The notion of development which took place at the top of the world’s agenda alongside the rising of industry in 18th century, brought along the increasing needs of production and consumption. Over time, these needs had led to a widespread approach to depletion of natural and human resources in a "non-bound" manner, and this approach had been increasingly criticized. Those critics, along with the political atmosphere of the 1970s, have triggered the need to establish a balance between development and the natural environment all around the world. This whole atmosphere has laid the groundwork for the concept of sustainability to become the main topic of conversations. After the 1970s, the notion of development was now going to be commemorated with the concept of sustainability, and the concept of sustainability was going to be owned by many organizations around the world. The United Nations is at the forefront of those organizations (Caradonna, 2014).
In the beginning, the concept of sustainability, which was mentioned in the United Nations Brundtland Report for the first time in 1987, was used at the outset in a way that was identical to sustainable development and was described as "development that meets today's requirements without sacrificing today's ability to meet the needs of future generations." Prior to this definition, in 1713 the use of the concept outside of development discussions first took place in German in the field of forestry, in the sense that it does not harvest more than the forest can regenerate (Kuhlman & Farrington, 2010).
The first major breaking point before reaching the definition we use today and in the Brundtland Report is shown as the report named "Limits of Growth". The report, taken by the Roman club in 1972, draws attention to the fact that the relationship between the economy and the natural environment is an addictive relationship, and gives inputs about the destruction that development has made on nature. Following this report, the "United Nations Conference on the Human Environment" held in Stockholm in 1972 was the first event on the global scale that incorporated the concept of sustainable development into the context of environment and development. In the conference, the discussions were about the environmental problems that industrialized countries caused in developed countries and their impact on development, the unique situation of developing countries and solutions to these problems. After this conference, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was established (BCSD Turkey, 2017).
Following those pioneer events “UN-HABITAT I Conference” was held, “The World Protection Strategy” by UNEP was released, “United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development” was established in 1983, and the sustainability concept became “popular” literally alongside Brutland Report was released in 1987.
Another major breaking point in the concept of sustainability comes when the concept is not only confined to the environment but is also discussed in many other fields. The beginning of the widespread debate is the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Rio Conference, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a result of this conference, Agenda 21, a projected action plan for voluntary implementation of the participants, is announced and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCDB) and the United Nations Climate Change and Environment Convention (UNFCCC) are emerging. After this date in 1995 “Population and Development Conference” was held by UN in Cairo the capital of Egypt. With this conference, the relationship between population and development was discussed in global scale again. In 1996, “UN-HABITAT II Conference” was held in Istanbul. This conference draws attention to the relationship between the sustainability concept and human settlements (Tıraş, 2012). As it’s seen in this context, the sustainability concept which was discussed only within the frame of the environment and environmental issues before Rio Conference in 1992, began to be discussed considering the economy and the society after this conference.
The "UN Millennium Summit", which took place in 2000, is shown as the next and the most important breaking point of deepening the discussions on the content and the diversity of sustainable development.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 8 items, which were announced after the summit in New York, considered as the reflections of the discussions on the concept of sustainability up to the year 2000.
The first developments after the publication of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were drawing attention to the role of the private sector, which was not included in these targets, and the development of the UN and states' relations with the private sector. With the Global Compact established for this purpose, certain activities based on MDGs were started to take place between the UN and companies. However, although such developments point to a positive direction, the scope of the objectives is rather broad and the applicability is low, which brings about to increase the debates over time.
At the same time, it has been pointed out that the terms used in the targets and the deficiencies in the methods of measurement (such as the calculation of poverty based on the gross national product), the lack of consideration of the main causes of poverty, gender equality and development are not addressed in detail, factors such as coverage of only developing countries give the signals that the MDGs need to be addressed again (Saith, 2006).
The global targets that will be valid from 2015 to 2030, and the Sustainable Development Goals, are set to debate the MDGs at the summit in Rio in 2012. In the process of setting the targets, the UN consults both underdeveloped countries and the private sector. UN also includes the targets along with economic indicators in some issues such as gender equality, sustainable cities, fight against discrimination and human rights.
Sustainable Development Goals are now on the agenda of nearly all social groups on a global scale. And the concept, which has been discussed for many of the dimensions at both the global and regional levels for nearly 50 years, has become increasingly central. This mission points to the key role of the concept and reveals the importance of discussing it. In this sense, it is clear that the concept will continue its journey for a longer period of time.
Caraddona, J. (2014). From Concept to Movement. Sustainability, A History içinde. Oxford University Press.
Kuhlman, T., Farrington, J. (2010). What is Sustainability?, Sustainability, 2, 3436-3448.
Saith, A. (2006). From Universal Values to Millenium Development Goals: Lost in Translation, Development and Change, 37(6), 1167-1199.
BCSD Turkey. (2017). Sürdürülebilirlik Yolculuğumuz, 100 Maddede Sürdürülebilirlik Rehberi içinde.
Tıraş, H. H. (2012). Sürdürülebilir Kalkınma ve Çevre: Teorik Bir İnceleme. Danışma Kurulu/Advisory Board, 57.