Sustainable development is widely understood to mean ‘development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

This is the definition set out in Our Common Future, a report by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) in 1987 which got everyone talking about sustainable development.

The fact that 30years on the term is still widely discussed and debated shows how useful and powerful it is. The concept of sustainable development tells us that we must balance the need for social progress and economic growth with preservation and enhancement of our natural environment.

In simple terms, through sustainable development we can recognise that what we do today to make our lives better should not have a negative consequence for our children, or their children. An example of this is our reliance on fossil fuels to heat and light our homes and offices which is causing climate change. Climate change will limit the lifestyle choices available to future generations and could have devastating consequences across the world.

Along with the impact of our current actions on future generations, sustainable development also helps us to understand that social, economic and environmental problems are connected. If we create a solution in one area, it could have a positive or negative effect on another. It is often said that governments need to ensure there is ‘policy coherence’, which means this connectedness is reflected in their policy making.

There is still much debate about the concept and practicalities of sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Goals are the international communities most focused attempt so far to set out what sustainable development means in practice for all nations, rich and poor.