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Sustainable development (1987-2005): an oxymoron comes of age


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  • Michael Redclift

    (King's College, University of London, UK)

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    The paper examines the conceptual history of 'sustainable development', from the Brundtland Commission's definition in 1987 to the present day. It argues that the superficial consensus that has characterized much of the early debate has given way to a series of parallel but distinct discourses around sustainability. The underlying assumptions behind much of the discussion are assessed, as is the move, after the first Earth Summit (1992), to focus on rights, rather than needs, as the principal line of enquiry. This analytical attention to rights is linked to the neo-liberal economic agendas of the 1990s, and the growth of interest in congruent areas, including human security and the environment, social capital, critical natural capital and intellectual property rights. The paper argues that increasing attention to questions of biology and science studies has strengthened this 'rights-based' approach, as well as interest in the linkages between 'natural' and 'human' systems, including attention to questions of environmental justice. It is clear that issues of global environmental justice are as important as they were when the concept of 'sustainable development' was in its infancy, but the new material realities of science and the environment in the 21st century demand a re-engagement with their social consequences, something which is largely ignored by the (market) liberal consensus. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.

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    Article provided by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. in its journal Sustainable Development.

    Volume (Year): 13 (2005)
    Issue (Month): 4 ()
    Pages: 212-227

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    Handle: RePEc:wly:sustdv:v:13:y:2005:i:4:p:212-227

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    1. Oluf Langhelle, 2000. "Sustainable Development and Social Justice: Expanding the Rawlsian Framework of Global Justice," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, White Horse Press, vol. 9(3), pages 295-323, August.
    2. Wilfred Beckerman, 1994. "'Sustainable Development': Is it a Useful Concept?," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, White Horse Press, vol. 3(3), pages 191-209, August.
    3. Ekins, Paul, 2003. "Identifying critical natural capital: Conclusions about critical natural capital," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 44(2-3), pages 277-292, March.
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    Cited by:
    1. Ezebilo, Eugene E. & Mattsson, Leif, 2010. "Socio-economic benefits of protected areas as perceived by local people around Cross River National Park, Nigeria," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 189-193, March.
    2. Philip Walsh, 2011. "Creating a “values” chain for sustainable development in developing nations: where Maslow meets Porter," Environment, Development and Sustainability, Springer, Springer, vol. 13(4), pages 789-805, August.
    3. Bev Wilson & Arnab Chakraborty, 2013. "The Environmental Impacts of Sprawl: Emergent Themes from the Past Decade of Planning Research," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(8), pages 3302-3327, August.
    4. Razvan V. Mustata & Carmen Giorgiana Bonaci & Cristina Hintea & Bogdana Neamtu, 2013. "Business Education For Sustainable Development: The Case of Romanian Universities," The AMFITEATRU ECONOMIC journal, Academy of Economic Studies - Bucharest, Romania, Academy of Economic Studies - Bucharest, Romania, vol. 15(Special 7), pages 802-818, November.
    5. Denise Baden & Ian Harwood, 2013. "Terminology Matters: A Critical Exploration of Corporate Social Responsibility Terms," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, Springer, vol. 116(3), pages 615-627, September.
    6. Emmanuel Kumi & Albert Arhin & Thomas Yeboah, 2014. "Can post-2015 sustainable development goals survive neoliberalism? A critical examination of the sustainable development–neoliberalism nexus in developing countries," Environment, Development and Sustainability, Springer, Springer, vol. 16(3), pages 539-554, June.


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