Sustainable development of a resource use model that aims to fulfill human needs while preserving the environment so these needs will be met not just for this, but also for future generations. The Brundtland Commission coined the term and it has become the foremost frequently cited definition of sustainable development as development, which is meeting the requirements of the current generation, without compromising the flexibility of future generations to satisfy their own needs.
The Brundtland Commission, officially the globe Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), known by its chairman Gro Harlem Brundtland, was convened by the UN in 1983. The Commission was created as a result of growing concern «about the rapid degradation of the environment, humans and natural resources, and also the consequences of deteriorating economic and social development».
When creating the commission, the UN General Assembly recognized that environmental problems are global in nature and determine that this is often within the common interest of all countries to formulate policies for sustainable development.
In the 1970s «sustainability» was to describe an economy «in equilibrium with major ecological support systems». Ecologists point to «limits of growth» and as an alternate «sustainable state of the economy» and as the unravel environmental problems. The concept of sustainable development was a logical transition to and socio-economic development, which began rapidly within the 1970s.
Sustainable Development Concept in Scientific Research and Studies
A number of scientific works were devoted to the issues of limited natural resources, as well as pollution of the environment that is the basis of life, economic and any human activity. The reaction to this concern was the creation of international non-governmental scientific organizations for the study of global processes such as the International Federation of Institutes for Advanced Study (IFIAS), the Club of Rome (with its report «The Limits of Growth»), the International Institute for Systems Analysis, and in the USSR the All-Union Institute for System Research.
In the 1980s scientists began to talk about eco-development without destruction, the need for sustainable development of ecosystems. The World Conservation Strategy, adopted in 1980, was the first in an international document to mention sustainable development as a strategy. The second edition of the WSOP was named «Caring for the Earth — A Strategy for Sustainable Life» and was published in October 1991. It emphasizes that development should be based on the conservation of wildlife, protection of the structure, functions and diversity of the natural systems of the Earth, on which biological species depend .To do this, it is necessary to preserve biodiversity and ensure the sustainable use of renewable resources. Later much studies and researches have emerged on environmental security as part of national and global security.
Current global sustainability challenges such as climate change or biodiversity loss call for urgent action and lay grounds for international policy initiatives. The most comprehensive global political effort towards achieving sustainable development is the UN Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 . The SDGs build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were in place during 2000–2015 and expand them in thematic and geographic scope. In contrast to the MDGs, they apply to all countries from the Global South to the Global North . In addition to economic and social goals, the SDGs also explicitly address ecological sustainability challenges. The “triple bottom line approach to human wellbeing” gives the preservation of earth functioning the same priority as freeing the world from hunger and poverty . While hunger, poverty and disease remain important challenges, in particular in the Global South, they were reduced significantly during the period of the MDGs. The SDGs now face the challenge inherent to sustainable development, that is, continuing the improvement of living conditions for those in need while at the same preserving the ecological integrity of the planet for future generations
Theory and practice have shown that the ecological component is an integral part of human development. The activities of the International Commission on Environment and Development and its final report “Our Common Future” were based on a new concept of sustainable (ecological, socio-economic) development. The UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (intergovernmental, non-governmental and scientific forum) in 2002 confirmed the commitment of global community to the ideas of sustainable development for the long-term satisfaction of basic human needs while preserving the life support systems of the Earth. The concept of sustainable development in many respects has something in common with the concept of the noosphere, put forward by Academician V. I. Vernadskiy back in the middle of the XX century. But after six years, as the global economic crisis of 2008, a sustainable model of growth in the world has not yet been developed .
In fact, we can talk not about an immediate cessation of economic growth in general, but about an end, at the first stage, of the irrational growth in using of environmental resources. The latter is difficult to implement in the global growing competition with growth of such current indicators of successful economic activity as productivity and profit. At the same time, the transition to the «information society» — the economy of intangible flows of finance, information, images, messages, intellectual property — leads to the so-called «dematerialization» of economic activity: even now the volume of financial transactions exceeds the volume of trade in tangible goods by 7 times. The new economy is driven not only by the scarcity of material and natural resources, but the abundance of information and knowledge resources. The specific energy intensity of economic activity continues to decline, although the total energy consumption is still growing .
From an environmental point of view, sustainable development must ensure the integrity of biological and physical natural systems. Particular important is the viability of ecosystems on which the global stability of the entire biosphere depends. Moreover, today the concept of «natural systems and areas» should be understood broadly to include human-created environments such as cities. The main attention must be paid to the preservation of the capacity for self-healing and dynamic adaptation of such systems to changes, rather than to preserve them in some ideal» static state.
The vast majority of international organizations within the UN system has included in their activities a significant environmental component focused on the transition to sustainable development.
World Bank experts have defined sustainable development as the process of managing a set of assets aimed at preserving and expanding the opportunities available to people. Assets in this definition include not only traditionally measured physical capital, but also natural and human capital. To be sustainable, development must provide growth — or at least non-decline — over time for all. For the rational management of the country’s economy the same logic is applied that is used for the rational management of personal property.
According to the above definition of sustainable development, the main indicator of sustainability, developed by the World Bank, is the “true rates of saving” or “true rates of investment” in the country. The current approaches to measuring wealth accumulation do not take into account the depletion and degradation of natural resources, such as forests and oil fields, on the one hand, and investment in one of the most valuable assets in people in human capital, primarily due to investment in education and basic health care on the other.
An important issue in the implementation of the concept of sustainable development — especially since it is often viewed as evolving — is the identification of its practical and measurable indicators (indicators of sustainable development). Both international organizations and scientific circles are now working in this direction. Such indicators can link all components and reflect environmental, economic and social (including psychological, for example, perceptions of sustainable development) aspects .
Sustainable development indices are one example of practically applicable indicators: in the economic, environmental and social components. They can be measured and displayed similar to the World Bank’s multivariate growth indexes. Key indexes have been developed in the economic, environmental, social spheres. There is also a mechanism for the practical integration of these indicators into the planning and evaluation system at the regional level. Sustainable development indicators are also used in the program-oriented approach to managing the development of settlements as markers that determine the balance of development of the urban system. They can be measured and displayed similar to the World Bank’s multivariate growth indices.
But one to the current modern models to preserve the nature and to follow the sustainable development goals is to use renewable recourses («green» energy.) Renewable energy sources are known as alternative. Their strengths are their minimal impact on the environment and the use of free, inexhaustible resources.
The basic principle of using renewable energy is to extract it from processes constantly occurring in the environment or renewable organic resources and make it available for technical use. Renewable energy is obtained from natural resources such as: sunlight, water flows, wind, tides and geothermal heat, which are renewable (replenished naturally), as well as from biofuels: wood, vegetable oil, ethanol .
The main factor stimulating the development of renewable is still decarburization, that is, the adoption of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. This was the focus of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change adopted on December 12, 2015 and entered into force on November 4, 2016 .
Other benefits of switching to renewable energy sources include improving the environmental situation, supplying energy-deficient and remote areas, as well as developing technologies and creating new jobs. Over the past few years, the use of renewable energy has stimulated the creation of one of the most high-tech industries in the world. Investment in this industry in 2015 was estimated at US $288 billion. 70% of all investments in electricity generation were made in the renewable energy sector. This sector (excluding hydropower) employs more than 8 million people in the world, for example, in China their number is 3.5 million.
The economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will not slow down the global transition to renewable energy sources. This was recently reported by experts from the World Bank. In particular, according to the lead economist of the climate change group, Stefane Hallegatte, green energy competes mainly with coal. And therefore, even a drop in oil prices, according to the expert, will not cause a decrease in activity to increase renewable energy sources .
According to forecasts of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), by 2050 the use of coal for the purpose of generating electricity should be reduced by at least one third. The process is already underway. Since 2015, 84 percent fewer coal-fired thermal power plants (TPPs) have been built in the world than in the previous five-year period. Total global coal-fired energy production declined 3 % in 2019 .
It is highly likely that the global pandemic crisis will further intensify and accelerate the trends in decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization, giving an additional impetus to the energy transition, especially in the European market. There are growing calls from governments and international organizations to follow a low-carbon path to economic recovery. The instability of the oil market strengthens the competitive position of renewable energy, which is attracting more and more investor attention.
The China’s Environmental Policy
China’s environmental policy is very pragmatic: it is the lobbying of its own manufacturing companies, which in recent years have been able to create a technological and production base. Following the high words from the stands about ecology at international forums, there are always commercial representatives who offer their contracts for the supply of equipment.
At the same time, one of the main problems of China is the structure of the energy balance. Despite the high activity in the field of alternative energy, about 60% of the energy balance of falls on coal. It is the emissions of coal-fired power plants, and not harmful industries, that are carried out to smog over Chinese cities. Here we see slow progress: from 2005 to 2019, the share of coal fell from 70 to 60%, and by 2030, the Chinese authorities expect that coal will account for only 47% of the total energy balance. Efforts in the field of alternative energy and gas policy are aimed at solving this problem: Power of Siberia, Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG are projects that would increase the supply of more environmentally friendly natural gas to China.
In past years, ecology has become one of the hottest topics discussed in China however, due to the severely damaged economy, the “green issue” has been relegated to the background. For the first time in 30 years, the China’s economy contracted 6.8% of GDP on an annualized basis between January and April. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, in his government report, outlined four pollution targets: strengthening air pollution control in key areas, speeding up the relocation of hazardous chemical plants, improving the construction of wastewater treatment plants, and expanding the energy conservation and environmental protection industry. Thus Beijing will continue to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The Prime Minister also noted that the country would improve overall performance in the field of environmental clean-up and focus on legal, scientific and targeted pollution control .
In addition to financial and fiscal measures, China is in the process of rationalizing climate regulation through institutional reforms. China’s climate regulation regime has undergone significant changes in 2018. The most significant change was the transfer of the Climate Change Department from the State Committee for Development and Reforms of the PRC to the separately created Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
In general, the reforms carried out as a new environmental policy in China are proceeding in a positive way. At the same time, the Chinese Government declares with confidence that this work is being carried out not to achieve certain indicators, but to improve the quality of life of citizens and future generations.
China appears to be adopting renewable energy at a faster pace than other countries. In addition, coal is a non-renewable resource that is estimated to be depleted by mid-century, and the Chinese economy continues to use it on a large scale. From an energy security perspective, China has no choice and is incorporating alternative sources into its energy policy.
Renewable Recourses in Russia as Response to Sustainable Development Concept
Russia also starts to develop renewable energy sources by signing the Paris Agreement to combat global warming. According to the document, the participating countries must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels and reduce emissions by five percent by 2030. This means that in Russia it is quite possible to expect the improvement of the legislative base and the creation of conditions for the development of alternative energy sources. The hope that the development of renewable energy sources will begin a little earlier than the end of hydrocarbon reserves remains.
Russia is one of the world leaders in the use of electricity from renewable sources, but only in the field of hydropower. All other areas are underdeveloped, although the country has significant natural potential. In Russia there are two main negative factors that prevent to develop alternative energy: 1) availability of huge fossil fuel resources for thermal power plants; 2) lack of incentives from the state for the development of «green» energy. For example, in Western Europe, higher taxes are paid for CO2 emissions, so it is much more profitable to use «clean» technologies for generating electricity. In 2019, the Russian government decided to stimulate the development of solar and wind energy, bringing its share to 1% (5 GW) in total generation.
Russia adopted a program for the development of solar and wind energy until 2024, «Five Gigawatts». It is planned that by 2024 the generation of electricity at SPP and WPP will amount to about 1% of the total production. The annual growth of Russia’s GDP will increase by 0.1%, and 12 thousand new high-tech jobs will be created .
The results of the implementation of the first renewable energy support program until 2024 have raised the question of whether it is worth continuing to support renewable energy sources against the backdrop of the crisis. Alexey Zhikharev, director of the Renewable Energy Development Association, partner of VYGON Consulting, believes that there is nothing to worry about yet. All previously investment programs fit into the inflation rate, and the price will not rise above inflation until 2035. Right now the climate agenda is becoming more and more relevant, and therefore there are investments in low-carbon energy. During crises there was a shock drop in CO2 emissions, and after the end of the crisis — a shock increase in emissions. So the renewable energy industry created in Russia from scratch thanks to large-scale investments — more than 650 billion rubles. — forms significant multiplier effects in the national economy . The industry began to form only seven years ago, and today analytics show that renewable energy is a serious driver of the country’s socio-economic development. By 2025, 5.9 GW of renewable generation will be commissioned, investments in the construction of generation and the creation of an industrial cluster in Russia would provide GDP growth with an effective investment multiplier in the RES industry exceeding 2.2%.
At the moment, renewable energy support programs are limited to 2024, so it is fundamentally important to adopt the next iteration as soon as possible, with a planning horizon of 2035. The best response to such challenges will be the integration of hydrogen technologies to the Russian energy strategy and, in general, in the low-carbon development strategy. Hydrogen fuel itself is unlikely to be a panacea for carbon emissions, but it is only one of many ways to a more efficient and safe use of energy and addressing global environmental challenges and meet the growing energy needs .
The International Energy Agency has already warned that the coronavirus is likely to undermine investment programs in green technologies, and urged governments to actively stimulate this direction. Analysts lowered the forecast for global demand for solar energy, as countries now prefer short-term measures to support the economy (including large companies — emitters of CO2 and hydrocarbon producers), rather than long-term investments in innovation and alternative technologies. Moreover, participants in the renewable energy market talk about a slowdown in production and delays in project implementation.
As an independent branch in the energy sector, RES has appeared and began to develop in Russia relatively recently. The most optimistic situation with wind farms — the potential for wind energy in Russia is one of the largest in the world, because Russia is washed by the seas of the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans. According to the estimates of the International Renewable Energy Agency IRENA, the technical potential of wind energy in Russia is 80’000 TWh per year, of which the production of 6’218 TWh is economically profitable. About 30% of the economic potential of wind energy is concentrated in the Far East, 14% — in the Northern economic region, about 16% — in Western and Eastern Siberia. There are promising steppes in southern Russia (lower and middle Volga, Don), the entire coast of the Arctic Ocean, from the Kola Peninsula to Kamchatka, as well as the coast of the Azov, Black, Caspian, Baltic and Okhotsk seas, separate zones of Karelia, Altai and Tuva. No state in the world has such vast natural prospects — this is an objective fact, which is the reason for the keen interest in the development of wind energy in Russia.
Environmental degradation could lead to conflict when adaptation mechanisms are weak and involve economic, social and political factors. However, as noted in these studies, environmental change is one of many factors contributing to social tension. The debates on geopolitics and the environment have emerged as part of a broader discourse on environmental security. Sustainable international cooperation is the only option that states should use to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. Governments must find national, regional and multilateral strategies to tackle environmental problems. Our collective future depends on securing our environment for us as well as for future generations.
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