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What is sustainable development?

At its heart is the simple idea of ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. A widely-used international definition is 'development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. The concept of sustainable development has been around for a number of decades.

Although the idea is simple, the task is substantial. It means meeting four objectives at the same time, in the UK and the world as a whole:

Guiding Principles and Approaches

The Government's policies will also take account of ten principles and approaches which reflect key sustainable development themes. Some are established legal principles. Others might better be described as 'approaches' to decision making.

Why do we need sustainable development? Because the need for development is as great as ever, but future development cannot simply follow the model of the past. This is true for the world as a whole, and for every community in this country.

The global picture is striking. A quarter of the world's people have to survive on incomes of less than US$1 a day. A fifth have no access to health care. Huge though the challenge may seem, it is becoming larger: the world's population will increase by half, another three billion people, by 2050.

This country does not have problems on such a scale. But we cannot stand aside from these issues. Global prosperity must increase, and be more widely shared. Meanwhile, in the UK, economic growth remains vital for a better quality of life: for education, healthcare and housing, to tackle poverty and social exclusion, and to improve standards of living through better goods and services.

In the past, economic activity tended to mean more pollution and wasteful use of resources. We have had to spend to clean up the mess. A damaged environment impairs quality of life and, at worst, may threaten long term economic growth - for example, as a result of climate change. And too many people have been left behind, excluded from the benefits of development but often suffering from the side-effects.

We have to find a new way forward. This is the challenge of sustainable development. For the future, we need ways to achieve economic, social and environmental objectives at the same time, and consider the longer term implications of decisions.

We need to improve the efficiency with which we use resources. We need thriving cities, towns and villages based on strong economies, good access to services and attractive and safe surroundings. And we need international co-operation to overcome environmental problems, to allow trade to flourish and to help the world's poorest people as we move towards a more global society.

Sustainable development is a dynamic process which enables all people to realise their potential, and to improve their quality of life, in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth's life support systems.
(Forum for the Future Annual Report 2000).

…vibrant local economies, new jobs, high quality housing (with solar roofing), integrated transport, regeneration that makes a real and lasting difference. Unbelievable that some people still think that sustainable development is about the birds, bees and trees!'

(David Puttnam, Chairman of the Trustees in the Forum for the Future Annual Report 2000).

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