A universally accepted definition of sustainability remains elusive, because they focus on the many contexts in which the term is used. Most relevant to the study of market failure are those definitions that relate to natural resources and their usage.
Sustainability and sustainable development
Sustainability encompasses the simple principle of taking from the earth only what it can provide indefinitely, thus leaving future generations no less than we have access to ourselves.
Sustainability may be described as our responsibility to proceed in a way that will sustain life and allow our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live comfortably in a friendly, clean, and healthy world.
Sustainable Development is positive change which does not undermine the environmental or social systems on which we depend. It requires a coordinated approach to planning and policy making that involves public participation. Its success depends on widespread understanding of the critical relationship between people and their environment and the will to make necessary changes.
All these definitions concern the need for humans to:
- live within the limits of the Earth's resources
- examine the distribution of resources and opportunities
- meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs
Sustainable development was defined at the 2005 World Summit as development requiring an understanding and reconciliation of the 'three pillars' of sustainability, that of environmental, social and economic demands.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are international development goals that all 193 United Nations member states agreed to achieve by the year 2015 following the Millennium Summit in 2000. There are eight goals with 21 targets. Goal 7 is to ensure environmental sustainability with the target of integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes to reverse the loss of environmental resources. Each year the United Nations reports on progress towards achieving the MDGs. The following articles provide details on achievements and failures to meet the MDGs and, in particular, progress towards environmental sustainability.