Different countries have different priorities in their
development policies. But to compare their development levels,
you would first have to make up your mind about what development
really means to you, what it is supposed to achieve. Indicators
measuring this achievement could then be used to judge countries'
relative progress in development.
Is the goal merely to increase national wealth, or is it
something more subtle? Improving the well-being of the majority
of the population? Ensuring people's freedom? Increasing
their economic security?
Recent United Nations documents emphasize "human development,"
measured by life expectancy, adult literacy, access to all
three levels of education, as well as people's average income
which is a necessary condition of their freedom of choice.
In a broader sense the notion of human development incorporates
all aspects of individuals' well-being, from their health
status to their economic and political freedom. According
to the Human Development Report 1996, published by
the United Nations Development Program, "human development
is the end- economic growth a means".
It is true that economic
growth, by increasing a nation's total wealth,
also enhances its potential for reducing poverty and solving
other social problems. But history offers a number of examples
where economic growth was not followed by similar progress
in human development. Instead growth was achieved at the
cost of greater inequity, higher unemployment, weakened
democracy, loss of cultural identity, or overconsumption
of resources needed by future generations. As the links
between economic growth and social and environmental issues
are better understood, experts including economists tend
to agree that this kind of growth is inevitably unsustainable-
that is, it cannot continue along the same line for long.
To be sustainable, economic growth must be constantly
nourished by the fruits of human development such as improvements
in workers' knowledge and skills along with opportunities
for their efficient use: more and better jobs, better conditions
for new businesses to grow, and greater democracy at all
levels of decisionmaking (Figure 1.1).
Conversely, slow human development can put an end to fast
economic growth. According to Human Development Report 1996,
"during 1960-1992 not a single country succeeded in moving
from lopsided development with slow human development and
rapid growth to a virtuous circle in which human development
and growth can become mutually reinforcing." Since slower
human development has invariably been followed by slower
economic growth, this growth pattern was labeled a "dead
Sustainable development is a term widely used by politicians
all over the world even though the notion is still rather
new and lacks a uniform interpretation. Important as it
is, the concept of sustainable development is still being
developed and the definition of the term is constantly being
revised, extended, and refined. Using this book, you can
try to improve the definition as you learn more about the
relationships among its main components- the economic, social,
and environmental factors of sustainable development- and
as you decide on their relative significance based on your
own system of values.
According to the classical definition, given by the United
Nations World Commission on Environment and Development
in 1987, development is sustainable if it "meets the needs
of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs." It is usually understood
that this "intergenerational" justice would be impossible
to achieve in the absence of present-day social justice,
if the economic activities of some groups of people continue
to jeopardize the well-being of people belonging to other
groups or living in other parts of the world. Imagine, for
example, that continuing deforestation of the Amazon basin,
known for its outstanding biodiversity, leads to the extinction
of an unresearched plant species that could help cure acquired
immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), a lethal disease threatening
people all over the world. Or consider emissions of greenhouse
gases, generated mainly by industrial countries, which can
lead to global warming and flooding of certain low-lying
islands- resulting in the displacement and impoverishment
of entire nations.
Social justice defined as equality of opportunities for
well-being, both within and among generations of people,
can be seen as having at least three aspects: economic,
social, and environmental. Only development that manages
to balance these three groups of objectives can be sustained
for long (Figure 1.2). Conversely,
ignoring one of the aspects can threaten economic growth
as well as the entire development process.