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 14: Beyond limits: making policy in a climate-changed world

Eva Lövbrand

Abstract

Since the Anthropocene concept was introduced at the turn of the millennium, we have seen the return of a dystopian environmental discourse of ecological tipping points, complexity and urgency. In contrast to the hopeful story of sustainable development inherited from the Brundtland Commission and the past 30 years of liberal environmentalism, the Anthropocene is wedded to a language of fear and sorrow in view of irreparable loss of Arctic ice sheets, endangered species, seasonal variations and traditional ways of living. This chapter traces how the Anthropocene debate is taking form in academic circles and challenging the conceptual frame that has guided climate policy-making during the past three decades. The debates covered in this chapter are diverse, complex and troubling and lack any clear blueprints for global development. Rather than promising more prosperous, more just, and more secure futures for all, the Anthropocene places us at an uncomfortable juncture where irreversible loss and damage has already occurred. Where this environmental rethinking will lead us is too early to tell. Contemporary Anthropocene debates contain a broad mix of dystopian scenarios, social critique, novel ethical claims and challenging ontological propositions. While many of these ideas may never travel beyond the academic seminar room, they demonstrate a search for green hope and radical political energy in a time when nature no longer offers a stable backdrop to global development. As such they warrant further analytical scrutiny and debate.

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