The challenge of sustainable development is the challenge of achieving environmental conservation and resource management without compromising the targets of growth and development. It is therefore a process of making human and environmental regeneration not only an end of economic growth but also a means. It redefines wealth and restructures qualitative development in economic growth policies. Sustainable development is in itself revolutionary since it replaces exchange value by intrinsic value, market regulation by self-regulation and capital accumulation with de-accumulation. It is an effort and a design to raise poor countries of the world from social decadence, exploitation, global inequity and waste.
Many questions intrigue the concept of sustainable development; Is economic growth possible without destroying our environment? What supports sustainable economic growth? What are the major contentious issues involved in sustainable economic growth? Does sustainable economic growth affect stock market gains? Can developed countries continue with their consumption patterns without damaging the planet's ability to sustain life? These are perplexing questions that have become crucial to the international debates and political battles.
The major problem the world faces is still the intractable problem of poverty and hunger. Achieving food security requires more than just production of food. Overall perspectives of economic development are being increasingly seen as a better promoter of food security than food production alone. But this cannot be achieved without firm knowledge. Action upon land and water is an unavoidable part of any economic policy. Thus economic development and food security require knowledge-based firm action upon land and water and indeed on all natural resources. Accordingly Natural Resource Management (NRM) is one of the biggest issues in sustainable development. For example, land degradation, desertification, loss of wetlands and deforestation are very real constraints to the future sustainability of good agriculture everywhere in the world.
However, as we enter the 21st century, we have begun to face a new sustainability challenge in business and trade. The growth of Trans National Corporations (TNCs) have taken control of resource policies in the world. These TNCs have changed the contours of the welfare state and Keynesian economics. Since TNCs bring Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the poor countries are making extensive regulatory changes in their economic resources policies to make themselves appear attractive investment areas for FDI. Policies that might ensure sustainable use of resources are being changed for better business and FDI. This large company and TNC based development has been so rapid that by mid 1990s we were faced with an alarming and the stupefying statistics. In 1995 the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) study found that 40,000 corporations in all, controlled two-thirds of the total world trade in goods and services. According to a report:
Of the world's largest economies, 51 are corporations. Only 49 are countries. The budget of Mitsubishi Corporation is larger than that of Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country and a land of enormous natural wealth.
The combined sales of the world's top 200 corporations are equal to 28 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
These same 200 corporations employ only 18.8 million people, less than one third of 1 percent of the world's people- and the downsizing continues.
In 1995 the total value of mergers and acquisitions for the world exceeded the preceding year by 25 percent.
In parallel to the 'better business & FDI' narrow view, since the Earth Summit, sustainable development has been faced with the following contentious issues which are being debated and are still to be resolved :
While the rich nations consume the largest share of resources the poor countries bear the cost of this consumption in the form of pollution, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), deforestation, global warming and loss of fisheries, wilderness and animal resources.
It has been debated between the rich and the poor nations that forests of the third world countries are sinks for the pollution mostly generated by the developed countries. Thus while the developed countries are trying to restrict the exploitation of forests by the poor countries they are not at the same time willing to restrict their own production and consumption systems to meet the demands of sustainable economic growth.
The threats of Biotechnology and Genetically Modified (GM) foods to the indigenous agriculture and rural economy of developing countries, besides also disturbing their village institutions and local economy.
Different perspectives on Climate Change conventions or the Kyoto Protocol under which the United States, Canada and other developed countries would have to reduce greenhouse gases by 5 % from the 1990 levels. This is presently the hottest debate in international politics since developed and the developing countries have all been taking different positions on Kyoto obligations.
The following five themes became the centre of concern at the Tenth Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD10) in May 2002, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in August 2002:
Stewardship and conservation
Innovation and Partnership
Health and the Environment
These themes set up certain priorities for the developed and the developing countries and all future collaboration between the countries would largely depend upon their willingness to explicitly incorporate these priorities in their national policy agenda and actions taken towards them. The following main themes focus upon the agenda of governance for sustainable development:
experiences of countries implementing sustainable development
institutional arrangements for implementing sustainable development
the role of governance and public administration in the achievement and implementation of sustainable development
the role of Regional Organizations in promoting good governance for the implementation of WSSD outcomes.
Referring to trade and Sustainable Development in Chapter 2 of Agenda 21, and in Chapters V and X of the Plan of Implementation, it is mentioned that trade liberalisation and globalization can have both positive and negative effects on sustainable development. There is a continued need to support efforts by the developing countries to integrate themselves into and derive benefits from the multilateral trading system. At the same time, attention is given to enhancing the contribution of the multilateral trading system to sustainable development. Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit calls for a supportive international climate for achieving environment and development goals by (a) promoting sustainable development through trade liberalization, (b) making trade and environment mutually supportive, (c) providing adequate financial resources to developing countries dealing with international debt and (d) encouraging macroeconomic policies conducive to environment and development. A closer integration of trade and sustainable development can play a major role in achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication.