Table of Contents

Handbook of Sustainable Development

Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, environmental economics, environmental geography, valuation


The demand that countries pursue policies aimed at achieving ‘sustainable development’ or ‘sustainability’ has built over more than 25 years. A number of key events can lay claim to establishing this principle in the international policy landscape. Among these are the Brundtland Report (WCED, 1987), the Earth Summit in 1992 and, more recently, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or ‘Rio+20’) in 2012. Although this latter event marking the twentieth anniversary of the ground-breaking Earth Summit dissatisfied many in terms of the proportion of rhetoric to concrete actions, one promising development was the announcement of a process to determine, for the first time, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is especially interesting as it begins to put content on what it is that policy makers, who publicly state their commitment to the goal of sustainable development, believe they have signed up to. Running parallel to these events is a now huge body of literature that has sought to flesh out these issues with regard to what is sustainable development and how it can be achieved. Exploring progress in understanding this intricate debate was the primary purpose of our previous volume of the Handbook. It remains, in updated form, our main objective now. This, we argue, is important not only in making general sense of what sustainable development is but also in distilling these messages into a sensible interpretation for the construction of SDGs.