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Book publication, modelling transitions to sustainable development

How can we meet today’s needs without diminishing the capacity of future generations to meet their own ones? This question characterizes the challenge of sustainability, which during the last decades has become a more and more important guideline for economic, social and environ-mental processes. Indeed, the concept of sustainable development was from its very beginning meant to be relevant for a comprehensive philosophy including apart from environmental aspects a variety of issues. In fact, the pioneering work of the World Council on Environment and Development (WCED, 1987) refers to sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. With this famous report Our Common Future, the Brundtland Commission placed sustainability on international political and scientific agendas.

Notwithstanding this broad definition, many political discussions initially have adopted a relatively narrow focus, concentrating mainly on areas where sustainability can be defined directly or exclusively in terms of some specific environmental problem (see e.g. discussion in Pezzey, 2001). A reason for this behaviour lies in the possibility of explaining the underlying idea by focusing on a single environmental issue. However, in order to appropriately implement the concept and lead the world towards a sustainable path, the wider notion of sustainability needs to be taken into account, acknowledging thus the original intention of the WCED pioneers.

For more than a decade, the European Union (EU) has taken a leading role in the promotion of sustainable development (SD), as is emphasized by various key political decisions starting from the Treaty of Maastricht (1992). At the Lisbon Summit in March 2000, a new strategic goal for the European Union was established. The European Council formulated a ten-year strategy to make the EU the world's most dynamic and competitive economy. Under the strategy, a stronger economy will drive job creation alongside social and environmental policies that ensure sustainable development and social inclusion.

The Lisbon Strategy thus touches on most of the EU's economic, social and environmental activities, thereby strengthening the objective of sustainable development with a special focus on competitiveness. In the sequel at the Gothenburg Summit in June 2001, the European Strategy for Sustainable Development (European Commission, 2001) was adopted. This strategy aims at a restructuring of the European economy by means of integrating economic welfare, environmental integrity and social coherence.

The transition to these innovative economic structures poses a major challenge to economic policy design. Sustainability is also high on the policy agenda outside of Europe. The World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002 emphasized the links to economic development, economic security, dissemination of technologies, and the social issues of health and aging in a world that is growing in population. These goals overlap with the targets put forward by the United Nations Millennium Project.

After decades on research on sustainable development, the euphoria for sustainability is thus experiencing a new peak in policy circles. However, recent experiences contemporarily show that the implementation of all these sustainability strategies is difficult. An example in this context is the Lisbon Strategy, which is a commitment to bring about economic, social and environmental renewal in the EU. The European Commission's annual Spring Report examines the strategy in detail. The recent 2004 report acknowledges progress in certain domains, emphasizing however significant problems which hold back the entire strategy.

Therefore, the need for an energetic implementation of reform in all the different spheres through integrated strategies is stressed. Indeed, insufficient implementation of the Lisbon strategy could produce significant net costs for Europe, e.g. in terms of reduced economic welfare and a growing gap with some of the large industrial partners in the fields of education and R&D. In order to promote progress towards the Lisbon targets, better ways of incorporating the broader aspects of sustainability are required.

For this reason, the objective of this paper is to explore a potentially successful strategy to design sustainability policies, taking sustainability aspects and requirements appropriately into account.

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