Sustainable Development: The Journey from Rio (1992) to Rio+20 and Beyond

Madhab C. Dash


Rio-1992 conference gave widespread visibility of the concept of sustainable development (SD), developed by Brundtland commission (1983-1987) and defined Sustainable Development as the development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising with the necessities of the future generations and proclaimed 27 principles for its implementation. This concept developed as the present model of unlimited growth in a limited resource based environment is not the right answer to the complex of the problem that every country faces. This concept placed environmental management in a position to address the environmental impacts of developmental projects so that the environment is protected for the present and future generations. Brundtland Commission considered population control, food security and energy supply as critical components of sustainability. Since the Rio-1992 summit, and adoption of Agenda-21 by the global community, most of the countries including India have set sustainability as a key goal for their development.

It is generally accepted that the four pillars of sustainable development are the environmental, social, economic, and technological wellbeing, especially green technology. To achieve SD, different management systems are adopted. The defining aspects of SD are: population control, energy use, increasing productivity, water resource conservation, biodiversity conservation, development of science & technology, and technology transfer.

Our modern way of living is based on unsustainable consumerism. The energy source from fossil fuels puts tremendous adverse pressure on environment, and our activity reduces biodiversity, which provides us food, shelter material, raw material for medicines, gases for survival, ecosystem services like recycling of water and other materials.

The Rio+20 (2012) emphasised Green Economy, which includes all aspects of SD but emphasizes on the adoption of Green Technology. Indicators of green economy are (i) CO2 productivity-demand & production based,(ii) Non-energy material productivity (manufacturing) by material group, (iii) measures of natural resource stock. The essence is using green technologies in manufacturing and other sectors so that the GHG load to the environment is substantially reduced to lessen the effect of climate change.

The world population is rising and predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050. Most of this growth will take place in developing countries. With huge population increase, there will be enormous pressure on the resources .The world will face several challenges in health care, food and energy security, and fresh water availability. India accounts for the largest proportion of malnourished children in the world and exhibits very high variability; on one hand we have high GDP growth rates, a big pool of scientific manpower, a large middle class, malls, global retail chains, expanding multi-millionaires, and on the other hand huge number of people under poverty, unemployment and debt, with limited access to health facility and education, and most of them live rural areas and slum areas of urban centres.

Sympathizing will not solve the problem and something beyond sympathizing has to be done. The business group and the people having an assured high income must consider contributing to a fund for national welfare of the deprived people. The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is another option, which can be made mandatory. Massive awareness for population control is to be created. More incentives are to be given for opting birth control options so that population growth is brought down to less than 1% at the earliest.

There is increased need of energy in the agriculture, industrial and service sectors. Modern way and standard of living demand more energy for unsustainable consumerism, transport, increased construction work and other aspects of human use. Biomass forms important component of energy source for rural India and about 360 million people depend upon biomass as energy source. India produces 300 million Mg of sugarcane annually and bagasse can be used to produce butanol on a large scale.

To lessen the effect of climate change, algae can be used as efficient GHG sequesters. Algae require non-agriculral land, fresh water pond and shallow marine areas (brackish water, saline break water, saline shallow coastal areas etc) for their mass cultivation. About 1 million ha of wasteland is available for algal cultivation. Arresting climate change will require transforming the Indian economy from a high carbon to low carbon and no carbon energy base. The GHG sinks such as forest, is shrinking due to fragmentation and by anthropogenic interference. Soil is getting eroded; marine ecosystem getting polluted and they require conservation measures. Soil biodiversity is an important source of C-sink. These aspects have been discussed in this paper and a conceptual model for GHG sink study has been suggested. Food and nutritional security linking to Indian situations, particularly to Indian rural livelihood options, animal resources and other alternate technologies to increase productivity has been discussed.


Sustainable Development; Green Economy; Green Technology; Our Common Future; Livelihood Options; GHG Sink; Soil Biodiversity; Food and Nutritional Security; Energy Security


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