Sustainable development, sustainability or environmental stewardship are all terms that refer to the relationship between environmental protection and the economic development associated with industrial society. Just as the early public health legislation of the nineteenth century was a reaction against disease associated with slum housing, so in the 1990s the introduction of sustainable development was a reaction to the environmental degradation of the latter half of the twentieth century, which is associated with pollution, depletion of non-renewable resources (fossil fuels, minerals, aggregates), erosion of the ozone layer, pollution and the warming of the Earth's atmosphere because of the production of carbon dioxide (global warming). Consequently the world's climate will change, with profound implications for agricultural production (as some areas become more arid and others more wet) and the ability of cities to support their populations (with limited water or energy supplies). In the UK it has been forecast 1 that by 2020 average temperatures will increase by 1°C, increasing to 1.5° by 2050. Average global surface temperature has increased by between 0.4° and 0.8°C since the end of the nineteenth century. Between 1860 (when records began) and 2000, eight of the 10 hottest years on record fell within the 10-year period after 1990 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2002). The evidence for such climate change is compelling. Such rises may appear inconsequential in themselves but the resulting climatic change could produce more erratic weather systems, so that winter storms and flooding in the UK would be more commonplace.
Sustainable development is difficult to define and can mean different things to different people. As a subject area it deals with the relationship between economic growth and environmental protection. In some ways it represents a marriage between these two issues, seeking to ensure that future economic growth and development is achieved without longer-term environmental degradation. As Blowers (1993:5) suggests:
Sustainable development requires that we have regard to the Earth's regenerative capacity, the ability of its systems to recuperate and maintain productivity. Thus, the conservation of resources is a strong component of sustainable development.
The following definition, provided by the United Nations World Commission, commonly referred to as the Brundtland Commission after its