The Dilemma of Sustainable Development

Sustainability is defined as practice of maintaining processes of productivity indefinitely as the resources, be these manmade or natural, are able to be replaced with resources of equal or greater value while ensuring that there is no degradation of the natural biotic systems. Clearly, the idea is to balance economic development with the environment. Sustainable development goals are also based on the same idea of linking sustainability with the economic development. Sustainable development goals relate to the goals that deal with the eradication of poverty, hunger, encouragement of good health and well-being, access to education, clean water, clean energy, and work and economic growth to name a few. The idea of sustainable development is based on the need to balance the needs of economic development with the needs of sustainability of resources and the environment. While, the concept of sustainable development goals is linked to international economic law through law and institutions like World Trade Organisation, actual practice indicates that sustainable development goals are being driven by economic dynamics and have not been able to achieve sustainability because of the inherent and at times paradoxical problems involved in the linking between economic development and sustainability making the relevance of sustainable development to international economic law tenuous.

Sustainable development goals are driven by the concept of sustainable development, which was first clearly identified at the 1972 Stockholm Conference and adopted in the Stockholm Declaration; sustainable development emphasises on the need to conserve natural resources for the future and to not deplete resources faster than they can be replaced by new resources. The idea of sustainable development is that the development at the present time should not come at the expense of the future generations’ access to natural resources. This has been explained as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The principle of sustainable development creates a regulatory construct. The goal of creating a regulatory construct is to provide compensation for the losses of exhaustible resources with investments in technology and knowledge that seek to mitigate or reduce such losses. However, for developing countries, the regulatory construct created by the concept may be a problem because they may not have the economic resources to invest in technology and knowledge for mitigating or reducing losses. The sustainable development goals also include economic goals like eradication of poverty and hunger, and provision of work and economic growth. This may mean that the countries that are not able to invest in mitigating technologies should not have to forego economic development. Therein lies the paradox of the sustainable development goals in that they include goals that may be competing with each other.

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  1. RK Lynn and G Eda (eds.), Communicating Sustainability for the Green Economy (New York: M.E. Sharpe 2014).
  2. Anna Aseeva, ‘(Un) Sustainable Development (s) in International Economic Law: A Quest for Sustainability’ (2018) 10 (11) Sustainability 4022.
  3. Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment. In Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment; UN Doc.A/CONF.48/14, at 2 and Corr.1; United Nations: New York, NY, USA, 1972.
  4. Commission on the Environment and Development (WCED), Our Common Future; Brundtland Report (Oxford University Press 1987).
  5. Anna Aseeva, ‘(Un) Sustainable Development (s) in International Economic Law: A Quest for Sustainability’ (2018) 10 (11) Sustainability 4022.
  6. Ibid
  7. States have the responsibility to enhance economic development for its populace, for which it may have to exploit natural resources; on the other hand, one of the goals of international economic law is to achieve sustainability. Therefore, there is a possible conflict between what the states want to do in order to achieve optimal economic prosperity and what the international economic law envisions as the obligation of the state to ensure that economic development does not come at the cost of the environment and sustainability. This is especially problematic for developing countries for whom the exploitation of natural resources would be an important factor for development, therefore, affecting the way that sustainable development is to be seen in such countries.

    A criticism of the sustainable development goals and its link to the international economic law is that the goals have been unable to achieve the level of sustainability required in the laws and economic processes of the developing countries particularly with the increase of globalisation which has brought many changes and radical expansion to the rules and processes of International Economic Law in the context of sustainable development. The impact of the processes of globalisation and the linkages of the processes to the international economic law is felt in countries with rich natural resources. urgent legislative action strengthen both the laws and institutional framework for sustainable exploitation and enjoyment of natural resources.

    One problem in the actual achievement of the goals of sustainable development is that there is a policy interdependence between international economic law and sustainable development. While sustainable development goals are relevant to the international economic law, they also create a differential regime between the developing and the developed countries, which ultimately means that the standards of sustainable development are not being applied uniformly by all nations of the world. This compromises the significance of the sustainable development goals because as policy on sustainable development is linked to international economic law, there is an association of economic dynamics with the nexus ‘growth-development’ leading to non-uniform application of sustainability goals and ultimately affecting the sustainability transformations of society. The problem, as Asseva points out is that sustainable development goals create unsustainable models because one part of the focus of this paradigm of sustainable development remains on the economic dynamics, because it is not just sustainability which is sought to be achieved by the goals but sustainable development. The solution is to shift focus from growth and development as the main objectives of the economy to degrowth, sharing, and collaborative economy so that instead of sustainability of development the focus shifts to the sustainability of economy, where non -economic goals, like social justice and non-carbon economy are also important.

  8. USF Nnabue, ‘Principles of International Economic Law, and the Right to Economic Development, vis-à-vis the Guiding Principles of Sustainable Development’ (2011) 2 AJOL 1.
  9. Uchechukwu Wilson Nwosu, ‘Sustainable Development and International Economic Law: The fate of Developing Countries’ accessed
  10. Ibid

To conclude, the concept of sustainable development goals is linked to international economic law in a way that at this time it creates a paradoxical situation where the goals are competing with each other, pit developing countries’ right to economic development against their obligation to invest in mitigating technologies, and are being driven by economic dynamics. In such a situation, the economic goals have become more important than the goal of sustainability, which is an inherent problem with the linking between economic development and sustainability with international economic law.

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Bibliography

Books

Commission on the Environment and Development (WCED), Our Common Future; Brundtland Report (Oxford University Press 1987).

Lynn RK and Eda G (eds.), Communicating Sustainability for the Green Economy (New York: M.E. Sharpe 2014).

Journals

Aseeva A, ‘(Un) Sustainable Development (s) in International Economic Law: A Quest for Sustainability’ (2018) 10 (11) Sustainability 4022.

Nnabue USF, ‘Principles of International Economic Law, and the Right to Economic Development, vis-à-vis the Guiding Principles of Sustainable Development’ (2011) 2 AJOL 1.

Reports

Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment. In Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment; UN Doc.A/CONF.48/14, at 2 and Corr.1; United Nations: New York, NY, USA, 1972.


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