Defining Sustainable Development
The ambiguity stems partly from the multiplicity of definitions of sustainable development, not only in the debates of commentators,but also in the international agreements themselves.
Scholars,activists, and politicians expressed at least twenty-five definitionsof sustainable development between 1979 and 1988.
Thetransformation in the definition from the Brundtland Report tolast year’s Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Developmentis significant.
the first time the term “sustainable development” was used in an international legaldocument. The broad concept expressed in the Brundtland Report is, however, older thanmany of the countries currently participating in the dialogue over how to achieve it. Thenotion of balancing between the needs of the current generation and those to come—oneof the leading definitions of sustainable development—had already been articulated overthe course of hundreds of years by indigenous cultures and more recently byenvironmentalists and scholars.
104-07 (1996) (discussing connections between indigenous cultureand religion and the land that indigenous peoples inhabit). The Brundtland Report’ssignificance was not in the novelty of its ideas, but in its bringing this concept into therealm of international law and policy.6. A multiplicity of international agreements, as well as the speeches and articlesthat discuss them, mention sustainable development as a crucial goal.
RioDeclaration on Environment and Development
, Princs. 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 21, 22, 24 & 27,
EPORT OF THE
, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.151/26, U.N. Sales No. E.93.I.8, at 8-9,
31 I.L.M. 874, 876, 877, 880 (1992) [hereinafter Rio Declaration]; Convention onEnvironmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context,
Feb. 25, 1991,pmbl., 1989 U.N.T.S. 309, 310,
30 I.L.M. 800, 802; Protocol to the 1979Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution on Further Reduction of Sulphur Emissions,
June 13, 1994, pmbl., 1302 U.N.T.S. 217; Kyoto Protocol tothe United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, U.N. Doc.FCCC/CP/1997/L.7/Add.1, pmbl.,
37 I.L.M. 22.7
EARCE ET AL
LUEPRINT FOR A
173-84(1989).8. The definition in the Brundtland Report, echoed in Principle 3 of the RioDeclaration, was: “development that meets the needs of the present withoutcompromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The BrundtlandReport,
note 5, at 43. In contrast, the tone is quite different in the JohannesburgDeclaration on Sustainable Development:5. Accordingly, we assume a collective responsibility to advance and strengthenthe interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainabledevelopment—economic development, social development, and environmentalprotection-- at the local, national, regional, and global levels.11. We recognize that poverty eradication, changing consumption andproduction patterns, and protecting and managing the natural resource base foreconomic and social development are overarching objectives of, and essentialrequirements for sustainable development.
Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development,
EPORT ON THE
Annex ¶¶ 5, 11, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.199/20,