This post is also available in: Español

The concept of sustainable development was born as an effort by nations to promote a model of global economic development compatible with environmental conservation and social equity.

The history of sustainable development dates back to the 1950s, when the world became aware of the damage caused to the environment by World War II. It was not until 1987 that the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, presented the report “Our Common Future”, also known as the “Brundtland Report”, in which the best-known definition of sustainable development was issued:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”. (CMMAD, 1987:24)

Sustainable development has become a political manifesto, under which citizens, civil organizations, businesses, and governments are guided to promote actions aimed at a common goal: sustainability.

According to the above, sustainable development is based on three pillars:

  1. A development that takes into account the satisfaction of the needs of the present generations.

This tells us that political participation is required to create new institutions in line with cultural changes that will reduce social exclusion. In this way, we seek to reorganize daily life and social replication. This requires addressing aspects such as:

a. Demographic patter. The decrease in mortality and the large population groups that are being integrated into the consumer society, among other aspects, have caused an exponential growth in the demand for food. This leads to a food crisis in some parts of the world; this is why it is necessary to act on the demographic pattern, for example, by introducing voluntary regulation of births that leads to a gradual stabilization of the population.

b. Social Equity. Intra-generational solidarity is another elemental aspect of sustainable development. This requires redefining policies and goals to achieve greater equity in income distribution and thus reduce the gaps between developed and developing countries. To achieve equity, there must be economic growth that generates jobs; growth that is more equal, i.e., that the fruits of labor benefit all and not just a few. Growth that includes the voices of communities through democratization, growth that strengthens cultural identity, and growth that takes care of natural resources and the environment in order to move towards a more secure future.

c. New policies for new institutions. Political reform is a necessary condition for sustainable development and through it to reduce social inequality and avoid environmental destruction. In this way, integral political decisions are promoted that address economic aspects and that do not leave aside the social or environmental impact that such a policy would have. Likewise, institutional reform requires modifying the processes of international cooperation and global governance.

d. A new civilizing process. Historical developments have been unsustainable in terms of the environmental, economic and social conditions. Transformations need to be carried out through a change in civilization, in values, in the redefinition of priorities, in significant options that place the material in its proper dimension so that people can achieve their full potential in harmony with their natural environment and with the community to which they belong.

  1. Environmentally-friendly development.

The premise is that development should not degrade the biophysical environment or deplete natural resources. This premise is the one that has given meaning to all international agreements since the Stockholm Summit in 1972. The report “Our Common Future” was published in 1987, but above all it has a strong strategic meaning since the Rio Summit in 1992. It promotes reflection on how to make compatible the needs and aspirations of human societies with the preservation of the integrity of natural systems. In addition, we know that the environmental degradation caused by human activities is not a homogeneous phenomenon, but depends on the lifestyles, development and conditions of the environment.

  1. Development that does not sacrifice the rights of future generations.

While it is difficult to define what the basic needs of unborn generations might be, what they will have to satisfy and how they will do it, intergenerational justice is a condition linked to both social equity and environmental conservation at the present time. In other words, poverty cannot increase now because the poor cannot become poorer in the future and the rich sectors and countries must necessarily reduce their standards of living and consumption in order not to compromise the present and future of the planet. Likewise, maintaining the integrity of the planetary ecosystem in the long term is also a requirement for the sustainability of present generations.

The concept of development focuses on progressive material growth, which has been challenged by a broader and more complex vision, where the quantitative is immersed in the qualitative. This includes care for the environment, as well as the integrity of ecosystems, social relations of solidarity oriented towards equity, and institutional policy environments for the exercise of democratic governance. These are constitutive axes of the holistic vision of sustainable development.

Indeed, from this perspective, the concept of sustainable development emerges as a comprehensive conceptual proposal that articulates at least five dimensions: economic, environmental, social, political and cultural. These dimensions include issues such as equity, employment opportunities, access to productive assets, environmental impacts, social welfare costs, gender equality, good governance, and an active civil society in terms of social participation. Always considering both quantitative and qualitative aspects of development.

Sustainable development in Mexico

Over time, development policies in Mexico have not given importance to the economic and social costs of population growth. Many of the environmental crises have been caused by various factors, some of which include the following: unequal territorial distribution, urbanization activities, air, water and soil degradation, etc.

During the seventies the first organizations were founded in order to address the problems of pollution. In 1971 the Federal Law to Prevent and Control Environmental Pollution was enacted. Later, in 1972, the Secretary of Environmental Improvement was founded. Finally, in 1976 the General Office of Urban Ecology was established.

The concept of “Sustainable Development” was increasingly taken into account in the late 1980s. This happened in such a way thanks to research work and international agreements which proposed sustainable development as something necessary. This led to a second stage in the creation of government agencies and laws to comply with the sustainable process at the local and national level.

The first precedent in the country dates from 1983 when the Department of Ecology was created, which was part of the Secretariat of Urban Development and Ecology. New responsibilities were assigned and it was in 1988 when the Brundtland Report created an agitated international process that opened the way to sustainability. In Mexico, the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection was approved.

In 1992, the Ministry of Social Development was created as an effort to unite social and environmental policies. Soon after, the National Institute of Ecology and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency were created. In the same year, the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity was also established.

The management of the period was strengthened by the creation of the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries in 1994.

In 2000, this Ministry became the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources. Since then, great changes in institutional engineering have taken place. Some laws that have been enacted are:

In the year 2000 the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas was created, and in 2001 the National Forestry Commission was established.

Establishing sustainable development as a priority, however, requires major changes in different areas. These changes must involve all sectors and all three levels of government.

State structures are not conducive to public information, management transparency, accountability, effective participation, goal setting, scrutiny, and compliance with regulations and policies.

In Mexico, environmental degradation and natural resource depletion has been increasing. The Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics (INEGI) has estimated through the System of Economic and Ecological Accounts of Mexico that the negative impacts of 2016 were equivalent to 4.6% of the Gross Domestic Product. This measurement is expressed through the Ecological Gross Domestic Product, which is an indicator of the effect on the economy of the use and degradation of natural resources.

Social aspects have also deteriorated since the implementation of the internationally open economic model and the rise of neoliberal policy since 1982. This deterioration has been seen in the weakening of formal employment and the purchasing power of salaries. It has also been reflected in the loss of quality in health care and education services, as well as in the increase in the cost of housing.

To address this problem, the National Population Council created the marginalization index. This index gives an overview of the status of social conditions at the state and municipal levels. In 2005, the percentage of the urban population with a marginalization index was 5.1%, and with a high marginalization index of 15.8%. By 2010, the percentage went to 4.6% in the very high level of marginalization and 20.1% in the high level. This proves what was stated above about the deterioration of the economic and social conditions of the population. In 2005 the urban proportion with a medium level of marginalization was 24.8%, with a low level of 33.5%, and a very low level of 20.9%. While in 2010 the percentages were 35.6%, 20.4%, and 19.3%, respectively.

From the student movement of 1968, a social process was derived that sought to establish a representative electoral system. The creation of the National Human Rights Commission in 1990, the establishment of the Federal Institute of Access to Information in 2003. In February 2014, the constitutional reform in political-electoral matters was published. This reform redesigned the Mexican electoral regime. The Federal Electoral Institute became the National Electoral Institute. In support of the above measure, the Attorney General’s Office published on March 12, 2014 in the Official Journal of the Federation, the creation of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes related to acts of corruption. The purpose of this office is to investigate crimes related to acts of corruption, with the exception of crimes committed by public servants of the PGR. These changes are part of democratic life.

Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Objectives (SDO)

During the United Nations conference in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972, it was the first time that different representatives of the world participated to analyze environmental problems at a global level. At that meeting, the World Commission on Environment and Development was created. This was the commission that wrote the famous “Brundtland Report” in 1987, which gave birth to the concept of Sustainable Development:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. (CMMAD, 1987:24).

This concept had various antecedents such as the threat of ecological destruction, species extinction, increased pollution, climate change, and damage to the ozone layer. The concept of sustainable development emerged as an alternative to improve the sense of equity without causing the deterioration of the environment.

In this way, sustainable development proposes the continuous satisfaction of present and future needs, and allows for an equal distribution of resources and access to opportunities for the most vulnerable communities.

This balance leads to economic growth with productive strategies that support social progress.

These changes also generate benefits in education, new ways of thinking, implementation of new models to promote environmental care, social welfare and a better quality of life for people.

New initiatives have emerged, which allow us to achieve the objective of redirecting the current development model:

Millennium Development Goals. Created during the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000 in New York.

A total of 192 members of the United Nations agreed to achieve eight international development goals by 2015. These goals are to reduce extreme poverty, reduce child mortality, combat epidemics of diseases such as AIDS, and develop a partnership for development.

In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly approved the 2030 agenda. This, after a broad consultative process where the civil sector, private sector and academia collaborated.

The Agenda includes 17 objectives of Sustainable Development. The objectives are structured in 169 goals. The objectives of Sustainable Development are centered on people, the planet, prosperity, and community participation.

The Agenda 2030 is universal and transformative. It is an ambitious action plan to redirect the world towards a sustainable future. The agenda incorporates the Millennium Development Goals, and is an opportunity to develop new procedures and intensify efforts.

Strengthening the Objectives of Sustainable Development requires several factors. Civil society, governments, the private sector, and the education sector must develop public policies to act urgently on the implementation of Agenda 2030.

Academic institutions also play a fundamental role as promoters of sustainable development.

Thus, activities such as teaching and research are key to achieving a transition to a more sustainable future. In this way, educational strategies and programs for the development of competencies and the training of professionals must be incorporated. The next generations will be more aware of the environmental problems and will be able to deal with aspects related to the achievement of the objectives of sustainable development.