfare of the people, education, gender equality, availability of human rights etc. However, the debate has for long now measured the values of development through Gross domestic Product figures i.e. in the terms of economic growth. Thus, it has been reduced to numerical ‘growth’ rather than ‘qualitative’ development,

With the high level of dependency the Indian societies have on natural resources we are much more vulnerable to even slight changes or deterioration in the environment. However, the current prevalent poverty, demands a fast paced economic growth in order to increase the standards of living and pursue the welfare functions of the state. There is a need to strike a delicate balance between the developmental projects and environment degradation, which is if we are ready to acknowledge the fact that every development project will in some way or other harm the environment at the end. Thus essentially the whole debate rests around the question whether the goals of development and environment protection are unattainable at the same time.

For development

In a populous developing country like India, the priority has to be to reach a level of economic growth, so as to ensure a minimal standard of living for its entire population. This standard of living should include food, education, and employment for all at the very least. What use will a perfectly well protected environment be to a nation that has people dying from hunger or are faced with diseases now and then? Another argument advanced is that the foremost advocates of environmental protection are the already developed countries, which in turn restricts the growth and development in the developing countries. While the developed countries can easily bear the extra cost of the technology needed to ensure environment protection, developing countries see it as wastage of resources. Some even argue that it’s a purposeful effort to constraint the rise of any economic opponents, which is very duplicitous of them, as their current economy is a result of all the industrial development at the cost of the environment.

For environment

Rapid industrial growth and development have led to a drastic to the environment, be it deforestation, pollution, global warming, or climate change.  By upsetting ecosystems, depleting and polluting resources, humans are undermining the very foundation of their own survival. Arguing for environment protection E. Goldsmith1in his essay states that ‘There are half a million man-made chemicals in use today, yet we cannot predict the behaviour of properties of the greater part of them (either singly or in combination) once they are released into the environment. We know, however, that the combined effects of pollution and habitat destruction menace the survival of no fewer than 280 mammals, 350 birds, and 20,000 plant species.to those who egret these losses but greet them with the comment that the survival of homo sapiens is surely more important than that of an eagle or a primrose, we repeat that the homo sapiens himself depends on the continued resilience of those ecological networks of which eagle and primrose are integral parts.’

The Solution: Sustainable Development

Many environmentalists have claimed that Environmental conditions and growth in an area are co-dependent. It needs to be emphasised that environmental degradation is only going to intensify the problems that already exist today. For example, the decreasing level of waterfalls each year is already adversely affecting the agriculture and allied sectors, evident in the fact that the share of these sectors to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has declined by more than 4.5 % between 2004-05 and 2010-112. The high levels of industrial emission of greenhouse gases has led to melting of glaciers and increase in sea level, submerging many thriving coastal areas. It has to be noted that the cost involved in mitigating such problems cancels out any economic growth that might be a result of the environmental degradation.

Explaining how poverty itself pollutes the environment, creating environment stress the Brundtland Report says ‘those who are poor and hungry will destroy their immediate environment in order to survive: they will cut down forests; their livestock will overgraze grasslands; they will overuse marginal land; and in growing numbers they will crowd into congested cities. The cumulative effect of these changes is so far reaching as to make poverty itself a major global scourge3.’ The report goes on to say that ‘on the other hand, where economic growth has led to improvements in living standards, it has sometimes been achieved in ways that are globally damaging in long term.’

Therefore all the environmental challenges faced by us today are a result of lack of development or from the inadvertent consequences of economic growth. Thus to strike a balance between these two, sustainable development needs to be adopted in practice. Sustainable development is best defined in the famous 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development4popularly called as the Brundtland report, as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations too meet their own needs. This definition contains within it two key concepts:

  • The concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

The concept of sustainable development rests on the understanding that environment and development are not antagonistic terms; in fact they are complementary to each other. Development cannot be brought about based on a damaged or diminishing natural resources and the environment cannot be protected if we do not count the cost of environment degradation as a part of the growth indices. Lastly there cannot be a certain set principles of sustainability, as the economic, environmental and cultural conditions vary in various countries. However one must realise that environment protection cannot be carried forward by a single country in isolation and has to be a global objective

  1. A Blueprint for Survival’ by E.Goldsmith, compiled in ‘Classics in Environmental Studies- An Overview of Classic Texts in Environmental Studies’ by Nico Nelissen, Jan Van Der Straaten & Leon Klinkers Published by Kusum Publishing, First Indian edition 2001 []
  2. Reported by Times of India, on June 3, 2013. Available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Agriculture-sectors-share-in-GDP-dips-Assocham/articleshow/20408548.cms last accessed at July 12, 2013 []
  3. Available at http://conspect.nl/pdf/Our_Common_Future-Brundtland_Report_1987.pdf Last accessed at July 12,2013 []
  4. Available at http://conspect.nl/pdf/Our_Common_Future-Brundtland_Report_1987.pdf Page 37. Last accessed at July 12, 2013 []

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