Barriers in achieving sustainable development

Sustainable development and its Definitions

Sustainable development was defined by (Brundtland, 1987) as a development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need. Economists generally accepted and supported Brundtland definition of sustainable development. Pearce & barbier (blueprint for Sustainable Economy, 2000) also defines sustainable development as development that last. They also said that future generations should be entitled to at least the same level of economic well-being as is currently available to the present generation. It can also be defined as meeting human fundamental needs while preserving the life-support systems of the planet Earth. This is a scientific perspective on the sustainable development relation between nature and society.

The main pillars of sustainable development are:

  • Economic development
  • Social development and
  • Environmental development

The United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document refers the above pillars as the interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development.

There has been an indigenous controversy over the main pillars of sustainable development through various International Forums such as United Nation Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Conversion of Biological Diversity that there are four pillars of sustainable development which they called the fourth one , Cultural development. Also, The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO, 2001) further detailed the concept by saying that the cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature.

This basically becomes one of the roots of development understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence. The universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity stated that Cultural diversity is the fourth policy area of sustainable development.

Barriers to achieving sustainable development in developing countries.

Sustainable development has been widely promoted as a holisticconcept which aims or targets to integrate social, economicand cultural policies to ensure high-quality growth.

However, there are barriers combating the implementation of sustainable development in developing countries. These barriers are:

  • Economic / financial barriers
  • Social barriers
  • Political barriers
  • HIV and Injecting Drug use
  • Poor monitoring and evaluation system
  • Institutional barriers
  • Cultural barriers
  • Trade barriers
  • Poverty and disease
  • Climate change

Economic and financial barriers:

Economists observed that the dominating development model tends to focus on economic growth as precedence rather than people's rights or welfare, and environmental processes and limits. Various contributors supported economic growth coming first in developing countries, especially least-developed countries (LDCs), and concluded that investment in environmental protection should be left to a later stage of development, essentially accepting environmental degradation to meet immediate needs. In other words, there was a controversy by other researchers saying that the future generation's ability to enjoy an acceptable standard of living would be on shambles if due attention were not immediately paid to social and environmental aspects as well as economic. This they said requires shift in the worldview from treating the environment as part of the economy to treating the economy as part of the environment; strategically this means the economy should be adapted to ensure environmental services are maintained. Some contributors recommended developed capitalist societies to act quickly to become more sustainable. Other researchers underscored the imperative for developing countries not to follow the western models of unsustainable development.

Three basic constraints to financing sustainable development (SD) are:

  • Competing priorities for limited resources, particularly in LDCs
  • Undelivered pledges made at the international conferences to finance SD.
  • Externalities, such as increased oil prices, conflict, and natural disasters that alter the development priorities of many countries.

Initiatives to overcome economic and financial barriers

In other to achieve economic growth without threatening social development and environmental resources, new and different "vehicles" for growth must be oriented to different country situations.

Governments should be responsible for market-led problems with incentive for the private sector to become problem-solvers, and not polluters.

There is need to shift the incentive and motivating structure for farmers around the world. Policies makers should promote agricultural production that is based on significantly higher labor inputs per area and significantly more diverse production streams.

There is need to reform the calculation of economic growth and removal of weapons-related cost from GDP would provide a strong indication of relative spending toward sustainable development to politicians.

Justifying the need to abandon linear system of industrial production based on total exploitation of natural resources, over production, and waste generation in favor of a circular system of production using clean technologies and the elimination of waste resources.

Social barriers

Population growth, paired with unsustainable consumption and production patterns among the wealthy, are the biggest social challenges to achieving sustainable development in the world and developing countries. Absent of a significant change in human behavior, sustainability will not be potential. There are other social barriers which are:

  • The marginalization of the poor and entrenched inequities
  • Limited awareness about sustainable development
  • Environmental issues among both politicians and the wider public fragmented civil society
  • Inadequate interaction between civil society and government
  • Insufficient incentives to for the private sector to pursue sustainable development

Initiatives to overcome the social barriers

  • Need for stronger policies to address income disparity and population growth.
  • The introduction of programmes to create awareness and build capacity in the field of sustainable development among the general public can assist to the change in behavior and lifestyle that is needed to achieve sustainability.
  • Efforts to increase scientific capacity will take place within a context of different funding patterns (which involves philanthropic foundations, business, and governmental and intergovernmental bodies), environmental concerns, and research orientations.
  • Governments must foster their relationships with NGOs and other civil society organizations. Also , civil society must take on a great role in policy making and implementation. Participation of civil society in social programmes and related decision making process would ensure accountability; this will help in creating condition for receiving financial aid or UN assistance.
  • Concrete partnership among national and local governments, the grassroots, private sector, civil society and development actors should be developed.

Political barriers:

Inadequate economic, social and environmental methods for policies, plans and projects are the major barrier combating the implementation of sustainable development in developing world. Researchers' believed that governments are stuck in the old development paradigm ,emphasizing economic growth and believing that industrial countries have made no significant effort to change their patterns in production and consumption, thereby threatening global resources. To meet sustainable development objectives requires genuine political and institutional will at all levels of government in all countries, developed and developing.

Nevertheless, Corruption, ineffective government and weak inactive law enforcement are hindrances to achieving genuine sustainability. Moreover, lack of information and relevant data availability, limited capacity of policy and decision-makers were identified as reasons for the limited cooperation of governments.

The outcome of the discussion by the World Summit on Sustainable Development that was held in South Africa in 2002 was that sustainable development has not been able to evolve out of its environmental roots and that greater focus on climate change may be pulling the issue towards a purer environmental direction rather than integrating sustainable development perspective. They also warned that SD is being replaced by climate change on the political agenda, leaving the rest of the sustainable development agenda forgotten.

Lack of coordination to integrate the three pillars of sustainable development has been a major challenge at all levels. At the global level, the United Nations failed to join together its efforts to promote a genuinely sustainable development. Campaigns for integrating many factors are themselves not harmonized, but try to meet different purposes at different times. It was noted that the sectionalized approach to the MDGs has dissolved the broader context of development, and MDG 7 on sustainable development has been largely neglected in favor of other goals rather than being a basis for achieving the rest of the MDGs. More consistent policies to support SD are needed at the international level, including within the United Nations system.

At the regional level, regional agreements on SD and mechanisms for their implementation are not stable. There was an agreement that, at national level, a multi-disciplinary approach to governance is needed rather than the persisting tendency for different line ministries, departments and agencies to act without a clear framework for coordination across sectors. Sectorial systems of governance create and perpetuate silo thinking and behavior. It was observed that there is basically no effective national forum for strategic planning on pro-poor economic growth, social development, environment and climate change for developing countries. For instance, inCentral Asia, it was noted that few countries have policies linking environment, poverty, trade and social development, that few environmental policies target equity or poverty issues, and health policies are still mainly formulated in isolation without blending to related sectors. Also at the institutional level, responsibility for the implementation of sustainable development is generally assigned to the Ministry of Environment, Environmental Protection Agency or the tantamount, which traditionally receive little attention and a insufficient budget. Environmental agency would find it difficult to take a balanced approach to economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

Poor community involvement was noted as a final major political barrier to achieving sustainable development goals. A top-down approach by centralized authorities often imposes projects and programmes on local governments.

Moreover, policy making and implementation does not take into consideration the grassroots need or involve the lower levels of government.

Initiatives to overcome political barrier

  • In combating political barrier, sustainable development strategies must be streamlined, but also applied with more severity.
  • The need for environmental institutions to blend and work with other (non-environmental) institutions. Also all ministries must cooperate and work together to achieve an integrated sustainable development for their countries.
  • Stringent efforts should be directed to encroach structural problems that deform both developmental and environmental prospects by focusing on key injustices, notably in trade, environment and climate change.
  • There should be an analytical work on advanced financing for SD. Poverty and environment linkages must be undertaken to further incorporate economic, social and environmental factors.
  • Basic components like sensitization of political leaders, private sector involvement, and participation of local communities need to be concrete in developmental approach. Capacity-building is also necessary across the board.
  • Progress in sustainable developmental goals involves strong, innovation-driven science and technology policies.

HIV and Injecting Drug Use

Poverty and disease in relation to HIV and Drug Use frustrates the implementation of sustainable development in many developing countries.

In many developing countries, HIV epidemics between injecting drug users (IDUs) are preceding larger epidemics in the broader population. Notwithstanding recent expansion of responses, within individual countries, these tend to be several years behind the pace and scale of the actual epidemic. These are factors closely linked to development.

  • The current policy environment makes it difficult for community-based programmes to prevent HIV between injecting drug users.
  • Deficiency in policy dialogue between sectors of government responsibility for reactions to HIV and drug use
  • There is an economic, social and political breakdown which leads to increase in drug injecting, needle sharing and, consequently HIV.
  • Inadequate community capacity, in terms of skills, resources and experience to respond to HIV among IDUs.
  • Injecting drug users, especially women, being demonized for their drug use, rather than supported, placing them at particular risk of both human rights abuses and HIV infection
  • Donor agencies and countries alike failing to recognize the long-term threat to development posed by HIV and injecting drug use.

Initiatives to overcome HIV and Injecting Drug Use

UNDP and partner agencies, especially UNAIDS and UNDCP, are in a unique and appropriate position to take the lead in the planning and implementation of responses in the following areas:

  • Policy dialogue and reform
  • Programme development and monitoring
  • Creating awareness and understanding of the development implications of HIV and IDU
  • Powering community capacity to respond
  • Addressing gender considerations
  • Responding to legal , ethical and human right issues

Fig 2. This is a cartoon drawn as part of an art competition to create awareness among youths about HIV and injecting drug use. This activity was part of the UNDP regional project in Eastern Europe, CIS and Baltic States.

Also there is need to implement the MDGs in all developing countries especially on reducing poverty and ensuring good health.

Poor monitoring and evaluation systems

A basic problem is lack of specific targets (globally, nationally and at local level), measurement and data to track progress, resulting in a lack of information available to decision-makers. It is suggested for strengthening monitoring and evaluation of sustainable development strategies in order to establish a dynamic improvement process, with an objective of increasing their effectiveness. It is recommended that governments should turn up deeper and assess the socio-economicimpacts of developmental projects, rather thanthe outcomealone.

Initiatives to overcome poor monitoring and evaluation systems

  • Co-ordination of data within which the vast amount of data can be easily accessed.
  • Countries specific knowledge bases are needed to guide decision making. This is a comprehensive mechanism for monitoring the outcomes of interventions that feeds into subsequent planning processes.
  • National research and development systems need to be strengthened, as well as south-south and south-north knowledge sharing and management.

Institutional barriers

Institutional barriers as a result of lack of institutional experience to operate all the mechanism of democratic system has been combating and frustrating sustainable development in many developing countries. Since the end of the civil war, developing countries have made a striking movement towards democratic capitalism as the operative model of governance. Moreover in making that transition, many countries discovered that they lack institutional experience to operate all the mechanism of democratic system. They discovered that they have never witness free and fair elections with a full ballot of candidates from multiple parties. In other hand, they were not prepared to run a parliament, also not prepared to have journalists and broadcasters looking at the problems of government in a very public way.

Initiatives to overcome institutional barrier

  • Generating enough scientific capacity and institutional support in developing countries is particularly urgent as they are most vulnerable to the multiple stresses arising from rapid, simultaneous changes in social and environmental system.
  • USAID and other governmental donors have facilitated institutional building to help these countries to help these countries fix all the mechanism operating in an open democratic society.
  • Sponsoring democratic programs, introducing new approaches to crisis management and conflicts analysis to assist opposing parties in resolving their peacefully and within the framework that a democratic system provides.

Trade barriers

Basically developing countries find the EU's strict food safety requirements disruptive to trade. In addition to sanitary standards, new technical product specifications and industrial norms might obstruct the exports of developing countries .The EU introduced a series of directives varying from technical specifications for cars, weighing machines and toys, to the compulsory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), eggs and voluntary eco-labels. In addition to Community standards, there are regulations at the member-state level.

However the level to which this continual flow of new standards helps to restrict imports from developing countries is not properly known. It is clear, however, that WTO notification leads to protests by developing countries .Some of the developing countries expressed their concern, regarding new EU directives on discarded electronic apparatuses proposed by the Commission in 2000

Initiatives to overcome trade barriers

  • Trade liberalization including the removal of existing distortion in international trade must be pursued to support sustainable development policies in developing countries.
  • Sustainable development requires a dynamic international economy and an open, equitable, secure, non-discriminatory and predictable multilateral trading system to support sound domestic economic and environmental policies in both developed and developing countries.
  • Trade and environment should be reciprocally supportive in the pursuit of sustainable development.


In achieving sustainable development, the 3pillars of SD should be integrated. Progress in sustainability will require fostering problem -driven , interdisciplinary research; building capacity for research; creating coherent system of research planning , operational monitoring , assessment , and application; and providing reliable long term financial support. The need to generate adequate scientific capacity and institutional support in developing countries is particularly urgent as they are most vulnerable to multiple stresses that arise from rapid, simultaneous changes in social and environmental systems.


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