Wikipedia defines Sustainable Development as:
Sustainable development is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come. The term was used by the Brundtland Commission which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social challenges facing humanity. As early as the 1970s “sustainability” was employed to describe an economy “in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems.” Ecologists have pointed to The Limits to Growth, and presented the alternative of a “steady state economy“ in order to address environmental concerns.
Here is a timeline of Sustainable Development:
Sustainable Development Timeline
Note: If you wish to view IISD’s interactive Shockwave Flash timeline, click here.
Concerns about the environment and development are not new. More recently the ongoing global dialogue has formed around the strategies needed to address the inter-related challenges of building healthy societies, economies, and environments. This dialogue has its roots in the gradual merging of the environmental movement and the post- World War II international development community. Over the past fifty-five years, optimism about the creation of a modern technological utopia has been replaced by a more realistic understanding of the forces contributing to the world’s problems. Many people consider 1962 as the seminal year in which people began to understand how closely linked the environment and development truly are.
|1962 - Rachel Carson publishes “Silent Spring”. This book brought together research on toxicology, ecology and epidemology to suggest that agricultural pesticides were building to catastrophic levels. This was linked to damage to animal species and to human health. It shattered the assumption that the environment had an infinite capacity to absorb pollutants.|
|1963 – International Biological Programme initiated by nations around the world. This ten-year study analysed environmental damage and the biological and ecological mechanisms through which it occurs. In creating a large body of data, it laid the foundation for a science-based environmentalism.|
|1967 - The Environmental Defense Fund forms to pursue legal solutions to environmental damage. EDF’s founders go to court to stop the Suffolk County Mosquito Control Commission from spraying DDT on the marshes of Long Island.|
|1968 – Paul Ehrlich publishes book “Population Bomb” on the connection between human population, resource exploitation and the environment.
1968 – The Club of Rome, led by Italian industrialist Aurrelio Peccei and Scottish scientist Alexander King, is established by 36 European economists and scientists. Its goal is to pursue a holistic understanding of and solutions to the ‘world problematique’. It commissions a study of global proportions to model and analyse the dynamic interactions between industrial production, population, environmental damage, food consumption and natural resource usage.
1968 – Intergovernmental Conference for Rational Use and Conservation of Biosphere (UNESCO) is held. This provided a forum for early discussions of the concept of ecologically sustainable development
1968 – The UN General Assembly authorizes the Human Environment Conference to be held in 1972.
|1969 – Friends of the Earth forms as a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the planet from environmental degradation; preserving biological, cultural, and ethnic diversity; and empowering citizens to have an influential voice in decisions affecting the quality of their environment — and their lives.
1969 - USA passes the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) creating the first national agency for environmental protection – the EPA.
|1970 – Natural Resources Defense Council forms with a professional staff of lawyers and scientists to push for comprehensive U.S. environmental policy.
1970 – First Earth Day held as a national teach-in on the environment. An estimated twenty million people participated in peaceful demonstrations all across the USA.
|1971 – Greenpeace starts up in Canada and launches an aggressive agenda to stop environmental damage through civil protests and non-violent interference.
1971 – International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is established in Britain with a mandate to seek ways to make economic progress without destroying the environmnetal resource base.
1971 – Founex Report is prepared by a panel of experts meeting in Founex, Switzerland in June 1971. It calls for the integration of environment and development strategies. The report notes that while concern about the environment sprang from the production and consumption patterns of the industrialized world, many of the environmental problems in the world are a result of underdevelopment and poverty. This acknowledgement was a factor in persuading many developing countries to attend the 1972 Stockholm Conference.
|1972 – Rene Dubos and Barbara Ward write “Only One Earth”. The book sounds an urgent alarm about the impact of human activity on the biosphere but also expresses optimism that a shared concern for the future of the planet could lead humankind to create a common future.
1972 - United Nations Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm under the leadership of Maurice Strong . The conference is rooted in the regional pollution and acid rain problems of northern Europe. This eco-agenda is opposed by the Group of 77 and the Eastern bloc. Nevertheless, it provides the first international recognition of environmental issues. The concept of sustainable development is cohesively argued to present a satisfactory resolution to the environmental vs. development dilemma. The conference leads to the establishment of numerous national environmental protection agencies and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
1972 – The Values Party was formed in New Zealand as the world’s first national green party.
1972 – Environmental Liaison Centre International is founded to integrate NGO input into UNEP.
1972 – Environnement et Développement du Tiers-Monde (ENDA — Environment and Development Action in the Third World) is established as a joint environmental training programme between UNEP, IDEP, and SIDA to provide courses and training about environment and development in Africa. In 1978 it refocuses, becoming an international voluntary non-profit organization concerned with empowerment of local peoples, elimination of poverty, research and training for sustainable development at all levels, and engaging decision makers to define and implement development which benefits the most people.
1972 – Club of Rome publishes “Limits to Growth”. The report is extremely controversial because it predicts dire consequences if growth is not slowed. Northern countries criticise the report for not including technological solutions while Southern countries are incensed because it advocates abandonment of economic development. The ensuing debate heightens awareness of the interconnections between several well-known global problems.
1972 – OPEC oil crisis fuels limits to growth debate
|1973 – European Environmental Action Programme launched. This was the first attempt to synthesise a single environmental policy for the European Economic Community (EEC) .
1973 – USA enacts Endangered Species Act to better safeguard, for the benefit of all citizens, the nation’s heritage in fish, wildlife, and plants.
1973 – Chipko Movement born in India in response to deforestation and environmental degradation. The actions of the women of the community influenced both forestry and women’s participation in environmental issues.
|1974 – Rowland and Molina release seminal work on CFCs in Nature magazine. They calculated that if human use of CFC gases was to continue at an unaltered rate the ozone layer would be depleted by many percent after some decades.
1974 – Bariloche Foundation publishes “Limits to Poverty”. It is the South’s response to “Limits to Growth” and calls for growth and equity for the Third World.
|1975 - Worldwatch Institute is established in the USA to raise public awareness of global environmental threats to the point where it will support effective policy responses.
1975 – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) comes into effect.
|1977 - Greenbelt Movement starts in Kenya. It is based on community tree-planting to prevent desertification.
1977 - UN Conference on Desertification is held.
|Late 1970s – Environmental catastrophes capture public attention. Eg. Amoco Cadiz oil spill and Three Mile Island nuclear reactor leak.|
|1979 – Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution is adopted..|
|1980 – World Conservation Strategy released by IUCN. The strategy defines development as “the modification of the biosphere and the application of human, financial, living and non-living resources to satisfy human needs and improve the quality of human life”. The section “Towards Sustainable Development” identifies the main agents of habitat destruction as poverty, population pressure, social inequity and the terms of trade. It calls for a new International Development Strategy with the aims of redressing inequities, achieving a more dynamic and stable world economy, stimulating accelerating economic growth and countering the worst impacts of poverty.
1980 – Independent Commission on International Development Issues publishes “North:South – A Programme for Survival” (Brandt Report). It asks for a re-assessment of the notion of development and calls for a new economic relationship between North and South.
1980 – US President Jimmy Carter authorises study which led to the “Global 2000″ report. This report recognizes biodiveristy for the first time as a critical characteristic in the proper functioning of the planetary ecosystem. It further asserts that the robust nature of ecosystems is weakened by species extinction.
|1982 - The United Nations World Charter for Nature published. It adopts the principle that every form of life is unique and should be respected irrespective of its value to humankind. It also calls for an understanding of our dependence on natural resources and the need to control of our exploitation of them.
1982 - The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is adopted. It establishes material rules concerning environmental standards as well as enforcement provisions dealing with pollution of the marine environment.
|1983 – Australia adopts a National Conservation Strategy to implement the objectives of the World Conservation Strategy.
1983 – World Commission on Environment and Development forms. Chaired by Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, the commission works for three years to weave together a report on social, economic, cultural, and environmental issues.
1983 - Development Alternatives is established in India as a non-profit research, development and consultancy organisation. It fosters a new relationship between people, technology and the environment in the South in order to attain the goal of sustainable development.
|Mid – 1980s – More global environmental problems shock an increasingly “tuned in” Northern public. Eg. Bhopal, India, famine in Africa’s Sahel region, rain forest decimation, international debt crisis|
|1984 - Worldwatch Institute publishes its first State of the World Report. The report monitors changes in the global resource base, focusing particularly on how changes there affect the economy. It concludes that “we are living beyond our means, largely by borrowing against the future.”
1984 – Third World Network is founded during an international conference “The Third World: Development or Crisis?” which was organized by the Consumer’s Association of Penang. TWN’s role is to be the activist voice of the South on issues of economics, development, and environment.
|1985 - Antarctic ozone hole discovered by British and American scientists.
1985 - Villach, Austria meeting called by World Meteorological Society, UNEP and International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) reports on the build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They predict global warming.
|1986 - IUCN Conference on Environment and Development held in Ottawa. Meeting participants define sustainable development as the emerging paradigm derived from two closely related paradigms of conservation 1) one reacting against the laissez-faire economic theory which considers living resources as externalitites and free goods and 2) one based on the concept of resource stewardship
1986 – Accident at nuclear station in Chernobyl generates a massive toxic radioactive explosion.
|1987 - “Our Common Future” (Brundtland Report) published. It ties problems together and, for the first time, gives some direction for comprehensive global solutions. It also popularizes the term “sustainable development”.
1987 – Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is adopted.
|1988 – Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change established with three working groups to assess the most up-to-date scientific, technical and socio-economic research in the field of climate change.
1988 - Centre for Our Common Future is founded in Geneva to act as a focal point for follow-up activities to the Brundtland Report.
|1989 - Stockholm Environment Institute is established as an independent foundation for carrying out global and regional environmental research.|
|1990 - International Institute for Sustainable Development established in Canada.
1990 – The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe is established as an independent, non-profit organization to assist environmental nongovernmental organizations, governments, businesses, and other environmental stakeholders to fulfil their role in a democratic, sustainable society.
|1992 - U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro. It results in the publication of Agenda 21, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Rio Declaration, and a statement of non-binding Forest Principles. The parallel NGO Forum signs a full set of alternative treaties.
Details on the post-Rio progress of the international sustainable development dialogue are available at IISD’s Linkages site.
If you are interested in earlier international environmental treaties, these are available in chronological order via CIESIN’s ENTRI database.
This SD Timeline has been prepared by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, 1997.
Much has happened since 1992 – I encourage you to look into
-Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, 3 to 14 June 1992.
-the President’s Council on Sustainable Development established by President Clinton in June 1993, which became the framework for environmental policy in the USA.
July 24, 1997 – Global Climate Change Summit –
-In September 2000, building upon a decade of major United Nations conferences and summits, world leaders came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets – with a deadline of 2015 – that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.
Capital Pollution Solution
-Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill that passed the house in 2009.
-The Boxer-Kerry Climate Change Bill that is still in the Senate
President Obama’s new development policy and his speech to the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit in September 2010.