You are on page 1of 5

Sustainable development is the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while at the

same time sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem
services upon which the economy and society depend. The desired result is a state of society where
living and conditions and resource use continue to meet human needs without undermining the integrity
and stability of the natural systems.

While the modern concept of sustainable development is derived mostly from the 1987 Brundtland
Report, it is also rooted in earlier ideas about sustainable forest management and twentieth century
environmental concerns. As the concept developed, it has shifted to focus more on economic
development, social development and environmental protection for future generations. It has been
suggested that "the term "sustainability" should be viewed as humanity's target goal of human-
ecosystem equilibrium (homeostasis), while "sustainable development" refers to the holistic approach
and temporal processes that lead us to the end point of sustainability".[1]

The concept of sustainable development has been—and still is—subject to criticism. What, exactly, is
to be sustained in sustainable development? It has been argued that there is no such thing as a
sustainable use of a non-renewable resource, since any positive rate of exploitation will eventually lead
to the exhaustion of earth's finite stock. This perspective renders the industrial revolution as a whole
unsustainable. It has also been argued that the meaning of the concept has opportunistically been
stretched from "conservation management" to "economic development", and that the Brundtland
Report promoted nothing but a business as usual strategy for world development, with an ambiguous
and insubstantial concept attached as a public relations slogan.

The Concept of Sustainable Development

4 The satisfaction of human needs and aspirations in the major objective of development. The essential
needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries for food, clothing, shelter, jobs - are not being
met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of
life. A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other
crises. Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the
opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.

5. Living standards that go beyond the basic minimum are sustainable only if consumption standards
everywhere have regard for long-term sustainability. Yet many of us live beyond the world's ecological
means, for instance in our patterns of energy use. Perceived needs are socially and culturally
determined, and sustainable development requires the promotion of values that encourage consumption
standards that are within the bounds of the ecological possible and to which all can reasonably aspire.

6. Meeting essential needs depends in part on achieving full growth potential, and sustainable
development clearly requires economic growth in places where such needs are not being met.
Elsewhere, it can be consistent with economic growth, provided the content of growth reflects the
broad principles of sustainability and non-exploitation of others. But growth by itself is not enough.
High levels of productive activity and widespread poverty can coexist, and can endanger the
environment. Hence sustainable development requires that societies meet human needs both by
increasing productive potential and by ensuring equitable opportunities for all.

7. An expansion in numbers can increase the pressure on resources and slow the rise in living standards
in areas where deprivation is widespread. Though the issue is not merely one of population size but of
the distribution of resources, sustainable development can only be pursued if demographic
developments are in harmony with the changing productive potential of the ecosystem.

8. A society may in many ways compromise its ability to meet the essential needs of its people in the
future - by overexploiting resources, for example. The direction of technological developments may
solve some immediate problems but lead to even greater ones. Large sections of the population may be
marginalized by ill-considered development.

9. Settled agriculture, the diversion of watercourses, the extraction of minerals, the emission of heat
and noxious gases into the atmosphere, commercial forests, and genetic manipulation are all examples
or human intervention in natural systems during the course of development. Until recently, such
interventions were small in scale and their impact limited. Today's interventions are more drastic in
scale and impact, and more threatening to life-support systems both locally and globally. This need not
happen. At a minimum, sustainable development must not endanger the natural systems that support
life on Earth: the atmosphere, the waters, the soils, and the living beings.

10. Growth has no set limits in terms of population or resource use beyond which lies ecological
disaster. Different limits hold for the use of energy, materials, water, and land. Many of these will
manifest themselves in the form of rising costs and diminishing returns, rather than in the form of any
sudden loss of a resource base. The accumulation of knowledge and the development of technology can
enhance the carrying capacity of the resource base. But ultimate limits there are, and sustainability
requires that long before these are reached, the world must ensure equitable access to the constrained
resource and reorient technological efforts to relieve the presume.

In its broadest sense, the strategy for sustainable development aims to promote harmony among human
brings and between humanity and nature. In the specific context of the development and environment
crises of the 1980s, which current national and international political and economic institutions have
not and perhaps cannot overcome, the pursuit of sustainable development requires:

a political system that secures effective citizen participation in decision making.

an economic system that is able to generate surpluses and technical knowledge on a self-reliant and
sustained basis
a social system that provides for solutions for the tensions arising from disharmonious development.
a production system that respects the obligation to preserve the ecological base for development,
a technological system that can search continuously for new solutions,
an international system that fosters sustainable patterns of trade and finance, and
an administrative system that is flexible and has the capacity for self-correction.
82. These requirements are more in the nature of goals that should underlie national and international
action on development. What matters is the sincerity with which these goals are pursued and the
effectiveness with which departures from them are corrected

Sustainable Development for What and for Whom?

Government and non-government groups routinely invoke “sustainable development” (SD) as part of
their raison d’etre. Definitions abound but all claim to be about improving the people’s welfare, not
only of the present but also of future generations. Human needs have to be met in a way that
succeeding generations will also have the natural resources to assure their well-being.

The way to do this is well-established. Domestic resources must be used for the people’s development
—not the needs of foreign monopoly capital and domestic elites. Society’s human and natural resources
have to be mobilized towards social goals—not the profits of a few. Conditions which have long been
denied countries like the Philippines which are captured by foreign and feudal domination.

By those standards, “sustainable development” in practice means three things. First, the economy must
achieve independence and self-reliance. There must be industrial and agricultural development of the
kind that generates, mobilizes and uses domestic resources towards meeting the people’s needs. This
means building and deepening a financial and technological base that breaks dependencies on foreign
capital and technology.

Second, these must be done in a way that natural resources are not wantonly abused. In the goods that
society produces and in the way it produces these, land, air and marine resources must be properly
managed and maintained. This contrasts with the inevitably reckless degradation of the environment
under the profit-seeking imperative of capitalism.

Last is a progressive social arrangement where society’s resources are in the hands of the people. The
historical experience is that anything less assures that political and economic elites, sooner or later, will
succumb to the exploitative logic of global capitalism.

The Philippines’ experience provides a negative example: imperialist domination has stymied any sort
of development in the first place—not to speak of the sustainable sort—and has despoiled the
environment for its own ends. The so-called globalization of recent years has in turn intensified the
worst aspects of the country’s chronic crisis of poverty and underdevelopment.

The Philippines and “Sustainable Development”

Ever keen to hop on the most fashionable developmental-ese of the day, the Philippine government has
been into “sustainable development” since it came into vogue in the 1980s.

A national plan of action for sustainability was adopted in 1989 called the Philippine Strategy for
Sustainable Development (PSSD). This aimed to “(provide) a framework to the initiatives of various
groups in Philippine society to integrate environmental considerations into economic decision making
to ensure sustainable development.”

In 1992 the country signed on to the Agenda 21 which was formulated during United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To implement this
“global blueprint” for sustainable development, the Philippines developed Philippine Agenda 21
(PA21) also called the National Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) was created in September 1992 through
Executive Order (EO) No. 15. The PCSD was supposed to be the convergence point for government
and civil society in the pursuit of genuine sustainable development and was tasked to monitor the
government’s compliance with its UNCED commitments.

The Ramos administration of the time boasted that the Philippines was the first country to establish a
Council for Sustainable Development immediately after UNCED. It also claimed that NGOs and POs
were actively involved in drafting the relevant EO as well as in other aspects of organizing and
operating the PCSD. Much was also made of how the EO required government members of the PCSD
to be “committed environmentalists.”
The PCSD’s mandate is to create “a critical mass of advocates for SD in both government and non-
government sectors.” The NGO/PO sector is given a counterpart role in the decision-making process in
the exercise of this mandate.

The organization claims to have “reviewed and submitted critical recommendations on landmark laws,
such as Clean Air, Intellectual Property Rights, Environment Impact Assessment, Solid Waste
Management, among others.” It further adds: “a series of consultation (was also held) concerning trade
liberalization vis-à-vis the economics of sustainable development in 1994-1996…(This was)
highlighted by the submission of Resolution No 1 (series of 1994) urging then President Fidel V.
Ramos and the Senate to postpone the ratification of the (GATT)… in the absence of its environmental,
economic and social impact assessment.”

In addition, the PA 21 also implemented Sustainable Integrated Area Development (SIAD). According
to the government, this approach takes into account area-based interventions, concepts on integrated
island development, and has people and the integrity of nature at its core.

All these have taken place beside various incarnations of the country’s Medium-Term Philippine
Development Plans (MTPDP) which, presumably, likewise took SD to heart.

In 1992, then President Fidel Ramos’ unveiled the much ballyhooed Philippines 2000. Ousted President
Joseph Estrada followed this up in 1998 with Angat Pinoy 2004. After assuming power in January 2001
as a result of a people’s uprising, current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rehashed this. There was
one slight change: victimized by the new economy hype, information and communications technology
is given peculiar importance.

Ten years after

Yet the question remains: after so many years of “sustainable development,” what is the lot of the

The quality of life of Filipinos is dismal even by official statistics. Last year, 40% of the population, or
31.3 million Filipinos, were officially poor (3.2 million more people than in 1991). Of these, 16.5
million were even below the subsistence or food threshold.[1]

The unemployment rate of 11.2% in 2000, the highest since at least 1987, meant 3.5 million Filipinos
jobless.[2] Adding the 6.0 million underemployed and the 8.3 million Filipinos forced to go overseas
for work, however, means that the country simply isn’t able to provide sufficient livelihoods for at least
42% of the labor force. In all of this the Filipina women—with their multiple burdens and gross
discrimination against them in the workplace—have it worst off.

The problem, simply put, is that SD was all but reduced to an embellishment—a developmental and
environmental gloss—to the Philippine government’s more determined effort at “globalizing” the
economy. The period 1990s saw the most intensive free-market restructuring of the economy the
country has ever seen.