- > WOR 4 explores the issue of sustainability in relation to the oceans. “Sustainability” has become one of today’s inflationary terms, its meaning varying according to definition or context. WOR 4 therefore makes the link between sustainability theory, research and practical policy-making. Why do difficulties arise in preserving our marine environment? What practical action must be taken to ensure its sustainable use in future? WOR 4 presents strategies for the sustainable development of our oceans and shows how civil society and policy-makers can contribute meaningfully to this process.
Sustainable Use of Our Oceans – Making Ideas Work
“Sustainability” has become one of today’s inflationary terms and is therefore somewhat imprecise. Its meaning varies according to definition or context. Sustainability can only be achieved, however, if there is agreement on the concept and its meaning. Only then can a clear set of demands and appropriate policy measures be developed. This applies equally to sustainable management of onshore and offshore resources. This fourth edition of the World Ocean Review therefore attempts to build a bridge between the theory of sustainability and its practical application in science and policy-making. It shows how attempts are now being made in various scientific disciplines to develop viable hypotheses and models through which the findings of sustainability theoreticians can be translated into social, political and economic strategies with practical relevance. The implementation of these strategies is ultimately a matter for policy-makers, but private individuals, businesses and public institutions can make substantial contributions to sustainable development as well.
In the early days, the word “sustainability” was clearly defined. It originated in 18th century German silviculture: in 1713, chief mining administrator Hans Carl von Carlowitz published a treatise on forest management, entitled Sylvicultura oeconomica – the first publication ever to talk about “continual, consistent and sustainable use”. At the time von Carlowitz coined the phrase, great quantities of wood were required for mining and the smelting of ores in many regions of Europe, resulting in progressive defores-tation around many mining towns. An acute scarcity of this natural resource threatened to occur. By the early 18th century, wood had to be brought in by river from distant forests. Hans Carl von Carlowitz warned that people would suffer “great need” without wood and called for the forests to be preserved. The sustainable use of the forests was therefore promoted for purely economic reasons. This approach yet had little in common with the concept of nature conservation that has gained currency today.
With the Industrial Revolution, the concept of sustain-ability steadily receded into the background. Furthermore, as a consequence of the extreme privations suffered in two world wars, the Western industrialized nations, from the mid 20th century onwards, pursued one overriding political goal: to generate continuous economic growth and thus achieve prosperity for all. It was only in the early 1960s that there was growing criticism of this creed of growth and progress, for the damage increasingly inflicted on the environment as a result of the continual pursuit of economic growth was becoming impossible to ignore.
In the early 1980s, the United Nations (UN) established the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), whose purpose was to identify pathways towards several major objectives, among them alleviating poverty in the developing countries and halting environmental degradation. In 1987, the Commission published its report, entitled Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report after Gro Harlem Brundtland, the then Prime Minister of Norway, who chaired the Commission. The Report initiated an important new debate about the role of sustainability but provided no practical guidance for policy-makers.
- In the years that followed, sustainability researchers – basing their work on the Brundtland Report – developed the three-pillar model, which defines the three equally important dimensions – environmental, economic and social – of sustainability. However, it is clear that in many of the world’s countries, economics continues to take precedence over the environmental and social dimensions. This has prompted experts in the ethics of sustain-ability to map out more specific pathways towards sustainable development. As one solution for the future, they propose the concept of “strong sustainability”, whose aim is to preserve natural assets – known as natural capital – and protect them from ruthless exploitation. Strong sustainability does not view nature as a museum piece that must be preserved in a static state. Instead, it promotes the idea that renewable natural assets, such as fish stocks, can be exploited – but only to an extent that allows them to fully regenerate. Non-regenerative resources such as oil, with all their negative impacts, should therefore be replaced with renewables. Strong sustainability also calls for the restoration of depleted natural assets. It thus aims to reconcile the conservation of natural capital with its economic utilization. The constant natural capital rule (CNCR) is one attempt to put this concept in practice; according to the CNCR, natural capital should not decline over time but should be used responsibly and, above all, depleted natural resources should be replaced in full with natural capital of equal value. >