For all countries, the key to adapting to climate change may be implementing sustainable development—a term defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."48 Long before today's concerns about global warming, advocates for sustainable development argued that human activities were exploiting environmental treasures and ecosystems at an unsustainable rate that would eventually destroy the planet. This reckless use of natural resources, many environmentalists have claimed, has not only caused serious environmental destruction, but also deepening poverty and inequality for people in many developing regions of the world. Advocates have long urged governments around the world to embrace sustainable development as a way to repair this damage and avoid environmental and human catastrophe.
In fact, these concerns sparked a UN Conference on Environment and Development, also called the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 to discuss global environmental issues and rethink destructive models of economic development. Over 152 world leaders attended the conference and agreed on a plan of action that included a recommendation that governments produce sustainable development strategies to decrease pollution and protect the environment. However, critics say very little progress has been made since the Rio Earth Summit. In 2005, for example, the UN issued a comprehensive report on the state of the global environment called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The report was prepared by thirteen hundred researchers from ninety-five countries over a four-year period, and it concluded, in part:
• Everyone in the world depends on nature and ecosystem services to provide the conditions for a decent, healthy, and secure life.
• Humans have made unprecedented changes to ecosystems in recent decades to meet growing demands for food, fresh water, fiber, and energy [which has] helped to improve the lives of billions, but at the same time they weakened nature's ability to deliver other key services such as purification of air and water, protection from disasters, and the provision of medicines. . . .
• Human activities have taken the planet to the edge of a massive wave of species extinctions, further threatening our own well-being.
• The loss of services derived from ecosystems is a significant barrier to the . . . [reduction of] poverty, hunger, and disease.
• The pressures on ecosystems will increase globally in coming decades unless human attitudes and actions change.49
Today, experts say global warming and related climate changes are adding significantly to the stresses on the environment. Many commentators, including the IPCC, have therefore renewed the call for sustainable development as a way to ease the Earth's vulnerability to climate change. As the IPCC explained in its 2007 report, by reducing pollution and overdevelopment, sustainable development could help increase the environment's ability to rebound from higher temperatures and related climate impacts.
A large part of the problem, however, is that today's economic systems do not measure the pollution or other environmental impacts or include them in the costs of products produced from natural resources. Instead, these environmental costs are passed along to society in the form of hidden health, environmental cleanup, and other expenses. For example, airlines do not pay for the large
amounts of carbon dioxide they put into the atmosphere, and the price of food does not reflect the costs of water, air, and soil pollution caused by the runoff of chemical pesticides and fertilizers used in modern agriculture. Moving to a sustainable development model, therefore, will involve making fundamental changes in the way the world economy works—a major undertaking for all nations.
Was this article helpful?
Global warming is a huge problem which will significantly affect every country in the world. Many people all over the world are trying to do whatever they can to help combat the effects of global warming. One of the ways that people can fight global warming is to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources like oil and petroleum based products.