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PS: this article was written as my first assignment in “Sustainability Policy & Management” subject in University. I know there are many weaknesses in this article, but you can see the process I grow.  Enjoy!


The concept of sustainable development has substantially inspired many changes in natural conservation and development all around the world and stimulated the search for patterns of development in more environmentally friendly way (Elliott 1999). In the publication of Our Common Future, The World Commission on Environment and Development, led by Gro Harlem Brundtland, urge for world co-operation and action to create “a new era of economic growth” without disregarding the need for preserving natural resources for future generation (WCED 1987).

In The Brundtland Report, sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987). It can be articulated as improving the quality of human life while maintaining the balance of economic, social and environmental systems that will not diminish opportunity of future generations to enjoy their own quality of life. From this definition, it is clear that sustainable development posits environment, social and economy in win-win position and as interrelated aspects.

Although the concept of sustainable development is debatable and not always acceptable to all scholars, practitioners and politicians (Cohen et al. 1998), I believe that it is still feasible to overcome current environmental problems and challenge, particularly for mitigation and adaptation to the climate change.

The concept of sustainable development; strength and weaknesses

Some critics argue that The Brundtland definition of sustainable development is obviously human-centered (Sneddon, Howarth & Norgaard 2006; Lee 2000 in Hopwood, Mellor and O’Brien 2005). It is appeared in the phrase “the needs of the present” and “future generations to meet their own needs” which means that the focus is somewhat in a mood for human interest rather than considering the intrinsic value of nature and moral obligation of human to preserve natural resources. Moreover, Newman (2006) stated that the definition of sustainable development is also critiqued because the definition is too broad that caused ambiguity and various interpretations. This ambiguity is obvious due to hundreds of interpretation and articulation of its definition in various articles and books.
Nevertheless, this broadness has also made sustainable development still “alive” today. Its broad definition brought flexibility to be implemented in a wide-range aspects and problems. Newman (2006) claimed that “the lasting influence of sustainable development lies in its ability to evolve as a concept”. For example, Sustainable development can be used as framework to find solution for current problem and challenge threatened human as well as other species, namely climate change (Munasinghe and Swart 2005).

Sustainable Development and Climate Change

The Fourth Assessment Report of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that earth climate system convincingly become warmer. This statement is based on the observation of the increase of global average temperature and sea level, and melting of the ice in the pole region. Moreover, there is strong evidence that human actions are responsible for most of the increase of global temperature occurred over the last 50 years, particularly related to greenhouse gas emissions which are influenced by “socio-economic development path” (IPCC 2007). Figure 1 below can give clear picture about this cause and effect.

Figure 1. An integrated assessment framework for considering climate change solutions (IPCC 2001)

Figure 1 shows that the greenhouse gas emission is influenced by policy approach of the economy, industry and population (IPCC 2001). From This rationalization we can see the opportunity to re-orientate development strategies in searching for climate change mitigation and adaptation. To make it clear, if human can manage the development in sustainable manner, it will give positive impact to the climate change mitigation.

Sustainable development can be used as framework as well as accelerator for the attainment of adaptation and mitigation goal (Munasinghe and Swart 2005). In the Brundtland report, there are at least two strategies of sustainable development which can be used in achieving climate change goal. The First strategy is to combine environment and economics in decision making (WCED 1987 p.62). For example, when making a policy related to new investment in industrial sector, the policy makers should have prior consideration about how much greenhouse gases will be emitted from the project and take precautionary measures for possible impact to the climate system. So, there will be conformity between economy and climate change mitigation.

Furthermore, by combining environment and economics in the decision making, climate change policy will be more attractive to business, government and public interest (Robinson et al 2006). It can be argued that the businessmen will be more convenient to take part to the climate change mitigation if their interest is accommodated in the policy. The idea of “Flexicar” in Australia can be an example of business activity that is financially, socially and environmentally sustainable. Flexicar is a car sharing business that attempt to reduce the number of car ownership that will hopefully reduce carbon emission and air pollution from transportation sector (Flexicar 2006).

The second strategy offered by sustainable development is to affirm the use of alternative technology (WCED 1987 p. 60-61). This strategy is needed to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emission, especially from the industry and transportation sector to make sure that those activities will not harm the climate system. Gidden (2009) said that there are need to motivate business actors to harmonize the economic activities with innovative technology which produce lowest carbon emission in order to maintain the vulnerability of climate change. However, to bring such economic condition into reality requires the investors and policy makers to have enough knowledge and skill in planning low carbon project by using innovative technology and renewable energy.


Sustainable development is a flexible concept and can be described as improving the quality of human life while maintaining the balance of economic, social and environmental systems that will not diminish opportunity of future generations to gain their own quality of life. This paper has argued that although sustainable development has anthropocentric tendency and ambiguity in its definition, it is still reasonable concept to find solutions to the current environmental problem such as climate change, particularly for reducing greenhouse gas emission.

Sustainable development can be used as strategy to solve climate change problem and can make climate change policy attractive to economy and business sector. At least two strategies of sustainable development can be used for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The first is the integration of economy and environment in decision making. This strategy is needed to make sure that development policy will not obstruct climate policy.

The second strategy is technology reorientation in order to reduce greenhouse gas emission. There should be cooperation among policy makers, civil society and business actors to do innovation in technology and policy that will not make climate change worse and consequently urge them to have enough knowledge and skill about low-carbon technology and renewable energy.


Cohen, S, Demeritt, D, Robinson, J & Rothman, D 1998, ‘Climate Change and Sustainable Development: Towards Dialogue’, Global Environmental Change, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 341-71.

Elliott, JA 1999, An Introduction to Sustainable Development, Second edition, Routledge, London and New York.

Flexicar 2006, Benefits to the Environment, viewed 20 March 2010, .

Giddens, A 2009, The Politics of Climate Change, Sustainable Cities, viewed 19 March 2010, .

Hopwood, B, Mellor, M & O’Brien, G 2005, ‘Sustainable Development: Mapping Different Approaches’, Sustainable Development, vol. 13, pp. 38-52.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 2001, Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report. A Contribution of Working Groups I, II, and III to the Third Assessment Report of the Integovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, and New York, NY, USA.

—— 2007, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, Switzerland.

Munasinghe, M & Swart, R 2005, Primer on Climate Change and Sustainable Development; Facts, Policy Analysis and Applications, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Newman, L 2006, ‘Change, Uncertainty, and Futures of Sustainable Development’, Futures, vol. 38, pp. 633-7.

Robinson, J, Bradley, M, Busby, P, Connor, D, Murray, A, Sampson, B & Soper, W 2006, ‘Climate Change and Sustainable Development: Realizing the Opportunity’, Ambio, vol. 35, no. 1.

Sneddon, C, Howarth, RB & Norgaard, RB 2006, ‘Sustainable Development in a post-Brundtland World’, Ecological Economics, vol. 57, pp. 253-68.

WCED (World Comission on Environment and Development) 1987, Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.



Climate change, sustainability and environment writer from Indonesia

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