Why Should We Pursue Integrated Sustainable Development?

Written by Kristin Olofsson

 “It is important to reclaim for humanity the ground that has been taken from it by various arbitrarily narrow formations of the demands of rationality.”

– Amartya Sen, Rationality and Freedom

Why should we pursue integrated sustainable development? Why is it important that development is not only sustainable but also integrated? In our first week of classes, we attempted to uncover the reasons why it is not just sufficient but also necessary that development is both sustainable and integrated.

The global population is shifting from rural to urban areas; for the first time in history, more people live in urban areas than in rural areas. As urban infrastructures address the massive influx of humans and their needs, weaknesses in development planning are coming to the forefront. It is no longer sufficient to just provide every person with 50 liters of water a day or to ensure that GDP per capita is larger this year than last. We must consider the entirety of the development actions we take: for example, building more infrastructure to handle increasing populations may be necessary, but the potential negative impacts on, for example, health and vulnerability must also be taken into account, which is why we need integrated sustainable development to better understand the totality of our actions.

Resource scarcity is a real and present problem. We can’t constantly seek new supplies; we have to better control our basic demand requirements, which is why we need integrated sustainable development. What has been missing in the development dialogue is the acknowledgement that while increasing amounts of resources may be needed for development (although this is questionable after a certain point), the use of these resources for enhancements in living standards can in itself be harmful to health or the environment. This in turn could ultimately impede the very economic growth and development we were trying to achieve, which is why we need integrated sustainable development.

When we embody all contributions, direct and indirect, in analysis of use patterns and consumption, suddenly the true “footprint” of development appears. It becomes obvious that sustainable development – development that is long lasting, climate compatible and equitable – requires multi-scale, cross-sector, transboundary and pragmatic integration.

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