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In 1972, the report The Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome pointed out the impossibility of the permanent growth of population and consumption in a closed system with finite resources such as the Earth. The scientific community strongly questioned the economic growth discourse. The international bodies answered with a conciliatory but ambiguous idea: sustainable development. 

In 1987, Our Common Future was published, better known as the Brundtland Report. This document, commissioned by the United Nations (UN), popularised the concept sustainable development as the type of development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs. Since then, the concept has been institutionalised as an essential part of the global governance system of the UN. It has been referred to into every conference and summit and included as a guiding principle in every protocol and agreement signed by the international community. Action plans for sustainable development have been developed throughout the years. The Agenda 21 was followed by the Millennium Development Goals, which were replaced in 2015 by the current framework, the Agenda 2030, which includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The terms have changed, but the underlying idea is the same: balance. The sustainable development paradigm implies accepting that environmental protection is compatible with economic growth. 

Nowadays the chimera of the balance between sustainability and development has disappeared. Three decades of policies based on sustainable development have failed to restrain the extractivist and resource-predatory model. We have been getting into a climate and social crisis that is now combined with the health crisis caused by the COVID-19. The pandemic is a sign that the balance has leant towards development at the expense of the environment. Sustainable development has not prevented the destruction of the natural habitats of many species, causing all types of health risks, inequalities and conflicts. The new post COVID order offers an opportunity to stop and reflect on whether we want to keep putting development first or we want to start a true shift towards sustainability.

“A shift towards sustainability” is precisely the slogan of the Universitat d’Estiu de Gandia 2020, an emblematic academic and cultural event that this year celebrates its 37th edition in an exceptional context, marked by the new pandemic, that requires a new format. Thus, for the first time, we present a virtual edition with the intention of discussing the SDGs of the Agenda 2030 and their suitability as a compass to guide us through the transformations needed to guarantee sustainability living.


Carme Melo

Director of the Gandia International Centre of the UV.