The concept of sustainable development was first popularised during the industrial revolution where the government was of the view that the industrial and economic activities had a massive impact on the environment and society. During this period, many social and ecological crises took place in the world, which raised the concern for a more sustainable way of working. In the year 1972, the term received its first international recognition at the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm. Though the term was not used explicitly, the main crux of the conference was that development and sustainability should go hand in hand.
The concept was then discussed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The summit was held with the agenda of making action plans and strategies for moving towards sustainable development. Over 178 representatives of different nations participated in the summit. The Brundtland Commission in 1987 had hinted at sustainable development as the solution to the problems of environmental degradation.
The takeaway from the Brundtland report was to raise the concerns that have been raised decades ago, which focused on the impact the human activities were having on the planet, how social activities are depleting the resources and harming the environment. The concern was that if this remains unchecked, it will be tough to maintain a balance between development and the environment.
The term gained popularity in our ‘Common future’ report 15 years later. The report of the World Commission on Environment and Development popularised the classic definition of sustainable development which is widely used today to understand the concept of sustainable development. The definition of sustainable development said- meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The Rio summit recognised sustainable development as a big challenge of the world leaders even today. In the year 2000, the millennium summit was held in New York where the UN millennium declaration was signed. The declaration had goals to be achieved by the year 2015. The goals included eradication of poverty and inequality, women empowerment and environmental sustainability. These goals were later known as Millennium development goals. The world summit on sustainable development which was held in Johannesburg in the year 2002 was attended by 191 national governments and UN agencies. The three important takeaways from the summit were - a political declaration, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, and a range of partnership initiatives. In 2012, the summit was held again in Rio where the document the future we want was declared. The nations agreed to all the commitments made in previous sustainable development plans and targets. They also committed to developing sustainable development goals building on the priorities identified in agenda 21.
In 2015, the SDGs accorded with an agreement at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference where 17 SDG goals were set up to end poverty, hunger, protect the environment and ensure that all the people enjoy prosperity and peace by the year 2030.
This is how the concept of sustainable development has evolved from the 19th century to the present. Industries and people are becoming more aware now and are trying their best to achieve the goals of sustainable development and make the planet a better place to live in.
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