Creation and development of sustainable development concept

Scientific views on sustainable development and its description as a conceptual model of society and human development have always been at the center of international attention. These views have become a topic of discussion that reflects global challenges. In this sense, the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm and devoted to human and environmental protection, brought environmental problems to the international agenda.In the period after the conference, the international community recognized the need for a more detailed study of the relationship between the environmental situation and the socio-economic problems of poverty and recession. As a result of the conference, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) was established to coordinate and support environmental protection measures, as well as to provide necessary technical and administrative assistance to national governments. UNEP played an important role in the preparation of an international convention on the protection of the environment, the elaboration of a sustainable development concept and the institutional approach. It was after the launch of this initiative that, in 1980, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) published the World Conservation Strategy, confirming the impossibility of preserving the nature without development aimed at eradicating the poverty and eliminating the suffering of hundreds of millions of people. At the 48th plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly in 1982, the World Charter for Nature was adopted, declaring that humanity is part of nature and life depends on the uninterrupted functioning of the natural system.


Then, the World Commission on Environment and Development, established at the initiative of the UN Secretary General and under the leadership of Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, published the report “Our Common Future” in 1987. In the report, five issues were brought to the international agenda based on the idea of meeting current development needs without compromising the needs of future generations. These issues include: 1)current needs should not be sacrificed to meet future needs; 2) the economic future of humanity depends on the economical use of natural wealth, the protection of the environment, and the richness of the ecosystem as a whole; 3) the current economic system of the world is not considered sustainable, as it does not meet the needs of many people, especially the poor; 4) environmental protection will be impossible as long as it does not improve the economic situation of the poorest people on Earth; and 5) given the right of the future generations to meet their own needs, we, the people, must create as many opportunities as possible for them to exercise this right, provide as much support as we can, and not deny our assistance.


Twenty years later, UNEP’s activities expanded. Adopted at the UN Earth Summit on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Agenda 21 further strengthened the conceptual value of sustainable development globally. This large-scale document emphasized the need to align development issues with environmental protection in all UN programs. Considering the development problems of the modern era, the Agenda 21 called upon the international community to be ready for the challenges of the next century. Thus, consensus was reached on political commitments at the highest level in the field of development and environmental partnership, and this has gone down in history as the first example of international negotiations to ensure global environmental balance. In addition, a number of important international documents on environmental protection and sustainable development have been adopted since 1990s with the participation of the United Nations. Examples of such documents are: the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (both adopted in 1992), the Kyoto Protocol on Limiting Greenhouse Gas Emissions (adopted in 1997 as a supplement to the Framework Convention and brought into force in 2005), the Convention to Combat Desertification (developed on the direct recommendation of the Agenda 21 and adopted in Paris in 1994), and the Aarhus Convention of the UN Economic Commission for Europe on access to information on environmental issues, public participation in decision-making and access to justice (adopted in 1998). 


Social, economic and environmental processes occurring in the new context of market economy have created the necessity to set up adequate mechanisms based on modern challenges and to adopt documents and carry out programs and activities reflecting international recommendations, norms and standards, in order to ensure sustainable development. Adopted for this purpose as part of the Millennium Summit in 2000, the Millennium Declaration and Millennium Development Goals breathed new life into sustainable development issues and environmental priorities. In particular, the Johannesburg Declaration - the final document of the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002 -brought up “umbrella goals” at national, regional and global levels as a successful global step in the overall development process.


The final document titled The Future We Want, which was adopted at the Rio+20: Sustainable Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 with the support of the UN Member States and which defines clear practical mechanisms to carry out the process of ensuring human development in post-2015, created the basis for the idea of developing Sustainable Development Goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals.

Thus, in accordance with the UN General Assembly’s relevant resolution (A/RES/70/1) of September 25, 2015, the next document in the field of sustainable development, titled 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, was adopted. The 2030 Agenda consists of 169 targets under 17 goals to ensure the sustainability of global development for the next 15 years by changing people’s lives and protecting our planet.