Sustainable development: the why and how

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The world’s population continues to grow. There are some 7 billion people alive today. By 2050, this number will have increased to approximately 9 billion, with some two thirds projected to live in urban areas. Within 20 years, demand for food, water and energy will have increased by 50 %. There will be a similar increase in demand for housing, business accommodation and infrastructure. Throughout the world, the challenges in areas such as mobility, safety and security, water management and food production are becoming ever more complex, especially in the densely populated delta regions. The developments have given rise to agreements at various levels, whereby governments and non-governmental organisations have undertaken to promote economic development, social justice and sustainability. A number of these agreements are described in further detail below, and are also referred to throughout this edition of Witteveen+Bos News.


Sustainable development is a question of combining social justice, environmental protection and economic development: People, Planet and Profit. The most frequently cited definition is from Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report: ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations has formulated a set of objectives intended to tackle climate change, social inequality, poverty and hunger. These ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) are a universal call to action, with firm targets to be achieved by the year 2030. By January 2016, no fewer than 197 countries had committed themselves to pursuing sustainable development for all people throughout the world.

The SDGs follow on from the Millennium Development Goals which covered the period to 2015. Greater attention is now being devoted to climate change and the human environment. There is also a more prominent role for non-governmental organisations, whose sustainable investments will create employment and prosperity. Governments, companies and even individuals can formulate their own challenges in line with the sustainable development goals, as shown below.

Paris Agreement

In December 2015, the Paris Agreement was negotiated by the 195 countries attending the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement is concerned with the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions ‘to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’ (Article 2). Signatories to the agreement are to produce a national climate plan with measures and objectives incorporated into their national legislation.

The Paris Agreement will come into effect in 2020, provided it is ratified by no fewer than 55 countries which between them produce at least 55 % of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The industrialised countries of the West are expected to provide financial support to the developing countries. In April 2016, during the Dutch presidency of the European Union, State Secretary Sharon Dijksma (Infrastructure and the Environment) signed the agreement on behalf of all EU member states. China and the USA, which between them account for some 40 % of global emissions, formally endorsed the agreement on 3 September 2016.

Witteveen+Bos intends to play its part in creating a sustainable society. Our 6 principles of sustainable design underpin truly sustainable solutions. The 6 principles are:

  • Nature-inclusive and climate-proof design
  • Integration: applying the chain approach
  • Optimisation of functions
  • Social design, based on social sustainability
  • Participation by stakeholders and users
  • Trias principle for sustainable solutions.