We have seen that in the evolution of the meaning of democracy, the movements and nations of the Third World arrived to proclaim that nations and peoples have rights, and among these are the rights to self-determination and development (“Right of nations to self-determination” 11/8/2013; “Social and economic rights” 11/7/2013). Since the 1980s, the concept of development has itself undergone an evolution, and it is now understood as “sustainable development,” in which the satisfaction of the needs of the present does not compromise the capacity of future generations to satisfy their needs. By the end of the 1980s, the concept of sustainable development was diffused widely throughout the world, as reflected in “Our Common Future,” a report emitted by the World Commission on Environment and Development.
The evolution from development to sustainable development was tied to what Pearce and Warford (1993) have called the second environmental revolution. The first environmental revolution of the 1960s had seen economic growth and environmental protection as irreconcilable opposites, always in conflict. But the second revolution of the 1980s did not question the need for growth. Rather, it sought to define how to grow, or how to develop in a form that is sustainable.
The Cuban scholar and environmental specialist Ramon Pichs (2006) maintains that the turn to sustainable development occurred as a result of the participation of organizations and movements of the Third World in the global process of reflection on environmental issues. From the point of view of the Third World, the ecological revolution of the 1960s, with its call for conservation and for constraints on economic growth, made sense in the context of the developed societies, characterized by over-production and irrational patterns of consumption. But limiting growth was not a reasonable approach for the underdeveloped societies, which did not have productive patterns that could provide even basic human needs, as a consequence of the neocolonial situation. However, the Third World discerned from the outset the importance of the ecological revolution as it developed from the 1960s through the 1980s, given its consciousness of the contaminating effects of the prevailing patterns of production and of the global scope of environmental problems. Thus, Third World participation in the discussion led to a reformulation of the issue, and sustainable development emerged as a new consensual understanding.
In spite of the emergence of a global consensus on sustainable development, the concept is subject to different interpretations. In the developed nations, there is a tendency to recognize the immense global socio-economic inequalities, but a failure to understand the mechanisms that have generated these inequalities. This can lead to utopian interpretations of sustainable development, in which it is imagined that there is a union of interests between the North and South, and the two worlds can together attain social equality, economic growth, and conservation of the environment. From the Third World perspective, there are indeed common human interests, but to find expression for common interests, the different and opposed interests that emerge from different sides of the colonial divide must be acknowledged and addressed.
In addition, as the international environmental debate has proceeded, the governments of the North have insisted on treating separately the problems of the environment from those of development, in spite of the fact that the 1992 Summit on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro affirmed that the eradication of poverty and the protection of the environment are connected. From the point of view of the Third World, this appears to be a maneuver by the governments of the North to avoid their responsibilities.
Pichs maintains that, in spite of the different interpretations that emerge from the North-South divide, sustainable development is an important and necessary concept, and the emergence of a global consensus embracing the term is a significant step. The concept assumes that the economic and social objectives of development ought to be defined in terms of sustainability. It establishes the possibility of a multidimensional global process that seeks sustainable development in economic, social, and environmental terms. However, Pichs maintains that the creation of a world characterized by economic, social, and environmental sustainability will require a fundamental transformation of the world-system and a restructuring of international economic and political relations on a foundation of equality and social justice.
The renewed movements of Third World national liberation that have emerged since 1995 have embraced the principle of sustainable development, and they proclaim sustainable development as a right of all nations and peoples. They maintain that “a just, democratic, and sustainable world” is possible and necessary.
Pearce, D. and J. Warford. 1993. World Without End: Economics, Environment, and Sustainable Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pichs Madruga, Ramón. 2006. “Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo, 1964-2004” in Libre Comercio y subdesarrollo. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, sustainable development, environment, environment and development, ecology, ecological revolution