International Food Governance and Trade in Agriculture
Chapter 1: History of the concept of sustainable development
The concept of sustainable development results from a combination of fragmented approaches towards the notion of development. Aware of poverty and inequality, the United Nations (UN) proclaimed four development decades between 1960 and 2000. Over time, the main constituents of development policy became formulated and debated. In the first decades, sectorial approaches abounded whereby economic perspectives of development were paramount; while such perspectives were linked to social issues very early, though in an unstructured way, the environmental perspective came into play quite separately. Soon, it became apparent that the sectorial approaches were limited and lead to a lack of legitimacy. While developed countries’ interests were mainly of an economic and ecological nature, developing countries emphasized the economic and social perspectives. Thereby, the economic claims of developing countries differed quite significantly from those countries which were economically better off. The consequence was a blockade which culminated in the formulation of the concept of sustainable development in the late 1980s. Since the concept of sustainable development focused specifically on the needs of future generations, it succeeded in providing an all embracing umbrella for the wide range of development agendas. Since this period, international actors have been struggling for understanding and deepening of this promising conceptual approach. The concept of sustainable development has become anchored and widely diffused in the international debate, but it has remained rather intangible. In order to make it more operational, much work still needs to be done.