By Panitchpakdi, Supachai
International Trade Forum , No. 2
In 1987, sustainable development was denned by the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission) as 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. It was only in 1992, though, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, that this was introduced as a shared, global vision for development. Twenty years on, at last year's Rio+20 Conference, the global community reaffirmed its commitment to this vision, and its outcome in a document entitled The Future We Want.
Sustainable development is above all about human development for the current generation and for future generations, through a process of economic transformation based on the sustainable use of the natural environment. Central to sustainable development are three interlocking dimensions--economic, social and environmental--that should be promoted in a balanced manner.
International trade and sustainable development are intrinsically linked. International trade acts as a bridge between production and consumption at the local, national, regional and global levels. The manner in which international trade is conducted can foster a process of economic transformation--through production, consumption and trade--that is socially inclusive and equitable, environmentally friendly and economically sustainable. In fact, UNCTAD figures show that international trade is already responsible for a large portion of countries' economic income: in developed countries this accounts for about one-fifth of income and one-third of developing countries' income.
The role of international trade in development has been recognized by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) since its creation in 1964, and was reaffirmed most recently at UNCTAD XIII (held in 2012), where member states adopted the Doha Mandate, which emphasizes that economic transformation spearheaded by globalization should be focused on delivering development that is people-centred, inclusive and sustainable. The potential contribution of international trade to sustainable development is also highlighted in several multilateral environmental agreements and human rights conventions.
Current and future challenges
The past two decades have witnessed radical changes in social, economic and environmental areas. The world economy has expanded by around 170%, the Earth's population has grown from approximately 5 billion to 7 billion people, and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has doubled--from US$ 4,500 to more than US$ 9,000. All this has led to increased consumption by enterprises and people, placing additional strain on the environment.
Climate change is a major threat that is set to further exacerbate existing problems, such as desertification and biodiversity loss. Human activities have increased the concentrations of greenhouse gases, which are already changing the climate. Leading research institutions, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, predict that global temperature could rise by between 2[degrees]C and 6[degrees]C by 2100. Climate change will have a significant impact on the environment, the economy and society. Increasing natural resource scarcity--water, biodiversity, tropical forests, fish, croplands, and many metals and minerals--necessitates a focus on their sustainable use. The release of harmful and persistent pollutants from mining, manufacturing, sewage, energy, transport and agriculture remains a problem for ecosystems and human health.
More than 1 billion people still live in extreme poverty. Access to basic services such as energy, water, housing, transportation, communications, healthcare and education must be improved, in view of these remaining social challenges:
* Over 800 million people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water;
* Over 2. …