Unsustainable myths

Reader's View
Page 2 

After having spent more than a decade at negotiating tables on sustainable development issues, I was intrigued by the discussions at the 2001 OECD Forum on Sustainable Development and the New Economy, and arguments in your various editions on the subject.

Sustainable development as a concept has clearly come a long way over the years and the phrase has become almost a by-word in political speeches, meetings and discussions. Yet, there remain varying levels of understanding of its meaning. “Sustainable development” and “environment” are not two different concepts, as some would have it. It is environmental management fully integrated in development planning that is the essence of sustainable development. It encompasses social, economic, cultural, religious, moral, scientific and technical dimensions.

This is reflected in the objectives of the two main sustainable development conventions on climate change and biological diversity which resulted from the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) process launched at Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

It is heartening to note a growing consensus on some key facts: that economic growth may in fact benefit from sustainable development; that many of the solutions to environmental degradation are regulatory ones; and that fears of exorbitant costs or lower standards of living are unfounded.

Still, I am disturbed by how little developing countries’ views have been represented in your discussions. Perhaps their views are misunderstood: that developing countries have low environmental standards; that they lack the capacity to undertake sustainable development planning; that poverty causes environmental degradation. These are myths to be dispelled.

The reality is that some multinationals investing in developing countries often undermine sustainable development initiatives instead of supporting them. Capacity-building for them is a tool for expanding market access and increasing profits. In fact, it is the unbridled pursuit of wealth, not the lack of it, that is the greater cause of environmental degradation. And it is commercial, sometimes illegal, logging by large companies that destroy forests, and not, as your editorial implies, the subsistence activities of the local population. Let us remember this as we prepare for the 10-year assessment of UNCED at Johannesburg this summer.

Bernarditas C. Muller,

Paris, France

©OECD Observer No 230, January 2002 

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017