Sustainability is a goal like liberty or equality; not a fixed endpoint to be reached but a direction that guides constructive change; the realist is as skeptical of claims concerning sustainability as she would be of a claim that perfect liberty had been attained.
Basic Literature: This section considers the major founding documents of sustainable development as well as the institutions which look toward its implementation. The word "major" is problematical because some people will disagree with the choices made here saying that everything from the Bible to The Limits of Growth must be included instead of (or as well as) those we have chosen. Since thousands of documents and hundreds of institutions have either endorsed or scorned the concept, the critics may be correct in saying that our choices were biased, if not a reflection of incompetence. Apart from our bias or incompetence, we agree that other things may have been written that say more about sustainability than the ones we selected, and we also would agree that there are other institutions that may do better work. But the major documents, the ones that continue to influence in large ways, and the institutions having both the mandate and formal support to work on the problem at a global level, are few.
The World Conservation Strategy (WCS). The WCS was published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (Now the World Conservation Union), the World Wildlife Fund (Now the World Wide Fund for Nature), and the United Nations Environment Programme (IUCN/WWF/UNEP 1980). One of the first reports to advance the theme of sustainable development, the WCS stated that the objective of conservation was to "...ensure Earth's capacity to sustain development and to support all life." As a consequence, the aim of the WCS was to advance achievement of sustainable development through the conservation of living resources. It was to do three things: 1) explain the contribution of living resource conservation to human survival and to sustainable development: 2) identify the priority conservation issues and the main requirements for dealing with them; and 3) propose effective ways to improve conservation efficiency and integrate conservation and development.
The Strategy indicates that conservation is the extra ingredient that makes development sustainable and, throughout, makes the case that conservation is necessary if development is to be successful and enduring. Specifically the WCS calls for the conservation of essential "ecological processes, the preservation of genetic diversity and the sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems."
Although many people interpret conservation to mean the preservation of natural balance or equilibrium, the WCS itself understood that such an interpretation makes conservation a meaningless exercise. Nature is something far different from perfect balance, and change reflects its reality a great deal more than does permanence. There simply is no climax or any static state in the natural world (Botkin 1990).
Our Common Future: Seven years after WCS publication of Our Common Future, the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, moved discussions of sustainable development in a different direction (WCED 1987). Where the WCS was a strategy for conservation, Our Common Future proposed long-term "environmental" strategies in three major areas: a) management of the commons; b) peace, security, the environment, and development; and c) institutional and legal changes.
Consistent with these points of emphasis, Our Common Future suggested that the difference between "development" and "sustainable development" is a concern for future generations and gave the now famous definition that sustainable development is "development that meets the needs of the present without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Our Common Future also emphasized the value of conservation. But, reading the report of the WCED beyond these few words, we find that although the report highlighted the idea that conservation is needed for productive development, it also emphasized that development was required for conservation to be successful. More importantly, development was required immediately if wars were to be avoided and poverty eliminated.
Conservation with Equity. Conservation with Equity represents a summary of eighteen workshops based on the World Conservation Strategy (Jacobs and Munro 1987). Held in 1986 under the auspices of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the workshops looked into several different strategies that would hopefully lead to sustainable development. Although the strategies contained some things in common, concern for future generations was seldom one of them. Rather, the major worries were that social equity and balanced development take their rightful place in the sustainable development equation. A concern for the present citizens of the Earth as well as those in the future had long been a contentious subject in discussions surrounding sustainable development. One of the more recent and more weighty comments was that by Robert M. Solow (1996), the 1989 Nobel Laureate in Economics in the 1996 Human Development Report. "Those who are so urgent about not inflicting poverty on the future have to explain why they do not attach even higher priority to reducing poverty today." Thirty five years ago another economist made a similar observation (Tullock 1964): "Are there so few diseased, illiterate, underprivileged today, so few persons who excite our sympathy that we must look to the prospectively wealthy future for a source of worthy recipients of our bounty?" Conservation with Equity looked at these questions and concluded, a) that the problems of the world's poor were a major factor in our perceived inability to reach the goals of sustainable development, and b) that conservation would not lead to sustainable development without including equity and balance in the objectives and actions of development.
Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. Both of these are products of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Rio Declaration contains 27 principles that reflect negotiations between the developed and developing nations, as did the Stockholm Declaration in 1972. As a matter of fact, some of the Principles in the two documents are essentially the same. Two issues appear to still be important: Principle 2 of the Rio Declaration refers to a state's sovereign right to exploit its own resources in accordance with its own policies, as long as they do not harm the environment of a neighbor; and Principle 3 of the Rio Declaration repeats the notion of a sovereign state's right to develop.
Agenda 21 is the action plan of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Created to "address the crucial problems of today in order to prepare the world for the next century," Agenda 21 emphasizes the need to eradicate poverty by giving the poor access to the resources to raise their living standards. Agenda 21 presents work plans that include goals, responsibilities and cost estimates for a collection of reformulated priorities from several different development sectors and suggests cross-cutting activities common to all sectors: education, capacity building, and civil participation (Keating 1993). Along with the list of actions came a promise of more funding by the developed nations. Despite this promise, however, total official development assistance as a percentage of GNP for the developed countries now amounts to but 0.25% - the lowest since 1970 when the United Nations requested that governments assign 0.7% of their GNP for development assistance.
What is new in Agenda 21, however, is that the many sectoral priorities appear together in a single document. They are organized in the same way, and the discussions demonstrate to some degree, at least, an appreciation of the relationships between the various parts. Even more important are the commitments made by governments to allow participation by civil society in the decision-making process and to give special priority to women, indigenous people, and children.
Institutions: UNCED produced more than documents. Specifically it spawned several institutions, three of which are mentioned here: the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, the Earth Council, and the National Councils for Sustainable Development. In addition, the Sustainable Development Business Council, a predecessor of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development received major impetus at UNCED and is also discussed here.
Likewise, several events took place in support of the UNCED goals which are important for the future of sustainable development in the Western Hemisphere. Specifically these were a series of "Summits for the Americas" and the "Bolivia Summit on Sustainable Development" which call for a number of cross-sector meetings. A series of ministerial encounters on "water and health" has been initiated as an effort to fulfill these instructions of governments.
The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was established in December of 1992 just prior to UNCED to: a) ensure effective follow-up of UNCED; b) enhance international cooperation and rationalize intergovernmental decision-making capacity; and c) examine progress in the implementation of Agenda 21 at the local, national, regional and international levels. The CSD meets annually at UN headquarters in the spring preceded by intersessional meetings of two weeks each. Fifty-three members make up the Commission and over 1000 NGOs are accredited to participate in its work. During 1999, the CSD will consider a number of the various chapters of Agenda 21 - as it has done since its inception. In the 1999 session it will discuss oceans and seas; consumption and production patterns; and tourism. For the year 2000 work will be dedicated to the subjects of integrated planning and management of land resources; financial resources, trade and investment; and economic growth and agriculture. Work for the year 2001 will look at atmosphere, energy and transport; international cooperation for an enabling environment, information and civil participation for decision-making. Reports and other information on the Commission on Sustainable Development can be found on its website: http://www.un.org/esa/agenda21/csdup.htm
National Sustainable Development Councils (NSDC). Agenda 21 recommended the establishment of National Sustainable Development Councils and there are now approximately 130 with some degree of organization. The NSDC were to help implement Agenda 21 at national and local levels. Latin America and the Caribbean currently have 21 NSDC registered with the Earth Council located in San Jose, Costa Rica which acts as the network coordinator. NSDCs vary in structure, style and mandates by country. Ideally they would include representatives from all sectors of government, all governments (local, state and national), business and industry, women's groups, indigenous peoples, labor, etc. Their purpose is to integrate goals and policies and catalyze actions inside and outside of government. The Councils should represent a diversity of opinions, advocate integrated policies, be transparent, promote participation, search for consensus, and help in the resolution of disputes. They generally serve as an independent voice and should not be an operating agency of government. Further information on how to establish and maintain NSDCs can be found on the NSDC network website: http://www.ncsdnetwork.org
The Earth Council. "The Earth Council is a non-governmental organization created to promote and advance the implementation of the Earth Summit agreements." It has a council of 18 members named from the political, business, scientific and NGO communities from around the world (Tryzna et al. 1996). The Earth Council works to strengthen multi-stakeholder participatory mechanisms; facilitates investment capital for programs and projects; will develop a regional "Ombudsman" project to serve as a framework to mediate conflicts of a trans-boundary nature; and it is currently defining a legislative agenda for sustainable development. The website for the Earth Council can be found at http://www.ecouncil.ac.cr.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a coalition of 125 international companies committed to the principles of economic growth and sustainable development. It was formed in 1995 when the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Geneva combined with the World Industry Council for the Environment which was an initiative of the International Chamber of Commerce. The objectives of the Council are a) to be the leading business advocate on issues connected with the environment and sustainable development; b) participate in policy development in order to create a framework that allows business to contribute effectively to sustainable development; c) to demonstrate progress in environmental and resource management in business and to share leading-edge practices among the members; and d) to contribute through a global network to a sustainable future for developing nations and nations in transition (Kerr 1997). A major effort of the WBCSD is "eco-efficiency" which looks at how resources can be used most efficiently to deliver products and services to the customer and which has a goal to create more value for the consumer while doing less environmental damage; and, it is concerned with resource use and environmental damage at every step in the chain, from resource extraction through ultimate disposal or re-use in some form or another (Bidwell 1998). Latin America has a regional chapter which represents over 300 companies, eight national councils, one bi-national council, and one sub-national council. Information on the Latin American Branch can be found at http://www.wbcsdla.org.mx.
Western Hemisphere Summits. An important part of the response to UNCED is the Summit of the Americas process. Two full summits of the Americas (Miami, 1994 and Santiago, 1998) and the specialized Summit on Sustainable Development (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia in 1996) have been held to date. This latter Summit assigned a special role to the Organization of American States and this has resulted in the establishment of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Follow-up to the Summit for Sustainable Development (IATF). Perhaps the most important conceptual output to date of the IATF is the call for a series of cross-sectoral forums which may prove critical in advancing the goals of sustainable development at the hemispheric level. A year after the Summit for Sustainable Development the OAS Secretary General proposed a mechanism to advance both the tenor and the level of debate (OAS 1998).
The Secretary General argued that some of the most difficult challenges in implementing the initiatives approved in Santa Cruz occur between different productive sectors. Cross-sector issues are complex to resolve because they require coordinated actions of different branches of government at all levels and must also gain the support of financial institutions. Dialogue at the interface between sectors has the effect of engaging higher authorities of government, which are needed to address problems or conflicts that cannot be resolved within the individual sectors.