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Term Paper on Sustainable Development

Term Paper # 1. Introduction to Sustainable Development:

Economists have used the term sustainable development in an attempt to clarify the balance between economic growths on the one hand and conservation and protection of environment on the other. Sustainable development refers to “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generation”. Thus economic growth will be sustainable if the stock of capital assets including land remains constant or increases over time. Though the stock of natural resources is a part of capital assets of a society, they are only limited substitutes of other types of capital assets.


It may however be noted that future economic development and quality of life crucially depends on the natural resource base and quality of the environment, i.e., the quality of land, water and air. To destroy and over-exploit the natural resources indiscriminately and pollute the environment will though raise the short-term growth rate and living standards of the people will have adverse effect on the long-term future growth and the quality of life of the future generations as the latter will have smaller natural resource base and poor quality of environment.

It is therefore necessary that while deciding about growth environmental issues should be factored in. For instance, loss or preservation of important environmental resources should be taken into account while preparing estimates of growth and wellbeing of the people. Alternatively, economic policy makers may opt for framing a growth strategy of no net loss of environmental assets so as to ensure sustainable development. In this latter case if environmental resources are destroyed or depleted in one area, an equal or greater amount of environmental resources are replenished or regenerated elsewhere so that future economic growth is not adversely affected.

Pearce and Warford have put forward a view which takes into account preservation of environment for sustainability of growth. In the overall capital stock they include not only the man-made physical capital (such as machines, factories, roads) but also human capital (education, skills, health care) and environmental capital (such as forests, water resources, climate, arable land, and soil quality).

According to Pearson and Warford, sustainable development implies that overall capital stock, as defined above, does not decrease in the growth process. In this regard, they point out that the sustainable measure of net national product (NNP*) can be obtained as the amount that is consumed during the growth process without any decrease in the overall capital stock during a year. Thus according to Pearce and Warford the condition for sustainable development can be written as –


NNI* = GNI – Dm – Dn

where NNI* is sustainable level of national income, GNI is gross national income, Dm is depreciation of manufactured capital assets, and Dn is the depreciation of environmental capital resource. It is only when the above condition is fulfilled, NNI* will remain constant as the growth of GNI will make up the loss due to depreciation of manufactured capital assets, and use of environmental resources.

Michael Todaro and Stephen Smith have proposed a better measure of sustainable development, which though difficult to calculate provides a better indicator of sustainable development. They write the condition for sustainable development as under-

NNP* = GNP – Dm – Dn – R – A


Where, NNP* stands for sustainable net national product which does not diminish over the course of a year.


GNP stands for gross national product

Dm stands for depreciation of man-made physical capital stock

Dn stands for decrease in money value of destruction of capital over the course of a year.

R is the expenditure required to replenish environmental capital (forests, fisheries etc.) destroyed during a year.

A is the expenditure required to prevent destruction of environmental capital such as air, water, soil quality etc.

In the context of rising consumption standards both in the developing and developed countries along with rapid growth of population in developing countries achievement of the goal of sustainable development is a major challenge facing the world today. It is evident that meeting the consumption needs of future generations when the world population is estimated to increase by an additional 2 billion by 2050 requires substantial changes in consumption and production pattern.

Rio Conference held in 1992 where 150 countries participated was an important milestone in defining the concept of “sustainable development”. This was spelled out in considerable detail in agenda 21, which set out general principles for sustainable development and framed blueprint for conservation and use of forests and suggested important steps that are required to be taken to generate an environmentally stable and sustainable planet.


Over the last two decades there has been increased awareness about the need for preventing environmental degradation, checking pollution and averting global warming as a result of climate change but not significant practical steps have been taken in this regard and more world conferences on environment and climate change have taken place since 1992.

These conferences were expected to resolve the issues concerning environmental pollution and climate change between the developing and developed countries. The difficult problem is that the development and technological path pursued by the western developed countries is highly energy-intensive and exploits huge quantities of natural resources and leaves a highly degraded environment with emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. It is this path that developing countries are also following for their economic and social development which is quite unsustainable and leads to a large-scale pollution and ecological degradation.

To ensure sustainable development in the world today both the developed and developing countries have to take appropriate environment-friendly steps, especially by the developed ones as they have in the past through reckless industrialisation and use of energy-intensive technology, emitted greenhouse gases to a larger extent.

A noted Indian environmentalist, Sunita Narain, rightly writes, “The process of ecological globalisation is driven by the fact that levels of production and consumption have reached a stage where what one does in one’s country can have major impact on neighbouring countries or even on the rest of the world. Even simple things like using a refrigerator or an air-conditioner can today destroy the world’s ozone layer, running an automobile or cutting a tree without planting another one can destabilize the world’s climate. And, using a persistent organic compound like DDT can mean life threatening pollution for human beings and other life forms in the remote polar regions of the world as these compounds are slowly but steadily carried to these regions by the world’s oceanic currents and air streams. Never before have human beings needed to learn to live in ‘one world’ as now.”


Term Paper # 2. Sustainable Development and Climate Change in Indian Context:

The key environmental challenges in India have been sharper in the past two decades. The State of the Environment Report by the MoEF clubs the issues under five key challenges faced by India, which are climate change, food security, water security, energy security, and managing urbanization. Climate change is impacting the natural ecosystems and is expected to have substantial adverse effects in India, mainly on agriculture on which 50 per cent of the population still depends for livelihood, water storage in the Himalayan glaciers which are the source of major rivers and groundwater recharge, sea-level rise, and threats to a long coastline and habitations.

Climate change will also cause increased frequency of extreme events such as floods and droughts. These in turn will impact India’s food security problems and water security. As per the Second National Communication submitted by India to the UNFCCC, it is projected that the annual mean surface air temperature rise by the end of the century ranges from 3.5°C to 4.3°C whereas the sea level along the Indian coast has been rising at the rate of about 1.3 mm/year on an average. These climate change projections are likely to impact human health, agriculture, water resources, natural ecosystems, and biodiversity.

Wary of the threats imposed by climate change and pressures on natural resources, sustainability and environment are increasingly taking centre stage in the Indian policy domain. India has been part of 94 multilateral environmental agreements. India has also voluntarily agreed to reduce its emission intensity of its GDP by 20-26 per cent over 2005 levels by 2020, and emissions from the agriculture sector would not form part of the assessment of its emissions intensity.


Indian economy is already moving along a lower carbon and sustainable path in terms of declining carbon intensity of its GDP which is expected to fall further through lower carbon strategies. It is estimated that India’s per capita emission in 2031 will still be lower than the global per capita emission in 2005 (in 2031, India’s per capita GHG emission will be under 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq.) which is lower than the global per capita emissions of 4.22 tonnes of CO2 eq. in 2005).

Along with the national efforts in different sectors, India also recognizes that rural areas are equally prone to stress and pressures from natural resource exploitation. In this context, schemes for rural development and livelihood programmes are very relevant. A vast majority of the works under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) are linked to land, soil, and water. There are also programmes for non-timber forest produce-based livelihood, promotion of organic and low-chemical agriculture, and increased soil health and fertility to sustain agriculture-based livelihoods. These schemes help mobilize and develop capacities of community institutions to utilize natural resources in a sustainable manner and their potential can be further developed.

Together with efforts to incorporate sustainability in the rural development process, India is increasingly making efforts to integrate the three pillars of sustainable development into its national policy space. In fact, environment protection is enshrined in our Constitution (Articles 48A and 51A[g]). Various policy measures are being implemented across the domains of forestry, pollution control, water management, clean energy, and marine and coastal environment.

Some of these are policies like Joint Forest Management, Green Rating for Integrate Habitat Assessment, Coastal Zone Regulation Zone, eco labelling and energy efficiency labelling, fuel efficiency standards etc. Over a period of time, a stable organizational structure has been developed for environment protection. The country has been making fast progress in increasing its renewable energy capacity and has displayed the fastest expansion rate of investment of any large renewables market in the world in 2011, with a 62 per cent increase to $12 billion (Frankfurt School of Finance and Management ‘Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012’). The Twelfth Five Year Plan with a prominent focus on sustainability makes provision and provides for many more opportunities like these.

Economic development without environmental considerations can cause serious environmental damage, in turn impairing the quality of life of present and future generations. Such environmental degradation imposes a cost on the society and needs to be explicitly factored into economic planning, with necessary remedial measures incorporated. The challenge of sustainable development thus requires integration of the country’s quest for economic development with its environmental concerns. Environment management in India has, over the years, recognized these sustainable development concerns.

The National Environment Policy 2006 has attempted to mainstream environmental concerns in all our developmental activities. It underlines that while conservation of environmental resources is necessary to secure livelihoods and well-being of all, the most secure basis for conservation is to ensure that people dependent on particular resources obtain better livelihoods from the fact of conservation, than from degradation of the resource’.


The Government of India, through its various policies, has been factoring ecological concerns into the development process so that economic development can be achieved without critically damaging the environment. The strong sustainable development agenda followed by India incorporates rigorous environmental safeguards for infrastructure projects, strengthening of the environmental governance system, revitalizing of regulatory institutions, focusing on river conservation, and efforts for improvements in air and water quality, on a continuous basis.

Our environmental standards are set through Government policies aimed at a development process that is environmentally sustainable and ensures well-being of the people.

The broad objectives of our environmental policies and programmes are as follows:

1. Conservation of flora, fauna, forests, and wildlife;

2. Prevention and control of pollution;

3. Afforestation and regeneration of degraded areas; and


4. Protection of the environment.

As a country, India has been in the forefront of preserving biodiversity, sustainable management of forests, reducing emissions intensity of the economy, and following sustainable consumption and production patterns. Specifically, India has been following a development path that takes into consideration the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Suitable attention has been given to protecting and conserving critical ecological systems and resources and invaluable natural and man-made heritage, which are essential for life-support, livelihoods, economic growth, and a broad conception of human well-being. Moreover, the effort has been to ensure equitable access to environmental resources and quality for all sections of society, in particular to ensure that poor communities which are most dependent on environmental resources for their livelihoods are assured secure access to these resources.

Term Paper # 3. Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication:

Working on the social and economic pillars of sustainable development policies, programmes and targeted schemes have been introduced to eradicate poverty. This is done either through a direct focus on economic indicators like employment generation, youth mobilization, and building up assets of the poor, or indirectly through social indicators of human development with emphasis on health, education, and women’s empowerment. Many parameters on this front have shown improvement.

The poverty head-count ratio declined by 15.3 percentage points from 37.2% in 2004-05 to 21.9% in 2011-12, maternal mortality rate (MMR) dropped from 301 per 100,000 live births in 2001-03 to 212 in 2007-09; literacy rates have been constantly rising and are estimated to be 82.14 per cent for men and 66.46 per cent for women as per the 2011 Census of India. However, India is still not on target to meet some key Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.


Over the years arguments in favour of looking beyond the conventional measure of GDP and taking into account the environmental damage caused by production of goods and services have received attention. An expert group under the chairmanship of Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta has been set up to develop a framework for ‘ Green National Accounts’ for India. In fact, the Central Statistics Organisation (CSO) under the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation (MOSPI) has been publishing comprehensive environment statistics since 1997. The process of putting in place a system for natural resources accounting was initiated by MOSPI way back in 2002.

Despite all these efforts, the challenges that confront us on the environmental front continue to be harsh and complex. Increasing population, urbanization, and growing demand for water and land resources have severely impacted the quality and availability of water and soil resources. Rising energy needs is another area of concern. Besides, rapid growth will require corresponding growth in energy supply. Presently a large share of our energy demand is met through coal and oil and this trend will continue, given the unprecedented surge in energy demand and resource constraints.

Energy issues have become more complex with existing energy shortage and rise in energy prices. There is considerable scope for increasing efficiency in the use of energy and water in India together with other development indicators like infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate (MMR), sanitation facilities, and public health services. Economic instruments, regulatory measures, and market mechanisms can play an important role in helping to achieve development and growth in a sustainable manner.

Term Paper # 4. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), RIO +20, 2012:

Recognising the well-founded concerns on the need to redress environmental problems, there have been global calls for cooperation, action, and innovation. World leaders in 2012 continued to engage and deliberate in international forums dedicated to climate and environment and also in forums like the G-20 where sustainable development and climate change were an integral part of the discussions. Ambition or goal setting to reach targets, provision of finance and technology for developing countries, and institutions and mechanisms for capacity building were the common threads of negotiations running through all these forums.

One such event in 2012 was the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) which was held at Rio in Brazil in June 2012. This is also known as Rio + 20 Conference since the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was held at Rio in Brazil in 1992. Therefore, the name became Rio + 20. It was attended by the heads of states of the member countries.


The objective of the Rio+20 Conference was to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, review progress made and identify implementation gaps, and assess new and emerging challenges since the UNCSD held 20 years ago in Rio in 1992. Towards this end, the Conference had two themes, viz- (a) green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and (b) institutional framework for sustainable development.

The most significant outcomes of the Rio Summit have been the restoration of the principles of equity and of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) in the global environmental discourse and placing poverty eradication at the centre of the global development agenda. The outcome also ensures the required domestic policy space to countries on a green economy and launched four processes or mechanisms, i.e. developing sustainable development goals (SDGs), financing strategy, technology transfer, and defining the format and organizational aspects of the proposed high-level political forum to follow up on the implementation of sustainable development.

Equity or ‘Fairness’ as an issue received attention. It is a matter of satisfaction and achievement for India that the Rio outcome document reaffirms equity and the principle of common but differential responsibility (CBDR) among other Rio principles. India together with other developing countries played an instrumental role in this. CBDR is especially important for developing countries, as it implies that while all countries should take sustainable development actions, the developed countries have to take the leading role in environmental protection, as they have contributed the most to environmental problems.

Also they should support developing countries with finance and technology in their sustainable development efforts. India has always held that the eradication of poverty should be the over-arching goal of sustainable development. This was given due recognition in the deliberations at the Rio Summit and in the outcome document.

On the issue of Green economy, the outcome document affirms that there are different approaches, visions, models, and tools available to each country, in accordance with its national circumstances and priorities, for achieving sustainable development. It identifies green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradications as one of the important tools for achieving sustainable development but specifies that while it could provide options for policy­making, it should not be a rigid set of rules.

The outcome document clearly states what green economy policies should result in and what they should not. It is a matter of satisfaction that the document firmly rejects prescriptive policies, unilateral measures, and trade barriers as well as unwarranted conditionality of official developmental assistance in this context.

The Rio+20 Conference will also be remembered for kick-starting the process on developing sustainable development goals (SDG). The SDGs would address and incorporate in a balanced way, all the three dimensions of sustainable development and their inter-linkages. The SDGs would be universal, global, and voluntary. Since the SDGs are expected to become a part of the post-2015 UN development agenda, they would hopefully guide the international community towards inclusive sustainable development.

From India’s point of view, SDGs need to bring together development and environment into a single set of targets. The fault line, as ever in global conferences, is the inappropriate balance between environment and development. Developing countries do not want any bindings on their efforts towards poverty eradication or any agreement that comes with such a price tag.

Therefore, we could also view the SDGs and the post-2015 agenda as an opportunity for revisiting and fine- tuning the millennium development goals (MDGs) framework and sustainable regaining focus on developmental issues. India and many developing countries are slow or off-track in achieving targets under some of the MDGs, which have concrete areas of overlap between environment and development. This is another reason why these MDGs should continue to be a part of the post-2015 global policy architecture.

The Rio Summit did not lead to any specific commitments on the finance and technology front. The developed countries, having obligations and responsibilities, need to commit to provision of adequate public funds to provide assistance including transfer of technology and capacity building to developing countries.

Term Paper # 5. Conceptions of Sustainable Development:

Defined in various ways, sustainable development means a kind of development which can be sustained by ecology or which can sustain ecology. The strategy of development that we have followed so far is such that it cannot be sustained by ecology. That is so because the eco-system has its carrying capacity which the logic of the current mode of development refuses to admit, hence the plea for sustainable development.

According to the World Commission, sustainable is “development that meets the goals of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987:8). This pioneering definition implies a view of sustainable development as a case of inter- generational sensibility in respect of the use of natural resources.

It contains two basic ideas- One, that of the right of the future generation to inherit all the ecological and natural resources which the present generation inherited from the preceding one. Two that of the responsibility of the present generation to use the available ecological and natural resources that they are passed on intact to the succeeding generation.

The second idea holds the key to sustainable development as is evident from the following formulation of the World Food Programme (WFP)- “To allow for future generations requires that we preserve our remaining resources and that we heal or rehabilitate resources that have been treated carelessly in the past. To do these things systematically is to follow a path of environmentally sustainable development”.

In the same vain, the definition of sustainability advanced by Pearce and Turner (1990) makes theoretical sense- “It involves maximising the net benefits of economic development subject to maintaining the services and quality of natural resources over time”.

In concrete terms, sustainable development focuses on three things:

(i) To follow a path of development that does not impair or damage the protective ecological cover provided by nature to mankind,

(ii) To do so the renewable natural resources that their rate of regeneration is always in excess to their rate of use: and,

(iii) To use the non-renewable resources in a sparing and responsible manner and to ceaselessly work to find substitutes for them.

Seemingly appealing, this conception of sustainable development is not as innocuous as it appears. It has a serious flaw in that it glosses over the question of regional disparities in the control and use of natural resources. A disconcerting feature of the present scenario is the wide disparity in the control and use of natural resources between developed and developing nations, the former having much larger control than the latter.

It is a widely held estimate that the per capita energy use in industrialised countries is two hundred times greater than in developing countries. What is more, there are so many instances where industrialised countries and multinational corporations have plundered the rich genetic diversity of development.

As with exploitation of natural resources, so with the impairment of eco-system- the contributions of the industrialised nations are far more than that of the developing nations, as the former have been polluting the atmosphere for atleast the past 200 years. Closely related to this is also the question of linkage of environment with poverty and population both of which impinge on environment as much as on exponential economic growth and mindless consumption patterns of industrialised nations.

This issue came up for discussion in a sharp manner at the UNCED sponsored “Earth Summit” held at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil June 1992, where it appeared, in the form of the following questions:

(i) The question of historic responsibility of the North for the state of environmental degradation.

(ii) The question of inequality in the use of world’s increasingly scarce natural resources.

(iii) The question of emission controls and curbs on consumption of natural resources by the developing countries.

A commendable goal, the idea of inter-regional equity sounds hollow in view of the skewed distribution of natural resources between the North and the South. It is common’ knowledge that the developed countries of the North, which account for roughly 25 per cent of the world’s population, consume about 75 per cent of the world’s resources. The United States had alone, which has just about six per cent of the world’s total population, controls and consumes as much as 36 per cent of world’s resources.

Little wonder that there is a sharp divergence of interests between the North and the South. The priority of the North is environmental while that of the South is developmental. This makes sense in view of the fact that North has already attained a certain level of development. What is more, the North has actually begun to feel the impact of ecological deterioration more than the South.

Accordingly, it wants the South to pursue a course of development which is not detrimental to global environment. The South, on the other hand, is underdeveloped and, for the same reason, development is its genuine need.

However, it has neither the technology nor the resources to follow a path of environmentally sustainable development. Therefore, it demands that the North should assist it to fulfill the development aspiration of its people and enable it to achieve development without damaging ecology. And it insists that the North should do so not as a donor but as a partner in development.

Whatever the justifications for their respective expectations; both North and South know that they are asking too much from each other. The North knows it too well that the South can neither be stalled from going ahead on its course of development, nor can it pursue an environmentally safe course of development without the assistance of the former.

On its part, the South knows it fully well that it is an unrealistic proposition to expect the people of the North to radically alter their life-style and that the North can make only limited accommodation for the interests of the South in its scheme of things.

In view of the above scenario, how does one achieve sustainable development in terms of inter-regional equity and responsibility in the use of ecological resources? The answer to this question lies as much in an empathetic understanding of the problems of the South by the North, as in the search for environment of friendly technologies, as well as synthetic substitutes for non-renewable natural resources.

Two points are clear from the above account. One, that the concept of sustainable development, in its basic connotation, implies a concern essentially for ecological sustainability. Two that ecological sustainability itself is not easy to achieve. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see the upsurge of ecological concern, as signified and sharpened by the recent Earth Summit, and the consequent popularity of the concept of sustainable development.

It remains, however, to be emphasised that ecological sustainability is just one facet of sustainable development and it is quite as well that it has begun to command the massive consideration it deserves. There is, nevertheless, another vital facet of it, one which is yet to receive urgent attention that is the socio-cultural dimension of sustainability. Not that the question of socio-cultural sustainability has not been raised, but that it has been raised in only a passing manner. For the same reason, it is time to figure out the socio-cultural imperatives of sustainable development.

Term Paper # 6. Sociological Critique of Sustainable Development:

The prevailing paradigm of development is as perilous to the given socio-cultural systems as it is to ecosystem, thanks to its predominant economic impulse. It has led not only to ecological erosion but also to socio-cultural erosion.

To social erosion it has led in several ways:

Firstly, it has undermined the system of family, neighbourhood and community. There seems to have emerged an inverse relationship between the level of development and of family stability, neighbourhood sentiment and community feeling; the higher the level of development, the lower the degree of family stability, neighbourhood sentiment and community feeling. This is in evident truth in the findings of cross-national studies on the quality of family, neighbourhood and community life in the developed and developing countries.

Secondly, for most part, the available research on the social effects of development reveals that development has led to the widening of socio-economic disparities.

Thirdly, it has produced social trauma for many, as development projects, including big dams, power projects, mining projects, etc. have induced dislocation of trebles and village folks from their natural habitats.

Fourthly, it has loosened social bonds to such a great extent as to produce an alienated individual, a “one- dimensional” man (Marcuse), and a “homeless mind” (Berger) in the developed countries.

Fifthly, it has adversely affected community health as can be seen from the increasing incidence of hypertension, insomnia, mental illness, drug addiction, child prostitution, AIDS and such other “civilizational” diseases, particularly in the developed countries.

Sixthly, it has blurred the moral vision of society as is evident from the widespread trend of value-decadence. Little wonder that pornography, corruption, hypocrisy and duplicity are no longer looked down upon and have rather come to be accepted as normal.

Finally, it has aggravated the problem of “anti-social” phenomena, leading to comparatively higher rates of crime, delinquency, suicide and violence in the so-called developed nations.

On the cultural front too, development has led to similar unwholesome consequences:

Firstly, it has side-lined culture by bringing economy to the centre stage as a measure of development.

Secondly, it has generated hierarchisation of the states of consciousness and forms of living by using expressions like under-developed or less developed.

Thirdly, it has resulted in denigration of the cultural traditions of the Third World countries, including their systems of knowledge, medicine and religious beliefs.

Fourthly, it has led to disfiguration, if not displacement, of the cultural traditions of the developing countries on account of cultural colonialism of the developed countries.

Fifthly, it has posed a threat to the cultural identities of the Third World countries and stirred ethnic eruption there.

Sixthly, it has turned culture into a marketable commodity, thus paving the way to its commercialisation and trivialisation.

Seventhly, it has prompted politicisation of culture, as is clear from the cultural penetration of the west through cable TV into the countries of the Third World.

Finally, it has given rise to psychedelic cultures and counter cultures in the developed countries as well.