Three: Origins and critiques of sustainable development

Restricted access
Rights and permissions Cite this chapter

In the 1960s and 1970s increasing numbers of scientists and environmentalists began to argue that economic growth was imposing an unacceptable cost on the natural environment. They suggested that Western consumption habits, the rise in global population and economic growth should be constrained. At the same time, developing-world leaders were arguing that their countries should receive a better deal from international society. They argued that environmental concerns were less important than the goal of addressing poverty through economic development (UN 1997, 2). The Brundtland Commission and its report, Our common future (WCED 1987; see Chapter One) responded to these debates by arguing that sustainable development requires increased economic activity in order to promote human development that is not environmentally destructive. For those who held that industrial society was the cause of environmental problems, this argument was surprising and counterintuitive. This chapter looks back at these debates in order to understand why the concept of sustainable development seemed to be a breakthrough and why the goal—if not always the practice—of sustainable development was accepted by many governments. Debates over ‘limits to growth’ that were prompted by the early environmental movement are examined in this chapter, as are arguments between the developed and developing worlds about the appropriate balance between environmental protection and economic development. The chapter helps to expose the broader global context and shift toward sustainability and related environmental policies that have affected Hong Kong and China more generally. The ambivalence with which sustainable development is embraced in these places is, put simply, a reflection of a broader ambivalence revealed by the emergence of the concept over the last half century.

Content Metrics

May 2022 onwards Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 298 272 13
Full Text Views 1 1 0
PDF Downloads 0 0 0