A very brief history of sustainable development
The concept of sustainable development emerged from the post-War environmental movement, which recognised the negative impacts of human growth and development on the environment and communities.
Since publishing the first ever national strategy for sustainable development in 1994, the UK Government has played a lead role in promoting sustainable development at home and overseas.
1972: Limits to Growth
Commissioned by the Club of Rome, Limits to Growth attempts to model the consquences of a growing human population in a world of finite resources, concluding that current patterns of growth cannot be sustained indefinitely.
1987: Our Common Future
The term sustainable development came to prominence through the United Nations Brundtland Commission. The commission’s 1987 report, Our Common Future defined sustainable development as “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
1992: Rio conference
The concept received further attention at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the first international attempt to develop strategies for a more sustainable pattern of development.
Representatives of 178 national governments, including more than 100 heads of state, and many organisations representing civil society attended the conference. The world had never previously witnessed a larger gathering of national leaders.
At the summit, governments around the world committed to sustainable development. The UK government was the first to produce its national strategy in 1994.
1999: A Better Quality of Life
In 1999, the UK government outlined how it proposed to deliver sustainable development in A Better Quality of Life. This set out a vision of simultaneously delivering economic, social and environmental outcomes as measured by a series of headline indicators.
2002: Johannesburg summit
The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) took place in Johannesburg from 26 August to 4 September 2002.
The summit delivered three outcomes: a political declaration, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the establishment of numerous partnership initiatives. Key commitments covered sustainable consumption and production, water and sanitation, and energy.
The outcomes complemented the Millennium Development Goals, reinforce Doha and Monterrey agreements and set challenging global goals and targets on accessing water, sanitation and modern energy services; increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy; sustainable fisheries and forests; reducing biodiversity loss on land and in our oceans; chemicals management; and decoupling environmental degradation from economic growth – that is, achieving sustainable patterns of consumption and production.
The UK’s international priorities on sustainable development have principally been framed by the Millennium Development Goals, the Doha Development Agenda of the World Trade Organisation, the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development and the Plan of Implementation of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).
Securing the Future
2005 saw the publication of Securing the Future, a revised UK Government strategy for sustainable development.
At the same time, a strategic framework was agreed by the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, providing a consistent approach and focus across the UK for the period up to 2020.
Page last modified: 28 February, 2011