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Introduction to Sustainability

During the last 25 years the world has become aware of the environmental problems its development is causing. Significantly, some of these problems are now affecting the entire Earth. Air pollution from energy production, transportation and the consumption of natural resources and production of waste is reducing air quality in many areas, and causing acid rain, global warming and ozone depletion. Governments began to recognise that the level of environmental degradation current practices of economic development were having could not be sustained without significant impacts upon future generations.

In 1987 the Brundtland Report recognised that economic development taking place today could no longer compromise the development needs of future generations. This concept of sustainable development aimed to encourage people to reflect on the harm economic development was having on both the environment and on society. Building upon this, the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 represented a major step forward towards the goal of achieving sustainability, with international agreements made on climate change, forests and biodiversity. Out of the Earth Summit came Agenda 21, a blueprint for sustainability in the 21st century. By championing the concept of sustainable development, Agenda 21 provides a framework for tackling today’s social and environmental problems, including air pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, health, overpopulation, poverty, energy consumption, waste production and transport issues.

Agenda 21 requires each country to draw up a national strategy of sustainable development. Following Agenda 21 the UK Strategy bases its vision of sustainable development on social equality, environmental protection, conservation and preservation of natural resource and maintenance of high employment and economic growth. This strategy is implemented through the framework of local government via Local Agenda 21, engaging local communities to become part of the process, and monitored by a series of sustainability indicators.

There are many things we can do to become more sustainable. We can cut down on our use of energy which comes from the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels in power stations, and use what energy we do need more efficiently. We can recycle some of the waste we generate and try to limit the amount we produce in the first place. And we can consider adopting more environmentally friendly forms of transport, such as walking and cycling or public transport. At the same time, Governments and industries can investigate cleaner ways of generating electricity, using renewable energy resources like wind power, solar power, hydroelectric power, biofuels, geothermal energy, tidal power and wave power.