Sustainable Development Fair Share of Environmental Space

In 1962, Silent Spring raised increasing concern among the public, academia, and politicians about environmental degradation and has helped to pave the way for the United Nation Conference on the Human and Environment in Stockholm in 1972.

In 1972, the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth. This report describes the consequences of economic and

Table 5 World production of selected minerals, 2003


Iron ore

Pig iron



Manganese ore


Copper Refinery








Nonmetals Salt

Phosphate rock Lime

Sand, gravel, industrial silica







Production (thousand tons)

1 160000



27 700

23 200

15 500

15 200








210000 137 000 120000 110000 102000 61 800 41 000 11 900 10 800 6520

Asbestos 2160

Diatomite 1950

demographic development on natural resources. The study predicted that if the pattern of population growth, industrialization, food production, and resource depletion remained unchanged, investment in the economies could not keep pace with the depreciation rate and the economies would breakdown. As a consequence, food production and medical care would also fall. The outcome could be described as an ecological and economical collapse.

To investigate the geopolitical impacts of these trends, the UN established in 1983 the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). One of the groundbreaking documents of this commission is Our Common Future (1987). Next to different analyses of the environmental-economics relationship at a global scale, the report called for changing the course of the world development toward 'sustainable development'.

Sustainable development entails economic, social, and environmental components, each of which must be 'sustainable' before the whole system can achieve sustain-ability. The notion of 'sustainable development' offers a direction for development which will fulfill the human needs for a better life and at the same time protect the Earth's resources and its life-supporting systems.

Sustainable development also entails different aspects. Spatially, sustainable development is a global issue. Although it is encouraged to act locally, individual isolated sustainability will not automatically result in the sustainability of the world. Temporally, sustainable development extends over generations. Considerations for economical, social, and environmental wellbeing are not only limited to the present generation but also include future generations. There is no final definition of the temporal extent of sustainable development. Therefore, it calls for precaution in all human activities to ensure that the well-being of the present generations is not achieved by compromising future generations' well-being.

Although the sustainable development concept seems to be promising, there are still many questions that the world must answer, such as how to achieve sustainable development, and how to measure and monitor its progress.

Several methods for indicators to measure sustainable development were proposed. Each of them has its own merits. The concept of environmental space offers a tool to quantify targets for sustainable development strategies. The general principle is to live within one's environmental space. This principle can be applied at individual level as well as at regional or national level.

The concept ofenvironmental space is also a supplement to the sustainable development concept when it comes to spatial scales. By definition, sustainable development occurs at different scales, from local to regional and international. However, the interaction between these scales was poorly understood. One cannot say how much sustainability at a local scale could contribute to the sustainability at a regional scale and vice versa. As environmental space can be calculated at different levels, individual, country, regional, or global, it could help in elevating the dilemma of sustainable development on the integration of spatial scales.

Sustainable development can be achieved by giving people and generations a fair share of the environmental space. As 'environmental space' can be quantified for some core resources, it can be used to build concrete targets and indicators to assess sustainable development, along with other methods such as 'ecological footprint' and 'carrying capacity'.

Currently, as discussed earlier, industrialized countries use larger environmental spaces than developing countries and also larger spaces than what is sustainable. The consumption ofnatural resources should be reduced and used more effectively. Emphasis should be on the equitable distribution of well-being and opportunities should be made available for the poor and the underprivileged. Improvement in education and healthcare will bring those people with more chances to use their environmental space in a more efficient and ecofriendly manner.

By reviewing the environmental space, each nation can re-assess its progress in using natural resources toward sustainable development, based on which adaptation could be made to associated policies and programs.

However, environmental space focuses only on environmental resources. Although it contains elements of social equity (equal distribution inter- and intragenerations) and economic development (through the notion of ensuring basic living standard), it does not quantify social and economic indicators for sustainable development. These aspects need to be complemented by other methods.

See also: Biodiversity; Carrying Capacity; Ecological Footprint; Ecosystem Ecology; Ecosystem Services; Limits to Growth; Sustainable Development.

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