What Next for Sustainable Development?
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What Next for Sustainable Development?

Our Common Future at Thirty

Edited by James Meadowcroft, David Banister, Erling Holden, Oluf Langhelle, Kristin Linnerud and Geoffrey Gilpin

This book examines the international experience with sustainable development since the concept was brought to world-wide attention in Our Common Future, the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds engage with three critical themes: negotiating environmental limits; equity, environment and development; and transitions and transformations. In light of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, they ask what lies ahead for sustainable development.
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Chapter 6: Brundtland+30: the continuing need for an indicator of environmental sustainability

Paul Ekins and Arkaitz Usubiaga


Recent efforts have made progress in identifying ‘planetary boundaries’ and a ‘safe operating space’ in respect of human impacts on the environment and use of its natural resources. However, at the national level countries still lack robust and resonant metrics that allow them to make judgements as to whether they are operating within this ‘safe operating space’, nationally and locally, and whether therefore their economic activity is environmentally sustainable. This chapter presents the conceptual foundations of an index of environmental sustainability for nations, where environmental sustainability refers to the maintenance of important environmental functions. Target indicators representing environmental sustainability are identified across a whole range of policy-relevant environmental and resource issues. The distance from these targets to the current environmental performance can then be measured, and the information aggregated into a single index to show the extent to which countries are making progress towards environmental sustainability. An illustration of this procedure is given to show how such an indicator could give an overall easily comprehensible overview of progress over time towards environmental sustainability.

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