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Sustainable development policy: goals, targets and political cycles


  • Nuno Quental
  • Júlia M. Lourenço
  • Fernando Nunes da Silva


This paper describes the global political milestones of greater importance to the emergence and evolution of sustainable development. In addition, it depicts the cyclical patterns of political activity dealing with sustainability and identifies the main sustainability goals and targets endorsed by several political initiatives. These tasks are accomplished through a literature review and an assessment of indicators dealing with political will. It is concluded that global sustainability governance followed an intermittent path characterized by two periods of significant accomplishments (until 1979; 1987–1995) and by two others less successful (1980–1986; 1995 onwards, interrupted by a peak around 2000). Peaks in political activity coincide with the decennial Earth Summits, suggesting their major influence as catalysts of more profound societal and political action. Sustainability concerns and goals shifted from an emphasis on pollution control and availability of natural resources to a more balanced position that puts human development at the center. Copyright (C) 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.

Suggested Citation

  • Nuno Quental & Júlia M. Lourenço & Fernando Nunes da Silva, 2011. "Sustainable development policy: goals, targets and political cycles," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(1), pages 15-29, January/F.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:sustdv:v:19:y:2011:i:1:p:15-29

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    2. Barnes, Stuart J. & Mattsson, Jan, 2016. "Understanding current and future issues in collaborative consumption: A four-stage Delphi study," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 200-211.
    3. Tom Waas & Jean Hugé & Thomas Block & Tarah Wright & Francisco Benitez-Capistros & Aviel Verbruggen, 2014. "Sustainability Assessment and Indicators: Tools in a Decision-Making Strategy for Sustainable Development," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(9), pages 1-23, August.
    4. Tom Waas & Jean Hugé & Aviel Verbruggen & Tarah Wright, 2011. "Sustainable Development: A Bird’s Eye View," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(10), pages 1-25, September.
    5. Falko Leukhardt & Simon Allen, 2013. "How environmentally focused is the German sustainability strategy? A critical discussion of the indicators used to measure sustainable development in Germany," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 149-166, February.
    6. Emilio Galdeano-Gómez & José A. Aznar-Sánchez & Juan C. Pérez-Mesa, 2012. "Sustainability dimensions of agricultural development in Almería (Spain): The experience of 50 years," ERSA conference papers ersa12p256, European Regional Science Association.


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