In recent years, in the international debate on future economic progress, the concept of sustainable development has become a central element. Our lifestyle has changed very rapidly in this century because of the great advances of science and technology and issues such as environmental problems are increasingly important in the debate on defining future development models.
The conservation of natural resources, the rationalization of agricultural production or the control of pollutants are topics that are treated by their importance every day by governments (national and sub-national), economists and environmental pressure groups, who find support Of an increasingly large segment of the population.
The concept of sustainable development is not perceived in the same way by each stakeholder: if everyone agrees that the development model adopted must be sustainable, in a way, this term generates different ideas and values from person to person. The same term development, for example, can be understood in different ways, according to the ethical beliefs, persuasions and objectives of people.
The purpose of this paper is to define and delimit the concept of sustainable development by analyzing the main agreements, principles and implementation measures.
The term “sustainable development” makes its first appearance in an official document in the text of agreement signed by thirty-three African countries in 1969, under the auspices of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. While this was the first concrete form of application of this concept, its history goes back many years before. Since the last decade of the nineteenth century, traces have been found in debates and discussions between Thomas Malthus – advocate of “apocalyptic theory” on the future of the human species – and Marie Jean Antoine Condorcet, who theorized, on the contrary, a period characterized by Human beings capable of guaranteeing future generations happiness and not just mere existence.
In the same year 1969, America gave birth to the Environmental Protection Agency, whose guidelines have, from the outset, fundamentally influenced all developments in theories and practices of environmental policies around the world. In the NEPA Act (the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969), sustainable development is defined as: “economic development that can bring benefits to present and future generations without damaging biological resources or organisms in the planet”.
These two fundamental aspects have characterized the so-called “Brundtland Report”, also known as “Our Common Future”, the report prepared by the United Nations Commission headed by Gro Brundtland, published in 1987 after several years of studies, debates and meetings. While it can not claim the right of birthright, the 1987 Brundtland Report has undoubtedly had the merit of bringing economic and industrial development problems to the forefront of public opinion throughout the world.
In the definition, which is found in this report, we do not really talk about the concept of the environment as such, but rather refers to welfare, and therefore to the quality of the environment, thus highlighting the main ethical principle understood as responsibility On the part of the generations of today towards the future generations, and evidencing the two aspects of the environmental sustainability: the maintenance of the resources and the environmental balance of our planet.
In the same document it emphasized the protection of the needs of all individuals, with a view to universal legitimacy to aspire to better living conditions, as well as emphasize the need and importance of greater citizen participation, to implement a Process, in fact increases democratic possibilities in the international arena.
Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to implement their aspirations for a better life. Satisfying essential needs requires not only a new era of economic growth for nations that the majority of the population is poor but also ensuring that the poor have a fair share of the resources needed to sustain this growth. Equity should be supported both by political systems that ensure the effective participation of citizens in decision-making, as well as by greater democracy in international decisions.