AFFIRMATIVE: Charlotte Hughes


In light of the recent COP21 talks and Paris agreement, I think we can all agree that sustainable development is on the right track. The key elements of the agreement include, but are not limited to:

• To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century

• To keep global temperature increase “well below” 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees C

• To review progress every five years

• $100bn a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future

This agreement represents a historical first for a number of reasons. This is the single largest international agreement on climate change history has ever seen. Nearly 200 countries sat together and not only admitted that climate change was real, but that it is caused by humans, and that it is the responsibility of this generation, not the next, to fix it. This may seem like common knowledge to a lot of us, but this is a first in history consensus. Although this agreement is still young, it is symbolic, it is a turning point. The last agreement of this nature, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, didn’t even have the world’s largest emitter, America, on board.

This agreement represents a change in sentiment. Everyone is getting on board. Vancouver City plans to utilise 100% renewable energy sources by 2050. Seoul has invested $43 million dollars in installing solar PV panels on 285 public buildings. Fechenheim power station in Frankfurt is powered by waste biomass, delivering electricity to 20,000 households. Need I go on?

In addition to this, green innovation and sustainable technology is becoming more advanced by the second. With corporate social responsibility becoming more and more important, the world’s biggest companies are joining the sustainable development movement. Conventional renewable energy sources are becoming cheaper, more effective and more easy to install. Modern green technologies are on the rise as well. The electric car is a thing- London plans to install 6,000 charging points and 3,000 battery-powered cars by 2018. Sustainable development is creating jobs in sustainable development.

The future is looking bright. Although it won’t be easy, regular check-ups and greater accountability combined with a more cohesive sentiment and burgeoning technology sector– how could it not work?


NEGATIVE: Hannah Lambert


Sustainable development has been widely embraced on a global institutional level. The concept of sustainable development has been called ‘the mantra that launched a thousand conferences.’ To date, governments have adopted more than 170 environmental treaties in attempt to facilitate sustainable development. However, these institutional progressions have failed to make any real progress. This is because of the underlying neoliberal and pro-market ideologies that dictate the sustainable development process, viewing SD as being achieved only in conjunction with economic growth. This, coupled with the overwhelming power of global corporations as well as the inherent failure of international institutions to address the West’s over-consumption, have led to the imminent failure of sustainable development’s aim to combat climate change. My argument will be realist in nature, stating that the current method of working towards sustainable development on a global institutional level is flawed due to the overriding pursuit of Western interests.

Firstly, the ideological mismatch. The global capitalist economy we live in has defined sustainable development to suit its own needs. The capitalist interpretation of sustainable development is rooted in the 1987 Brundtland Report that defined sustainable development as:

“… the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This definition has been used and re-used since its conception. It is problematic for two central reasons. Primarily, its ambiguous analysis has allowed enough wriggle room for the concept to be widely embraced and misused by business owners and governments alike in the pursuit of their own agendas. This has allowed power to be put in the hands of large transnational corporations that benefit from unsustainable methods of production such as environmentally degrading technology and cheap labor, exploiting the poor and further diminishing living standards in developing countries. With the dominant global ideology stressing unlimited growth, sustainable development is nothing more than a green cloak used to sugar-coat the continual destruction of our planet.

Secondly, sustainable development is largely unachievable as the current methods are fundamentally unsustainable due to the failure of institutions to recognise perhaps the most prominent cause of environmental degradation, the over-consumption of developed countries. The 1996 Independent Commission on Population and Quality of Life concluded that 5 planet earths would be needed to support a world that consumes as much energy and other resources of today’s industrialised countries. Although there has been some recent progressions targeting global carbon emissions, there remains much to be done.

On a more local level, the discourse of ‘green consumerism’ has been created by corporations in attempt to ‘individualise’ environmental problems by reassuring consumers that you don’t have to consume less to save the environment. By providing consumers with the option to by “ECO-FRIENDLY 100% DEGRADABLE” products, it creates the illusion that one can avoid sacrifice while still solving the environmental crisis.

Therefore, unless there is far greater regulation of global corporations, far greater accountability of governments to uphold their emissions targets and a far greater social shift around the notion of consumption– sustainable development will never exist.


What do you think?



Is sustainable development achievable?

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'DEBATE' has 1 comment

  1. December 27, 2015 @ 12:55 am Rin

    Sustainability is minimised down to bite sized pieces energy – environment – which also has the effect of making it “cute” and “cuddly” ah well let’s see shall we be sustainable or not? The real question is can life be sustained on planet earth? Which when put starkly then seems an almost incredibly stupid question!? – er do I want to live? Do I want my environment to survive? Er Im not sure can we “debate” this for another bloody 40 years…..we all need to just get off our bums and start getting to grips with our love affair of consumerism which is helping corporates stay in power!!!
    – who are never going to put people and planet first over profit – but heck we are still buying shit so why does their market need to change? We always absent the most vital component from the sustainable question – ourselves – from how we travel to how we heat our homes and everything in between the markets and world leaders who have investment in those corporations – only follows our consumption choices if we don’t buy it THEY WONT SELL IT – so I wholeheartedly believe until roughly all 9billion of us living on this planet make personal choices to go back in time a bit and tread more lightly on this garden of Eden were going to end up on Noah’s ark as those waters rise….that’s if it isn’t too hot or too cold to survive – things are changing and waters are rising so carry on debating for another 40 years while the world is already doing what it’s going to do from the lack of action that’s already happened since we knew there was a hole in the ozone melting white matter since about 40 years ago


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