Volume 1, Issue 1 (2013)

Papers published:

doi: 10.12924/cis2013.01010001 | Volume 1 (2013) | Issue 1
Juergen Peter Kropp
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany
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Publication Date: 10 May 2013
Abstract: Sustainability science is a young discipline that started emerging in the late 20th century, although Hans Carl von Carlowitz had already introduced ideas about sustainable management of forests in the early 18th century. In recent times, the Club of Rome report in 1972 and the Brundtland report in 1987 developed these concepts further, and subsequently the sustainability idea became prominent in political debates as well. In both reports it was recognized that growth would have certain limits and a different style of resource utilization was therefore necessary. However, despite numerous approaches dealing with sustainability, it is still an important issue.

doi: 10.12924/cis2013.01010003 | Volume 1 (2013) | Issue 1
Alexander Lautensach 1, * and Sabina Wanda Lautensach 2
1 School of Education, University of Northern British Columbia, Terrace, BC, Canada
2 Human Security Institute, Terrace, BC, Canada
* Corresponding author
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Publication Date: 10 May 2013
Abstract: Efforts and programs toward aiding sustainable development in less affluent countries are primarily driven by the moral imperative to relieve and to prevent suffering. This utilitarian principle has provided the moral basis for humanitarian intervention and development aid initiatives worldwide for the past decades. It takes a short term perspective which shapes the initiatives in characteristic ways. While most development aid programs succeed in their goals to relieve hunger and poverty in ad hoc situations, their success in the long term seems increasingly questionable, which throws doubt on the claims that such efforts qualify as sustainable development. This paper aims to test such shortfall and to find some explanations for it. We assessed the economic development in the world’s ten least affluent countries by comparing their ecological footprints with their biocapacities. This ratio, and how it changes over time, indicates how sustainable the development of a country or region is, and whether it risks ecological overshoot. Our results confirm our earlier findings on South-East Asia, namely that poor countries tend to have the advantage of greater sustainability. We also examined the impact that the major development aid programs in those countries are likely to have on the ratio of footprint over capacity. Most development aid tends to increase that ratio, by boosting footprints without adequately increasing biocapacity. One conceptual explanation for this shortfall on sustainability lies in the Conventional Development Paradigm, an ideological construct that provides the rationales for most development aid programs. According to the literature, it rests on unjustified assumptions about economic growth and on the externalisation of losses in natural capital. It also rests on a simplistic version of utilitarianism, usually summed up in the principle of  ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’. We suggest that a more realistic interpretation of sustainability necessitates a revision of that principle to ‘ the minimum acceptable amount of good for the greatest sustainable number’. Under that perspective, promoting the transition to sustainability becomes a sine qua non condition for any form of ‘development’.

doi: 10.12924/cis2013.01010016 | Volume 1 (2013) | Issue 1
Thorvald Moe 1 , Knut Halvor Alfsen 1, * and Mads Greaker 2
1 Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO), Oslo, Norway
2 Statistics Norway, Oslo, Norway
* Corresponding author
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Publication Date: 12 May 2013
Abstract: Measuring sustainable development based on analytical models of growth and development and modern methods of growth accounting is an economic approach—often called the capital approach – to establishing sustainable development indicators (SDIs). Ecological approaches may be combined with the capital approach, but there are also other approaches to establishing sustainable development indicators—for example the so-called integrated approach. A recent survey of the various approaches is provided in UNECE, OECD and Eurostat [1]. This review note is not intended to be another survey of the various approaches. Rather the objective of this paper is twofold: to present an update on an economic approach to measuring sustainable development—the capital approach—and how this approach may be combined with the ecological approach; to show how this approach is actually used as a basis for longer-term policies to enhance sustainable development in Norway—a country that relies heavily on non-renewable natural resources. We give a brief review of recent literature and set out a model of development based on produced, human, natural and social capital, and the level of technology. Natural capital is divided into two parts—natural capital produced and sold in markets (oil and gas)—and non-market natural capital such as clean air and biodiversity. Weak sustainable development is defined as non-declining welfare per capita if the total stock of a nation's capital is maintained. Strong sustainable development is if none of the capital stocks, notably non-market natural capital, is reduced below critical or irreversible levels. Within such a framework, and based on Norwegian experience and statistical work, monetary indexes of national wealth and its individual components including real capital, human capital and market natural capital are presented. Limits to this framework and to these calculations are then discussed, and we argue that such monetary indexes should be sustainable development indicators (SDIs) of non-market natural capital, and physical SDIs, health capital and social capital. Thus we agree with the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission [2] that monetary indexes of capital should be combined with physical SDIs of capital that have no market prices. We then illustrate the policy relevance of this framework, and how it is actually being used in long term policy making in Norway—a country that relies heavily on non-renewable resources like oil and gas. A key sustainability rule for Norwegian policies is to maintain the total future capital stocks per capita in real terms as the country draws down its stocks of non-renewable natural capital —applying a fiscal guideline akin to the Hartwick rule.

doi: 10.12924/cis2013.01010027 | Volume 1 (2013) | Issue 1
Barry Ness
Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), Lund University, Lund, Sweden
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Publication Date: 21 May 2013
Abstract: I am honored to contribute an editorial for the inaug­ural issue of Challenges in Sustainability (CiS). It has provided the opportunity for me to take a step back and reflect on both the developmental progress in the field of sustainability science since its formal launch, now over twelve years ago [1,2], and where the field might head in coming years. While it may always feel that the field is changing too slowly to keep up with the challenges it addresses, the developments have been noteworthy, especially in academia. I will discuss three areas: education, research and institutional development.

doi: 10.12924/cis2013.01010029 | Volume 1 (2013) | Issue 1
François Mancebo
International Research Center on Sustainability (IRCS), Reims University, Reims, France
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Publication Date: 18 June 2013
Abstract: A lot can be learned from the numerous pitfalls of sustainable development implementation: they outline how collective representation, short term interests and balance of power can undermine sustainability. For instance, the usefulness of global institutions in dealing with sustainable development is questionable as most are skewed toward the interests and perceptions of developed countries. The notion of sustainable development itself induces a profound cleavage between academic authors and the actors of its implementation, some of whom confuse it with sustainable growth (which favors spatial equity), whilst the others with environment management (which favors intergenerational equity). This polarization is a real problem, since originally, "Our Common Future" report promotes an inclusive approach, able to cope with both equities simultaneously. Finally, if there are obligations toward future generations, there are also obligations toward the current generation. The key issue for effective sustainability policies should be making them acceptable to everyone by including the expectations of local societies and communities. As a matter of consequence, universal solutions do not exist. They would not meet the specificities of local circumstances. The traditional prescriptive sustainable development model should give way to flexible plural sustainabilities. Singular, top-down, global-to-local approaches to sustainable development should be substituted for multiple sustainabilities.

doi: 10.12924/cis2013.01010041 | Volume 1 (2013) | Issue 1
Bart Muys 1, 2
1 Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Leuven, Belgium
2 European Forest Institute, Mediterranean Regional Office, Barcelona, Spain
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Publication Date: 12 July 2013
Abstract: The dominant paradigm of sustainable development (SD) where the environment is just the third pillar of SD has proven inadequate to keep humanity within the safe operational space determined by biophysical planetary boundaries. This implies the need for a revised definition compatible with a nested model of sustainable development, where humanity forms part of the overall social-ecological system, and that would allow more effective sustainable development goals and indicators. In this paper an alternative definition is proposed based on the thermodynamics of open systems applied to ecosystems and human systems. Both sub- systems of the global social-ecological system show in common an increased capability of buffering against disturbances as a consequence of an internal increase of order. Sustainable development is considered an optimization exercise at different scales in time and space based on monitoring the change in the exergy content and exergy dissipation of these two sub- systems of the social-ecological system. In common language it is the increase of human prosperity and well-being without loss of the structure and functioning of the ecosystem. This definition is functional as it allows the straightforward selection of quantitative indicators, discerning sustainable development from unsustainable development, unsustainable stagnation and sustainable retreat. The paper shows that the new definition is compatible with state of the art thinking on ecosystem services, the existence of regime shifts and societal transitions, and resilience. One of the largest challenges in applying the definition is our insufficient understanding of the change in ecosystem structure and function as an endpoint indicator of human action, and its effect on human prosperity and well-being. This implies the continued need to use midpoint indicators of human impact and related thresholds defining the safe operating space of the present generation with respect to future generations. The proposed definition can be considered a valuable complement to the recently emerged nested system discourse of sustainable development, by offering a more quantitative tool to monitor and guide the transition of human society towards a harmonious relationship with the rest of the biosphere.

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