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The Challenges of Sustainable Development

Note : A slightly edited version of this article appears in the Spanish August/September issue of the journal Foreign Policy . A broadly accepted definition of “sustainability” is that put forward by the Brundtland Commission convened by the United Nations 25 years ago, which stated that sustainable development is development “that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” One implication of the core idea embodied in this definition is that sustainability is not a goal to be reached, but rather a balance to be maintained across space and time in which there are complex interactions at play between the environment, the economy, human institutions and values. [ 1 ] Two central questions in this debate are: what has actually happened to development during the past half a century and are we on a sustainable development path? Development as a global objective for improving human welfare is a relatively recent concept. I