Acting from a perspective of sustainable development

The various threats discussed demonstrate the need to act from a perspective of sustainable development. Sustainable development was defined in the Brundtland report presented to the United Nations in 1987 as a 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' [27].

The world's resources are finite and must be managed accordingly. Similarly, our environment has only a limited capacity to react to attacks of pollutant discharges and must be protected. In 1972, the Meadows report commissioned by the Club of Rome raised the question of the compatibility between economic growth and maintenance of natural equilibrium [28].

The aim of sustainable development is precisely to reconcile these two requirements and find a compromise between a position which favours growth, irrespective of the consequences on the environment, and one which consists of accepting no change in the environment, regardless of the economic implications. The analysis of the means necessary to achieve this aim nevertheless varies substantially depending on the authors and several models of 'weak' and 'strong' sustainability have been put forward. These models diverge on the possibility of introducing alternative resources to compensate for the natural resources consumed [29]. The advocates of 'strong' sustainability reject any changes to the state of the planet resulting from human activity and therefore any irreversible consumption of natural resources.

The very concept of sustainable development is questioned by those who consider that it combines two incompatible notions and urge economic growth as the sole means of preserving our environment.

It seems difficult to deny the developing countries the right to better welfare, which cannot be obtained without energy consumption. It is nevertheless possible to conceive new ways of living offering better welfare and quality of life, while moderating energy consumption.

Lower pollution and the resulting positive consequences on health represent an essential factor to improve the quality of life.

Energy choices cannot be dissociated from the major problems which will affect humanity in the coming years: demographic control, consumption modes and standard of living, education, health, food and water requirements. Faced with the various threats, a global transition must be successfully implemented to drive back under-development and preserve the planet for future generations.

The current energy model of the richest countries is neither durable nor exportable. To prevent tensions which would be likely to degenerate into violent conflicts, we must reconsider the way energy is used, taking into account improvement of the well-being of the entire population.

Initiative at a global scale will be necessary to meet the planet's requirements. The Kyoto Protocol represents a first attempt which, although incomplete, has the merit of triggering the adaptation required to tackle the risks of climate change.

The very notion of transition may seem to be in contradiction with the concept of durable development. The solutions to be implemented during the transition period are not truly 'durable', since they aim at simplifying the creation of a different system using measures including some which will be temporary. The transition will produce a new energy system that will be more 'durable' than the current system, but will probably be neither total nor permanent.

It is therefore more accurate to speak of 'sustainable' development. In a changing world, no system can continue indefinitely. It is essential, however, to make our economic development compatible with the survival of our planet.

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