This paper gives a critical examination and discussion of the evolution and significance of the concept of sustainable development. It indicates how in the last two decades, this concept has become significant, with its importance being apparent in the numerous major intercontinental conferences on sustainable development, for instance the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED), the Rio Conference on Environment and Development, Stockholm Conference, Millennium Summit and Kyoto conference. There are also numerous international environmental agreements claiming to give effect to sustainable development. Soft law instruments endorsing the concept have as well been enacted and large literature body regarding sustainable development has emerged.
The exact meaning of sustainable development remains obscure and there is no consensus regarding its meaning. Pearce and his co- authors (1990) explain that this is because development is a value word meaning desirable change and that the social goals that a government, agency, advisor or analyst advocate determine what constitutes development. They take development as a vector of desirable social objectives. In other words, development is a list of attributes that society seeks to maximize or achieve. This vector’s elements include access to resources, basic freedoms’ increases, rise in real income per capita, educational achievement, a fairer income distribution and nutritional and health status’ improvements. There are other numerous definitions of this concept, but the most common definition that comes from the Brundtland Report is that sustainable development is development that meets the present needs devoid of compromising future generations’ ability to cater for their own needs. The Brundtland Report is discussed later in this essay.
This definition explains the two basic