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Home TopicsThe concept of sustainable development

The concept of sustainable development

We addressed various topics in the framework of our study among the world youth and the panel of 100 personalities. Here are some examples of questions we discussed:


Sustainable development is seen as a source of complexity: it requires a transversal approach of issues and the capacity to accept tradeoffs. It would also impose a form of temperance and frugality, which appears hardly compatible with the need for the very best performance imposed by the global financial system.

Furthermore, this concept is not interpertated the same way everywhere.

How and in the name of what should the concept of sustainable development evolve so as to become more compelling to all actors (countries, companies, civil society, etc.), independently from their specific constraints?

Does it make sense to believe that there can be a detailed, universal and holistic definition of sustainable development, beyond socioeconomic, cultural, environmental backgrounds?




Some interview excerpts linked to this topic:


  • The concept of sustainable development stands the test of time. However, the world needs to take new steps to agree on its effective implementation. This is a challenge for Rio+20, when “Green Economy“ and Institutional framework are key points on the agenda. I believe Rio+20 should agree on a process towards ”Sustainable Development Goals”, all countries reporting regularly and transparently and held to account for progress towards such agreed goals. The MDG’s now need to be supplemented by new sustainable development goals.
    Gro Brundtland (Norway), Former Chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development, former Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Norway and member of The Elders.

  • The declaration by the United Nations General Assembly on 28 July 2010, considering safe and clean drinking water and sanitation a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights, is not a revolution per se, but a pronouncement that may trigger many revolutions in years to come. […] As we move along in the era of more – not less – water scarcity, many more people […] will be demanding their “right to fresh clean water” as has been deemed by the UN in 2010.
    Rafiq Husseini (Palestine), Deputy Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean for Environment and Water, a multilateral partnership focusing on regional cooperation and prosperity through concrete projects

  • We are in the midst of a cultural revolution. Semantic confusion is inherent to such a process, which is about shifting values and adopting new behaviors for a better and more equitable world. The definition of sustainable development may not be perfect yet, but beyond the quest for the best terminology, from an academic and scientific point of view, we should focus our attention on the concrete efforts made by millions of people in the world, especially young people sometimes with little or no education at all, who already converted themselves into committed actors for a more sustainable future.
    André Trigueiro (Brazil), Environmental journalist at the Brazilian TV channel Globo News and author of the bestseller "Mundo Sustentável".

  • Gandhi’s “Antyodaya” philosophy which focused on the bottom stratum of society is a step in the process of the Gandhian concept of development whereby individual and community-level efforts are accomplished out of self-initiative to provide basic necessities to the poorest people. It emphasizes that progress for the welfare of all should be achieved without collision of interest, but rather through harmonious daily conduct. To the young generation of today I would like to suggest the Antyodaya approach as an inspiration to measure their actions by which they do not forget, and even try estimating, the impact that their actions have on the planet and on opportunities for others. In a very subtle but significant way the concept of Antyodaya also highlights the issue of externalities associated with private decisions. Sustainable development needs to incorporate externalities in decision making at all levels.
    Rajendra Kumar Pachauri (India), Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Mr. Al Gore (2007), Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Director of Yale Climate and Energy Institute

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