The Origins of Shared Global Development Goals
The phrase “sustainable development” is now a part of the common lexicon of politicians and civil society. Although one can trace the roots of this concept (at least in the West) to ideas developed in Europe concerning forest management as far back as the 17th century, it is only in the latter half of the 20th century that it became a key theme of the environmental movement, with the realization that economic systems need to fit into a common global ecological system that contains a limited pool of resources. One of the earliest modern expressions of the concept dates to the famous 1972 Club of Rome report entitled The Limits to Growth . This study addressed the question of how long it would take to reach the limits of growth on Earth if the growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continued unchanged. For such a scenario the authors predicted a global collapse within a century. However, they also believed that it would be possible to avoid such a catastrophe by marrying economic and environmental concerns:
It is possible to alter these growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future. The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his individual human potential.
The same year that The Limits to Growth study was published, the U. N. Conference on the Human Environment was convened in Stockholm, Sweden, to consider questions concerning the environment and economic and human development. The concept of sustainable development, as it is most widely understood today, derives from the definition contained in the report Our Common Future, commonly called the Brundtland Report, which was released by the U. N. World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 .
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
• The concept of ‘needs’, in particular, the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
• The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.
–World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (1987)
beyond environmental concerns, to a more socially inclusive and intergenerational perspective on environmentally sustainable economic growth. Indeed there are now evolving concepts of law that involve the idea of intergenerational rights.
In 1992 the first U. N. Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio. The main outcome of this conference was “Agenda 21,” a non-binding, voluntary action plan for the United Nations and other multilateral organizations and individual governments around the world that can be executed at local, national, and global levels.
Despite all the challenges posed by small satellites to the long-term sustainability of the space environment, particularly with regard to the proliferation of orbital space debris, they also hold out great promise to support the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The key word in both contexts is sustainable, underpinning the fact that, increasingly, human and environmental security on Earth is underpinned by safety and security in outer space.