Definition :
In 1987, the Brundtland commission[1] defined Sustainable Development as the development that “meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This concept ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social challenges facing humanity.
Since then, the concept of sustainable development has been used extensively in multidisciplinary subject areas and in innumerable applications, sometimes confusing minds with its internal dualism about environmental conservation and social justice.

Evolution of the concept :
In 1992, the concept of Sustainable Development was recalled during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Rio Summit. At the end of the Summit, the Rio Declaration was issued. It contains 27 principles intended to guide the sustainable development around the world. Agenda 21, a joint program for implementing these principles was launched and has since then served as a benchmark for measuring achievements in the field of sustainable development.
Agenda 21 clearly identified information, integration, and participation as key building blocks to help countries achieve development that recognizes these interdependent pillars. It stresses the need to change from old sector-centred ways of doing business to new approaches that involve cross-sectoral co-ordination and the integration of environmental and social concerns into all development processes.
After Rio, the nature of the global environmental discourse has been reshaped, thus the post-Rio process has shown evidence that is not possible to think about environmental governance without taking into account a larger collection of development issues.
The broadening of the concept of sustainable development, embedding the social sphere, inspired both scholars and governments.
In 1996, the World Bank published a study by Ismail Selageldin [2] titled “Sustainability and the Wealth of Nations: First Steps in an Ongoing Journey”, where he brings the concept of sustainability more close to that of an opportunity; according to him “Sustainability is to leave future generations as many opportunities as we ourselves have, if not more”. He repositioned the sustainable development debate on the assumption that societies need to manage three types of capital (economic/man-made, natural, human and social), which may be non-substitutable and whose consumption might be irreversible.
While economic and natural capital have always been included in the definition of sustainable development, the introduction of the concepts of human capital (investment in people, health, education, nutrition) and social capital (degree of common identification and social cohesion) constitutes a turning point in shaping the meaning of sustainable development, also because they come from an economic-minded institution, the World Bank.

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In the years, new integrated indicators started to shed light on the interdependent relation between environment and development, giving more scientific clout to the sustainable development concept. These researches and evolutions culminated in the Millennium Declaration in 2000 and in the Johannesburg declaration [3](2002). The 2005 World Summit, meant as a follow-up summit meeting to the United Nations' 2000 Millennium Summit, lead to the creation of the World Summit Outcome Document, which was agreed to by the delegations that attended (191 heads of state); in this document it is stated that sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental aspects constitutes a key element of the overarching framework of UN activities.

[1] The Brundtland Commission, formally the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), known by the name of its Chair Gro Harlem Brundtland, was convened by the United Nations in 1987. The commission was created to address growing concern "about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development."
[2] Ismail Serageldin, currently the Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, formerly Vice-President for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development for the World Bank (1993-98)
[3] The outcome of the summit was the affirmation that a collective determination is needed to promote the three pillars of sustainable development (economic – social – environmental) as interdependent and mutually reinforcing

Europe: Towards a global partnership for sustainable development

In 2002, the European Union - which had already established an internal strategy for sustainable development in 2001 – decided to integrate it with identified strategic components from the “Global Deal” of the Johannesburg World Summit. This decision was made to address the need for a better balance between global market forces on the one hand and global governance and political institutions on the other, based on widespread participation of all stakeholders, in order to make globalization[4] sustainable.

The priority objectives identified in this strategy are:

  • Ensure that globalization contributes to sustainable development, by helping the Developing Countries to reap the benefits of trade and investment liberalization (as in the Doha Development Agenda[5])
  • Fighting poverty and promoting social development
  • Sustainable management of natural and environmental resources
  • Improving the coherence of EU policies
  • Better governance at all levels
  • Financing sustainable development (to attain the MDGs and reaching the target of 0.7% of GNI in Official Development Assistance)
In 2006 the EU issued its Renewed EU Sustainable Development strategy, which overall aim is to identify and develop actions to enable the EU to achieve continuous improvement of quality of life through the creation of sustainable communities, thus able to manage and use resources efficiently and to tap the ecological and social innovation potential of the economy, ensuring prosperity, environmental protection and social cohesion.
The key objectives stated in this strategy are: 1. Environmental protection, by promoting sustainable consumption and production to break the link between economic growth and environmental degradation; 2. Social Equity and cohesion, by promoting respect for fundamental rights and cultural diversity; 3. Economic Prosperity; 4. Meeting the international responsibilities.
The Policy Guiding principles are: 1. Promotion and protection of fundamental rights; 2. solidarity within and between generations; 3. Open and democratic society (includes access to information, to justice, to participatory channels); 4. Involvement of citizens; 5. Involvement of business and social partners; 6. Policy coherence and governance; 7. Policy integration; 8. Use best available knowledge; 9. Precautionary principle; 10. Make polluters pay.

[4] Globalization: rapid expansion in the movement of goods, services, capital, technology, ideas and people around the world.
[5] In Doha, the members of the WTO agreed to integrate developing countries more effectively into the trading system, progressing toward duty-free and quota-free market access for all products originating from LDCs, Agriculture support, setting objectives that embrace environmental, consumer, health concerns, and social development needs, capacity building and technical assistance, global governance

UNEP Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development

In 2001, the Mediterranean Countries and the European Community, in the occasion of the 12th Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, decided to prepare a Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development. In 2005, the UNEP[6] presented a Mediterranean Action Plan, meant to be the framework reference aiming to adapt international commitments to regional conditions, to guide national sustainable development strategies and to initiate a dynamic partnership between countries at different levels of development. This Strategy takes into account recent developments in regional cooperation, with particular reference to the Mediterranean Action Plan, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, the Arab Initiative for Sustainable Development and the EU Sustainable Development Strategy.
The EU Strategy directly concerns Mediterranean EU Member States and countries likely to become EU members. It also indirectly affects the EU’s Mediterranean neighbors in setting the requirement that all Community policies must respect as their priority, in our case, sustainable development.
Since the environment in the Mediterranean forms the basis for the development of the region, the Strategy focuses mainly on the integration of environmental concerns into key economic development sectors, while giving due consideration to social and cultural dimensions.
The main challenges to be faced in the area, in order to achieve sustainable development, are:
- the environmental challenge (urbanization, desertification, depletion of water resources, waste management, pollution and sea resources, over-exploitation of natural resources and loss in biodiversity, unsustainable production and consumption paths)
- the demographic ( ageing population in the north Vs demographic increase in the south), economic (dynamism and competitiveness of the enterprises, labor market integration), and social (literacy, gender equality, poverty, cultural capacity
- globalization, requires regional cooperation and efficient governance
- regional cooperation, uneven distributed among EU and non-EU members
From this perspective, the best chance for Mediterranean countries to compete successfully in the emerging multi-polar world is by joining forces and giving strength to an enlarged regional space.
Awareness will be raised among the people of the region of the enormous potential of the diversity and quality of their heritage for increased and diversified forms of tourism, developed in synergy with other economic activities. Cities will become real vectors of regional development.

[6] United Nation Environment Programme

The role of culture, knowledge and communication for the achievement of a sustainable development : the case of the Euro Mediterranean Region

As outlined in the Johannesburg Summit, education and culture – meaning social development – are recognized as a full-fledged source of development, recalling also the Universal Declaration of Cultural Diversity adopted by UNESCO in 2001.
Up to now, the mainstream policies in the Mediterranean focuses on sustainable development in its economic and environmental terms, both at a regional and at a national level. But can sustainable development in the Mediterranean be attainable without the social development component? As suggested by Putnam[7], civic community, defined as a preponderance of voluntary horizontal associations, in contrast to hierarchical-vertical association, is either the precursor and guarantor of good governance, but also the key to sustained socio-economic development.

In the Mediterranean, the developing of a cooperative regime among state and non-state actors interacts with a fragmented cultural environment characterized by millennia-old interactions of Arab, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Slavic cultures and religions, so that the role of knowledge in the field of international cooperation implies an investigation of the cognitive dimension of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.
In order to build an effective regime of regional cooperation aiming at sustainable development in the Mediterranean it is necessary that parties fashion a common sense of appropriateness with regard to the terms of being a security community member. This vision replaces the traditional realist understanding of security policies based on deterrence. Instead, a series of knowledge networks [8]would assist in the process of convergence between the Mediterranean counterparts, translating rhetoric into practice through incremental cognitive bargaining, potentially leading to a regional consensus on common principles, rules and identities.
The capacity of knowledge networks to establish common pact of social learning reaches beyond cultural and geographical boundaries and, thus, acquires prime relevance for the production of a new Euro-Mediterranean cultural space.
As suggested in “Communication and Sustainable Development”, development communication is the sharing of knowledge aimed at reaching a consensus for action that takes into account the interests, needs and capacities of all concerned. It is thus a social process. [SERVAES & MALIKHAO: 4]
Investment in human capital, in my opinion, together with economical and environmental policies, will produce more than a mere economic growth induced by a broader participation to economy through public and private channels – already part of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation strategy for sustainable development - hence they will impact the development of society as a whole through knowledge networks and participative democracy, leading to a sustainable development for all.

[7] Putnam, Robert -Making Democracy Works: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton University Press, 1993
[8] Knowledge networks are the expression of policy community. This comprehensive term encompasses internationally recognised epistemic communities, along with representatives from the academic sectors, non-governmental organisations, consultants, as well as governmental or intergovernmental officials who share an interest in certain issues.