The satisfaction of human needs and aspirations has always been the major objective of development. For several decades, and particularly in the last century, economic growth and development had resulted in substantial improvements in health, education, and the quality of life for many people especially in the western countries. However, it has become very apparent that the global community, over these decades, has pursued a path of development which is clearly not sustainable. Today, the world is grappling with enormous and unprecedented crisis. These include massive destruction of the natural ecosystems at an alarming rate resulting in considerable losses in biodiversity; tremendous increases in soil, air and water contamination; accumulation of sizable amounts of waste in the environment that neither can be assimilated by the biosphere nor managed by humans effectively; global climate changes; extensive land degradation including catastrophic deforestation (Miller and Tyler,, 1994); global food crisis; extreme poverty; worsening income inequality; widening gap between the haves and have-nots, economic and financial crisis.
Within the last 80 years the world’s population has increased threefold and will grow by approximately 3.7 billion people in the next 30 years with an estimate that 90 percent of the additional people will live in poor countries. Efforts to feed the increasing population have resulted in desertification in many parts of the world typically leading to increases in soil erosion and salinity and reduction of natural vegetation (Pidlisnyuk, 2010). The Challenges for developing countries including Nigeria are even more serious. There are risks of reversal of the gains made in the area of development over the last decade or so. In fact, some of these countries are already falling behind target dates for meeting the MDGs.
The United Nations and several international agencies and non-governmental organization (NGOs) have raised alarms and issued warnings over the state and conditions of the globe today. Also drawing attention to the alarming environmental, social and economic crisis, Sampson (2013) observes that, “At the current reckless rate of exploitation and manhandling, we face the threat of waking up one day to find that our economies have been debased beyond recognition and our social and institutional structures have been gruesomely mismanaged at the detriment of this and future generations.”
The urgent need to take action to halt and reverse the imminent threat to human survival posed by the unprecedented crisis that stare us in the face is now. This is the overarching concern
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that the concept of sustainable development seeks to address. In doing this, the UN organized a Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden to discuss and find solutions to the deteriorating state of the environment arising from the unsustainable activities and practices of countries in pursuit of economic growth and development. In the 1980s, the concept gained momentum following the activities of the UN and its agencies which were aimed at creating awareness and mobilizing efforts at all levels to reverse further damage to the world’s capacity to continue to support human existence.
It was, however, the setting up of the Brundtland Commission in 1984 and the publication of its landmark report, Our Common Future, in 1987 that marked the beginning of the relevance of sustainable development as a global issue. Two other events, the 1992 earth Summit held in Rio de Jenairo, Brazil and the Third UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002 that further popularized and mobilized more support from more countries for the concept of sustainable development.
Another UN Conference on Sustainable development, popularly referred to as Rio+20, was held in Rio de Jenairo in 2012. The Conference brought together thousands of representatives from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other interest groups to examine progress on the outcomes of the first Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and agree on arange of measures to reduce global poverty, create jobs for the growing unemployed, achieve sustainable energy and promote a fairer and more equitable use of global assets and resources.
While there are still lack of understanding and divergent views on the concept, principles, goals and strategies of sustainable development, what appears to be clear is that the world is gradually coming to terms with the fact that human well-being as reflected in the health, wealth and quality of life of people is part of, and linked to the diversity, productivity and quality of the ecosystem. Consequently, the unsustainable development path pursued by countries and other actors that have led to the environmental degradation and socio-economic imbalances that we see today must be reversed while more sustainable practices adopted.
Sustainable development, as we shall see later, has the potential to offer humanity the recipe to tackle all or most of the development challenges confronting the world today, if concerted efforts are made at different levels – international, national, regional, local, institutional and individual – to make its implementation a priority. However, it is pertinent to point out that
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the fundamental and overriding success factor in the implementation of sustainability development is requisite human capital.
In development studies, human capital is recognized as the most critical in development. It has been directly linked to the ability of nations to transform from underdeveloped to developed economies. Indeed, the quality of a country’s human capital is central to promoting and sustaining innovation as well as the adoption of appropriate technology for accelerated sustainable development. That human capital was largely accountable for the transformation of resource-poor countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore while resource-rich countries like Nigeria, Venezuela and Angola are still at the lower wrung of the development ladder is a fact. This point, in fact, re-iterates the case for accelerated human capital development, especially in the developing countries, if the world is to overcome the global socio-economic and ecological crisis that have the potential to endanger our individual and collective existence as well as rob future generations of their well-being.
It must be said that building the requisite human capita for the attainment of sustainable development by all countries requires both a new ideology of life and innovative approach to education. In this regard, sustainable development should become a regular part of the programmes and curricula of our educational system at all levels. As noted by Pidlisnyuk (2010), “Education is an instrument for training human resources to optimize productivity by encouraging technical progress and by promoting cultural