At the heart of symbolism

Sustainable development, an ambiguous concept


Did you say sustainable ?

The concept of sustainable development was introduced by the United Nations World-wide Commission on Environment and Development (UNCED) chaired by the Norwegian former prime minister, madam Gro Harlem Brundtland. The Commission report, entitled “Our common future”, dates back to 1987. More than 25 years have passed, the necessary time to take a new generation on board within the related definition:

The so-called sustainable development intends to meet the “needs” of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own “needs”.

The success of the sustainable development notion rests on the ambiguity of the concept and the lack of prescriptions to implementation it. It is:

  • Enigmatic on the goal pursued, principally centred on the satisfaction of the “needs” of successive generations;
  • Silent on the necessary tools to implement it.

Admittedly, the different plans proposed at different scales try, more or less, to specify the objectives to be achieved and the means with which they could be implemented, but always in an evasive reference framework. There are as many sustainable development projects as there are countries, societies or economic systems. This results in a dispersion of means and a proliferation of definitions in relation to the multitude of existing situations.

Their only common point consists in the focus on the inter generational relationships and, consequently, the long term. Everything would be perfect if the environmental questions concerned the long term only. Obviously, this is not the case. We only have to think of the Bangladesh coastal or riverside populations or to the people suffering from asthma in our cities to realize it. On the other hand, the plans set up to right the helm will really have effects on the long term only. Therefore, the temptation to put off the effective application of decisions till later, i.e. on the back of the future generations that will be left with this heavy load.

Now, just as in our own life, every wasted hour is lost forever. The 1973 oil crisis was a warning of the exhaustion of non renewed resources of the planet and not an energy crisis. More than 40 years have passed and the situation has not improved. Therefore, at the approach of the 30th Anniversary of a development that always lasts, at least on paper, is it not time to wake up and become really conscious of the life conditions we will bequeath to the future generations ?

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