1.4 Sustainability

Significant ideas:

  • All systems can be viewed through the lens of sustainability.
  • Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Environmental indicators and ecological footprints can be used to assess sustainability.
  • Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) play an important role in sustainable development.

Knowledge and understanding:

  1. Sustainability is the use and management of resources that allows full natural replacement of the resources exploited and full recovery of the ecosystems affected by their extraction and use.
  2. Natural capital is a term used for natural resources that can produce a sustainable natural income of goods or services.
  3. Natural income is the yield obtained from natural resources.
  4. Ecosystems may provide life-supporting services such as water replenishment, flood and erosion protection, and goods such as timber, fisheries, and agricultural crops.
  5. Factors such as biodiversity, pollution, population or climate may be used quantitatively as environmental indicators of sustainability. These factors can be applied on a range of scales, from local to global. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) gave a scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide using environmental indicators, as well as the scientific basis for action to conserve and use them sustainably.
  6. EIAs incorporate baseline studies before a development project is undertaken. They assess the environmental, social and economic impacts of the project, predicting and evaluating possible impacts and suggesting mitigation strategies for the project. They are usually followed by an audit and continued monitoring. Each country or region has different guidance on the use of EIAs.
  7. EIAs provide decision-makers with information in order to consider the environmental impact of a project. There is not necessarily a requirement to implement an EIA’s proposals, and many socio-economic factors may influence the decisions made.
  8. Criticisms of EIAs include: the lack of a standard practice or training for practitioners, the lack of a clear definition of system boundaries and the lack of inclusion of indirect impacts.
  9. An ecological footprint (EF) is the area of land and water required to sustainably provide all resources at the rate at which they are being consumed by a given population. If the EF is greater than the area available to the population, this is an indication of unsustainability.

Applications and skills:

  • Explain the relationship between natural capital, natural income and sustainability.
  • Discuss the value of ecosystem services to a society.
  • Discuss how environmental indicators such as MA can be used to evaluate the progress of a project to increase sustainability.
  • Evaluate the use of EIAs.
  • Explain the relationship between EFs and sustainability.

International-mindedness:

  • International summits and conferences aim to produce international tools (bodies, treaties, agreements) that address environmental issues.
  • EIAs vary across national borders.

Theory of knowledge:

  • EIAs incorporate baseline studies before a development project is undertaken—to what extent should environmental concerns limit our pursuit of knowledge?

Connections:

  • Human systems and resource use (topic 8)