Sustainable development involves meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Palmer, 1998:62). Sustainable development is a concept that is very much open to interpretation and therefore it can mean different things to different people. For example, sustainable development can be interpreted as the way in which developing countries undergoing industrialisation will avoid becoming industrialised carbon intensive nations with a high level of emissions, much like current industrialised countries.In this case sustainable development can also achieved through government policy, for example within the EU the law requires that an Environmental Impact Assessment is carried out for all large scale civil engineering projects eg. Motorways (Wahab, 1997:109).
Rapid economic growth often is seen as unsustainable as it compromises the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The excessive consumption of natural resources has detrimental implications both socially and environmentally.However, not all rapid economic growth has been unsustainable. Spain has experienced rapid economic growth in the past years, this large scale economic growth however, has had many detrimental impacts on the environment and therefore the growth is viewed as unsustainable.
Between 1995 and 2005 the building of new infrastructure has doubled resulting in a primary energy consumption rise of almost 45%. Tourism can be cited as the main reason for the exponential economic growth in Spain (Stucklin, 2008).The Balearic region, for example, consumed resources at nearly six times its biocapacity in 2005 (Quintini, 2007:39). However, not all countries experiencing rapid economic growth have been unsustainable. The Philippines experienced worsening environmental conditions in 1993 (Devlin et al,.
1993:39). The consumption of natural resources was taking place at a faster rate than the rest of the world. The ecosystem of the country was pushed to its limit. According to Walden Bello ‘Overall Forest cover in 1993 had declined by nearly half compared to forest cover in 1985.In 1991, forest cover was down to 17%, far below the 60 % needed for the country to maintain a stable ecosystem’ Bello (2005).
The Philippine government have since made and passed laws and regulations that challenge the environmental problems as well as keeping the goals of sustainable development. After the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro the Philippines created the Philippine Commission on Sustainable Development (PCSD), the first national council for sustainable development in Asia (Bello, 2005:219).The Medium Term Philippine Development plan or Philippines 2000 was a strategy plan to reduce poverty and attain economic growth by opening up the country to foreign investment and removing regulations on businesses (Bello, 2005:221). In conclusion, rapid economic growth is very often unsustainable and only recently have governments realised the importance of sustainable development. The introduction of many development regulations and laws to commit to sustainable growth is a breath of fresh air and is a sign that we are making progress in the fight against unsustainable development.
Sustainable development is possible without disruption to economic growth; this can be seen in countries such as the Philippines where economic progress has been made sustainably. The annual growth of the global economy is posing a severe risk to the future sustainability of our fragile environment. The formation of a dynamic equilibrium between economic growth rates and environmental and social sustainability is crucial in order to ensure the survival of our environment and future prosperity for its citizens.