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Contemporary ecosystem research confirms that various environmental issues are integrated, they are related to each other and have critical economic implications. For instance, accelerated population growth rates have repercussion on increasing demand for resources. The idea of sustainable development coined the idea of interlinking the major aspects that is the environment, and development. The idea of sustainable development found its roots in the Club of Rome in the year of 1972. They argued that if the pattern of limitless growth continued, then there would be a rising problem of sustainability. This chapter tries to involve the reader with an epistemology of sustainability and it's rising importance in International Relations.



There was a little attention to the environmental concerns prior to mid-90s. Before the 1970s, the environment had a relatively insignificant place on the political agenda (Carter 2001). The growth of “The Environment” as a concept is of recent origin from the years after 1939-45 war, and very largely a phenomenon of the period since, the 1950s. It was in the late 20th century the international concern for the protection of the environment, environmental degradation, and so on emerged. The industrialization led developmental path, which the Northern world, especially Western Europe and North America followed throughout the 18th-19th century, was very much alienated from nature (Tolba 1992).

There was a flood of publications, media reports and conferences on the environmental impact of human activities. Various scientific research and studies were conducted, which strongly highlights the link between the environment and economic development. Holdgate (1990) points three contributing sources in awareness building namely: formal education, scientific research, and publicity through media. International Council of Scientific Unions, now known as International Council for Science (ICSU) produced many reports during the 1970s on its own or along with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP) was undertaken by the WMO and ICSU in the 1970s to obtain detailed weather observation, to examine the predictability of atmosphere.

Such reports and publications received media attention which further helped in making of environmental issues an international concern. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of Commons (1968), Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968), The Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William Behrens III (1972), E.F. Schumacher’ Small is Beautiful (1973), are some of the most influential and widely publicized writings of that era (Dauvergne 2013; Tolba 1972). In the words of Dauvergne (2013), “many see Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring as the beginning of the modern environmental movement, where citizens began to protest against declining local and global ecological conditions”. Carson’ Silent Spring, for instance, brought environmental concern to the American Public, questioning the use of synthetic pesticides widely known as DDT by arguing that it has an adverse impact on the environment, particularly on birds (Paul 2013). Silent Spring inspired many of environmental movements in the Northern world, which criticized industrialization based developmental process which recklessly exploited the nature and natural resources.

There was growing environmental attitudes and perceptions in developed countries of North America and Western Europe over the damages caused by unconstrained industrialization (Tolba 1992). “The Limits to Growth" argue that economic growth could not continue indefinitely because resources are limited” (Meadows et al. 1972). In “The Population Bomb”, Ehrlich established that the growth rate of the population would have adverse impacts on all aspects of the natural world (Ehrlich 1972). Gradually the worldwide awareness was created through these scientific reports, as also the writings from economists, social scientists, scientists of various fields, for saving the environment from the harmful effects of industrialization on the environment. According to Holdgate (1990: 85), publicity through media had played a major role in creating awareness and argued that, “modern environmental awareness has largely been created by journalist, commentators and television presenters. Mainstream newspapers of west publish, frequently, reports on environmental degradation, hundreds of hundreds of articles published on air and water pollution. New York Times one of such widespread newspaper in the west took the attention of the public at large on environmental concern. Widely circulated magazines like Times and the National Geographic had carried environmental articles for many years, and later on devoted their entire issues to environmental concerns” (Holdgate 1990: 87). Events like the Chernobyl disaster, the oil spill at Valdez in Alaska, Bhopal gas tragedy in India provoked surges in media coverage.


The United Nations has convened various conferences addressing environmental issues such as UN Scientific Conference on the Conservation and Utilization of Resources (1949), UNESCO Conference of Experts on the Scientific Basis for Rational Use and Conservation of the Resources of the Biosphere (1968) were some of those few, but they were limited in scope. Where Scientific Conference of 1949 was focused mainly on the exchange of experiences in resource use and conservation techniques (Birnie and Boyle), UNESCO Conference of Experts recognized the impact of the man on the biosphere. However, these conferences were limited in scope.


The United Nations Conference on Environment and Human known also as Stockholm Conference (1972) was such an important event in the growth of environmental awareness (Tolba 1972; Chasek 2004a; Carter 2001). The Stockholm Conference was watershed in making the entry of the environment onto the international agenda and examining how a range of global problems affected human life (Carter 2001).

At this point of time, great North-South debate emerged between the developed or most industrial countries and the developing or third world countries and the conference opened up the desk for environmental concerns at the international level. Third World countries argue that these efforts of international community mainly consist of most developed and powerful in terms of economically and militarily has an ulterior motive to perpetuate the dependency of developing countries, to control the development and to further exploit them. Third world countries argue that it is the developed countries who shall take sole responsibility to the environmental degradation reason being it is they who have damaged the environment from the past century by following the industrialized path of development. Because of rising divergence among the developed and developing on the issue of environment and development Stockholm conference fails to make hard-hitting agenda setting.

Throughout the years in the 70s and 80s confrontation remains the same on the issue of sustainability, on environment and development. In the later decade with the establishment of World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) famously known as Brundtland Commission, the gap between north-south, developed versus developing, environment versus development were addressed in the commission report. It was established to assess and address environment and development pressures.

The Brundtland report (1987) comes up with the concept of “sustainable development”. It talks about the convergence of both environment and development, concerns of two axes of the world. Sustainable Development, “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED1987:8). This concept of Sustainable Development first time got international acceptance in the United Nation Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in 1992 at Rio De Janerio.

It takes two decades to redress the environmental and development issue together at the international platform. The Earth Summit redresses the issue of the environment with a more comprehensive understanding. It brings new attention internationally to the issues of environment and development, which was contentious two decades earlier.


The General Assembly duly endorsed the outcome report of the WCED and in December 1989 agreed to convene another global conference, formally titled as United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit. The Conference began officially on Wednesday, 3rd June. The outcome documents, Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Statement on Forest Principles, the Climate Change Convention, the Biodiversity Convention are results of over two years of preparation by UNCED Preparatory Committee and Intergovernmental Negotiating Committees on Framework Convention on Climate Change and Biodiversity where the two conventions that are Climate Change Convention and Biodiversity Convention discussed and debated (ENB 1992). The Conference marked another watershed in the history of international environmental conferences in order to recognize and address more comprehensive environmental issues which the Stockholm Conference failed to make.


The purpose of the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development, Rio Plus 10, was to build on the agenda of Rio. The South wanted more aid for economic growth. The European wanted targets and timetables, while the United States food targets unnecessary. The major outcome of the summit, the Plan of Implementation, including some targets to be achieved: access to clean water and proper sanitation by 2015, reduction of biodiversity loss by 2010 and better use of chemicals by 2020. These goals with long time targets were decided to be achieved through a partnership between governments, civil society, and business.


The framework was adopted in 1992. It includes principles and policies that were to guide the international community in dealing with the climate change issue. The United Nations Climate Change Conferences are yearly conferences held in the framework of the UNFCCC. They serve as the formal meeting of the UNFCCC Parties i.e. Conference of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. First Conference of Parties held in Berlin, Germany. Since then COP 24 has been held. Various action plans and programmes were adopted in COPs. In addition to the Kyoto Protocol, ant its amendment, the Parties to Conference have agreed to further commitments during UNFCCC COPs which includes the Bali Action Plan (2007), the Copenhagen Accord (2009), the Cancun agreement (2010), and the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (2012) and the Paris agreement (2015).


There are a number of agreements which were initiated since the 1970s at the global platform in a row of the environmental regime. “These agreements articulate both normative contents of a specific issue and spell out implementation and compliance” (Karns and Mingst 2005: 472). “Most of the environmental agreements call for a conference or meetings of the parties that have decision making powers, or a small secretariat, and one or more specialised subsidiary bodies” (Karns and Mingst 2005: 473).  This section study such agreements.


It was a broad work plan for sustainable development divided into forty chapters under four sections namely, Social and Economic Dimensions covered in (chapters 2-8), Conservation and Management of Resources for Development in (chapters 9-22), Strengthening the Role of Major Groups in (chapters 23-32) and Means of Implementation covered in (chapters 33-40). The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in its first organizational session meeting held in New York, from 14 to 25 June, elected Malaysian Ambassador Razali Ismail as chairman of CSD and divided the chapters of Agenda 21 into nine discussion clusters (DeSombre 2006; Chasek 2004a) namely:

  • Critical Elements of Sustainability, under which chapter two to five comes.
  • Financial Resources and Mechanism, chapter 33
  • Education, Science and Technology, chapter 16, 34-37
  • Decision Making Structures, chapters 8, 38-40
  • Roles of Major Groups, chapters 23-32
  • Health and Human Settlements, chapters 6, 7 and 21
  • Land, Forests and Biodiversity, chapters 10-15
  • Atmosphere, Oceans and Freshwater, chapters 9, 17-18
  • Toxic chemicals and Hazardous wastes, chapters 19, 20 and 21.


In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol to the Framework was adopted. It put specific quantitative commitments for the developed countries and introduces mechanisms to promote the implementation of those commitments.
The three mechanisms were adopted:

  1. Joint Implementation
  2. Clean Development Mechanism
  3. Emission Trading


The Millennium Declaration on which the MDGs are based was signed by all member states of the United Nations and at least 23 international organizations in 2000. They agreed to achieve these goals by 2015. Based on the Millennium Declaration, UNDP working along with other UN departments, the World Bank, and the OECD, created the MDGs at a 2001 meeting of the World Bank. They culminated eight distinct MDGs accompanied by specific targets. These were:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  2. Achieve universal primary education;
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women;
  4. Reduce child mortality;
  5. Improve maternal health;
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability;
  8. Develop a global partnership for development.

Although there has been some advancements and achievement in achieving some of the MDGs, however, the progress has been uneven between the countries.


The sustainable development goals (SDGs) are also well known as Global Goals. United Nations Member States (UNMS) adopted the SDGs in 2015 (Bebbington and Unerman, 2018). The purpose of this adoption was to summon an eternal end of poverty by protecting the earth with an assurance that all the people of this planet should enjoy their lives with peace and prosperity by 2030. The SDGs primarily aim at the development of society, economic and environment and in this respect, sustainability is also enhanced. It has been noticed that 17 SDGs are well integrated with a pledge.

The pledge is to “Leave No One Behind”. The countries have undertaken a commitment to uniting the people with no poverty, hunger and so on. Through SDGs, a sense of interdependencies is well observed globally. With a sense of integration, SDGs proceed in eliminating the negative aspects from the human life in order to provide a suitable and sustainable development for the people who are living within this planet globally. Each goal out of 17 has a separate indication for the welfare of the world. The targets of each goal are also measured in order to achieve the culmination accordingly and inevitably.
The Resolution has 92 paragraphs; mainly paragraph 51 outlined the 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets. These seventeen goals are related to:

  1. Poverty;
  2. Food;
  3. Health;
  4. Education;
  5. Women;
  6. Water;
  7. Energy;
  8. Economy;
  9. Infrastructure;
  10. Inequality;
  11. Habitation;
  12. Consumption;
  13. Climate;
  14. Marine-Ecosystem;
  15. Ecosystems;
  16. Institutions;
  17. Sustainability

In the late 20th century, the international community started acknowledging environmental degradation and climate change as a major concern. Scientific research, reports and studies on environmental problems have started taking place. Epistemic class of North has started acknowledging the impacts of human activities on the environment and published numbers of papers and articles in newspaper or magazine highlighting it. It envisaged the need for effective action to be taken including calling for scientific research to strongly highlight the link between development and environment. There has been a growing recognition to the fact that many environmental problems such as ozone depletion, climate change, depletion of natural resources, global warming, and acid rain and so on, are transboundary in nature and cannot be tackled solely at a national level by the state only. The urgency of global solutions to such transboundary, interdependent environmental problems was felt. International conferences began to be convened under the UN initiatives and one of such landmark international conference known as the United Nations Conference on Human Environment (UNCHE).

For effective implementation of any international regime, the political commitment of the highest level is essential, states need to set up appropriate national laws, institutions, involve different voices of society in law-making, to implement at all levels (Dodds et al. 2012: 183).

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