Critical Perspectives on Sustainable Development
In the context of unfolding climate breakdown, with the socio-political implications becoming more apparent, it seems appropriate to re-examine once again the concept of ‘sustainable development’. Although the concept clearly is a central value in the United Nations sustainable development goals and many countries’ policy frameworks, the claim underlying the concept has been subject to critical analysis for some time.
It appears that today more radical and challenging alternatives to the very possibility of any ‘development’ being globally sustainable have arisen. At the core of this is concern that development itself, as currently modelled, cannot in principle be sustainable unless managed economic growth in the Southern world is accompanied by significant economic de-growth in the Western world.
This position though is fraught with challenges. How is any ‘equilibrium’ between Southern growth and Western de-growth to be identified and measured? How is ‘de-growth’ to be sold to Western publics who naturally perceive such a move as offering reductions in their material living standards? Is any growth currently justifiable anywhere? Might ecological concerns outweigh social justice or even principles of equality? How can we expect nations in the South to take these concerns into account when poverty and youth unemployment destabilises many low income countries (LICs) and economic development appears to be the only solution to offer LICs’ citizens opportunities to meet their basic needs.
An additional challenge to sustainable development arises from the emerging environmental imperative for human withdrawal from the natural world. The demands here are often fashioned as ‘re-wilding’ or regeneration.
In any event, Western historical models of ‘development’ appear particularly ill-suited to contemporary requirements. How truly sustainable is ‘sustainable development’ if it is predicated on further extraction of resources and the expansion of a growth-led consumer economy, however modest this may purport to be? The ‘Green economy’ itself requires vast resources to be implemented.
The DSAI Annual Conference 2022 seeks to address these various questions. The objective is to rigorously interrogate the concept to examine its viability and adaptability to the emerging 21st century climate and habitat crises, with its attendant human displacement consequences. The invitation is to think our way into addressing this challenge so that we may engage with initiatives and collective responses that contributors judge offer hope or potential in responding to these complex issues. The expectation is that the Conference will explore how we might imagine new ways forward.