Sustainable Development: a vague response to climate change – Ishrat Jahan Ikra


“Sustainable development” word has become a buzzword in recent times. It is used as a mantra for development donors, NGOs, state authorities and international organizations to mitigate development and climate debate. Sustainable development was recognized in the UN very long ago but recent integration Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 as a long term policy indicates worldwide popularity. But an unconventional inspection uncovers the “black-box” of Sustainable development.
The world has experienced a madness type development in the 1950s and 60s. Climate change was an inevitable result of unsustainable development growth. The 1960s were marked as an era of various civil rights movements. Environmental change concerns had shown in terms of the scholarly world and streets of major cities. Millions of people gathered in US cities demanding environmental protection on 22 April in 1970 which became Earth Day. These demonstrations can be defined as a perceptional change among citizens of developed north. Roots of sustainable development can be traced back to the 1970s. UN successfully organized the United Nations Conference on Human Development in 1972 which is the first major response to delineate development addressing climate change concern. This concern continued through academic debates and reached its peak in the mid-80s when developing countries also became vocal about climate change. A major response was needed by developed countries by hook and crook. UN finally responded through forming Brundtland Commission formerly known as World Commission on Environment and Development in 1983. It published a report named “Our Common Future” in 1987. It provides a popular definition of sustainable development as “development that meets the needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable development has three pillars; those are economic development, environmental protection, and social justice.
Sustainable development demands to maximize the highest level of utility in three pillars at the same time to meet the needs of human beings. This all-encompassing emphasis on needs in sustainable development creates an imbalance among pillars. It is also necessary to understand sustainable development in which “development” refers to economic development exclusively. The position of ecology or environmental protection is negligible where social justice has less to say. Environmental protection comes on only when economic development is disturbed by diminishing natural resources because of climate change. Nature is perceived by the production’s point of view. Critical authors define sustainable development as a different way of capitalists to puzzle an ordinary mind. As we know that the capitalist market system is responsible for the excessive use of natural resources and the massive use of fossil-fuel which brings utter horror in human lives. One author defined this situation as a win-win situation. But the question may be asked where economic development is perceived as a dominant mean to fulfill human needs, how can social justice and environmental protection be equal to that?
Legal scholars find that the commitment of sustainable development is not true rather there is a clear stratification. It is just used as a symbolic thing. However, sustainable development helps to legitimate the uncontrolled capital accumulation and industrial production in the name of meeting human needs. As we know money has a magic power. Every society worships it regardless of its nature, religion, and identity. Capitalism has tended to quantify social justice and environmental protection in terms of capital value. Development is permissible to acquire these two elements. We know that there are some stakeholders more powerful than others. Economic stakeholders possess that dominant power. Even in business, power varies. For example, petroleum lobbies are stronger than solar lobbies because of their big muscle of capital. So it is inevitable to see social justice and environmental protections are marginalized by the growing power of the economic sphere.
Readers may point out my abovementioned claims erroneous because of sustainable development’s overwhelming popularity. But sustainable development has changed nothing but the way of thinking differently. We do not see the development that disastrous as people used to see in the 1970s and 80s. Where have climate concerns gone? Environmental concerns are hiding in the lap of sustainable development. Unsustainable development is still going on. Climate change is advancing fast, air quality is downgrading, water is diminishing, marine zones are becoming dead zones, and species are vanishing, forests are cutting down, pollution is even more, fastest ice melting around the world, environmental diseases are killing more people than ever, worthless environmental movements through green politics are circling. We see no visible improvement. Things are going on as they used to go. Sustainable development is just covering and hiding environmentally distress people by some good words. NGOs need good “terminology” to advance their interest areas while state leaders are also using this term to tighten their power by asserting shining development making the environment worse. Sustainable development is business as usual. It has no notable impact on development and the environment. Just think SDGs’ prime concern of poverty reduction and equality. Did the gap between poor and rich reduced? Rather inequality has increased in the meantime. Similarly, SDGs are a periodic framework. The new framework would be replaced with a new method of assessment in the future.
Yes, sustainable development provides a few things for us. It provides psychological happiness among us. We love rhetoric words and sentences. In our business studies, we love to hear trust, profit, potential investment, reliable partnership, etc. Similarly, sustainable development provides a mental comfort. Whatever happens, “development in ongoing” plays in our mind while we stuck in endless jams beside metro rail constructions in Dhaka city. Sustainable development or economic development is very much successful to smooth adaptation to surgery pain with rhythms of development songs as poetically saying. Sustainable development helps a few people to the business. Imagine BP, Shell, and Chevron who are the major oil extractors in the world. Their fossil-fuel is highly responsible for climate change. Interestingly they also have a sustainable policy! A recent study found Dhaka city’s wind is in the worst condition in the world. This news has cut through the minds of city dwellers. Dramatically musk use has increased. Sustainable development is providing an opportunity for those musk producers. It does not question the evil cause of degrading wind quality in Dhaka city rather opens an opportunity for new mechanisms to adapt to it. Few NGOs along with so-called environmentalists are taking the opportunity of this. This is how sustainable development is responsible for a few arrangements both national and international levels. We finally can conclude that sustainable development is not ecologically sustainable rather it is sustainable for unsustainable economic development.

The author of this article is a student of Accounting & Information Systems, University of Dhaka