Why India needs a unique approach to sustainability

DeFries, Ruth S.; Chhatre, Ashwini

When the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development propelled sustainable development into the lexicon in 1992, India’s population was about 900 million (United Nations 2019), 45% of the population lived below poverty line (World Bank 2019), and over 70% of the population lived in rural areas (United Nations 2018). Today, with its population approaching 1.4 billion, a decline of more than half in the proportion of people living in poverty, liberalized economy, mushrooming towns and cities, highways expanding across the country, and wide-spread aspirations for modern conveniences, the twentieth-century concept for sustainable development stands on its head.

Equity and social justice for the current generation are at least as essential as the 1990’s notion of intergenerational equity to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (Brundtland 1987). As environmental justice and the voices of those who have not shared in the benefits of economic growth have become stronger in the twenty-first century, no one-size-fits-all pathway to sustainable development applies across countries or all places within countries. India’s trajectory calls for its own type of sustainability, one that builds from its unique, sometimes paradoxical and mind-boggling complexity.

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Ecology, Economy and Society

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Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Published Here
January 28, 2022