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What is Global Sustainable Development?

Defining Global Sustainable Development

Global Sustainable Development is a contested concept with many different meanings. Despite the multiplicity of definitions that the term has generated, everyone involved in addressing the impact of development, the possibilities for a sustainable life, and the complex moral and ethical debates around globalisation agrees that we have reached a point where business as usual is no longer an option.

The most frequently quoted definition of Sustainable Development is from the Brundtland Report: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (United Nations Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, 1987).

What does Global Sustainable Development mean to you?

Access the transcript for this video.

We asked a few of our students what Global Sustainable Development means to them:

Daveena, GSD student

“Global Sustainable Development is all around us. It is in everything we do. From food to fashion, economy to environment, every action you have taken today will directly be linked to Global Sustainable Development. It is a way to acknowledge the past, accept the present and advance the future. It is for you, me and the rest of the world. How you shape it is up to you."

Daveena, final-year single honours GSD student

Joe, GSD student

“Global Sustainable Development is about more than just accomplishing a set of goals; it is a vision for the future. GSD seeks to challenge the status quo, change perceptions and encourage innovation; to empower communities, foster knowledge and protect the natural world. To accomplish this vision is to create a modern utopia, a world with no poverty, no hunger, no disease, where everyone has access to education, justice and a clean environment."

Joe, final-year single honours GSD student

Akshaya, GSD student

"Global Sustainable Development is learning about the history and present reality of global issues, challenging existing practice and collaborating with others to seek innovative, effective and inclusive solutions. It is a vision for the future of a socially and environmentally just world where all people have access to good health, quality education and decent work. Global Sustainable Development encompasses everything, from colonial legacies to microplastic pollution. It is a means of understanding the world through a transdisciplinary lens and utilising this knowledge and perspective to make real change."

Akshaya, final-year single honours GSD student

The Sustainable Development Goals

With the world’s population predicted to grow from six to almost ten billion between the years 2000 to 2050, the next few decades are set to witness significant transformations in economic growth, international relations, human development, biodiversity, human health, and social justice. With these transformations in mind, in 2015 the UN outlined the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), designed to empower governments, businesses, and individuals to work collectively towards a prosperous future for all.

The SDGs strike a balance between the critical theoretical questions of why inequality exists, whilst also demanding an unequivocal global response through policy and practice. We might, for example, consider why UNESCO predicts that 1.8 billion people are expected to live with absolute water scarcity by 2025? What economic, environmental, and social currents have given rise to this crisis? And what practical steps can be taken to solve it?

Each SDG has a measurable aim, designed to rebalance a particular global inequality, but they are all closely linked to each other. The shift towards affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), for example, cannot be achieved without considering the effect on industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG 9). Jeffrey Sachs, a leading voice in the movement for global sustainable development, sums this up:

“Taken as a whole package, the SDGs are meant to orient the world in clear, specific, measurable, concise, and understandable ways to help the world to make the shift from business as a new trajectory of sustainable development.”

Jeffrey Sachs, The Age of Sustainable Development (2015) p.489.

The movement for a more equal, prosperous and sustainable future

In order to secure “a new trajectory of sustainable development”, we need inspired leaders in all sectors of society, across the world. From working in a small local conservation charity to issuing policy advice for an international engineering firm, having a dedicated knowledge of the issues surrounding sustainable development has never been more valuable. To study Global Sustainable Development is to arm yourself with this knowledge and participate in the movement for a more equal, prosperous and sustainable future. That journey can begin here with us at the University of Warwick.