"Sustainable development" was an oxymoron coined sometime in the 1970s to enable conservationists to cash in on funding for aid programmes.
At least that is how it seems to me, and a lot of people swallowed it. This included quite a few people who claimed to be conservationists, but the reality is of course very very different. Development, in the accepted sense, in the 21st century, by definition, cannot be sustainable. Civilization, as we know it is not sustainable. The human population, at its present size, is not sustainable. So how can development, which presumably strives to improve the material well-being of the human population be sustainable?
I have argued for several years that the best we can hope for is sustainable management. If we could manage the planet's resources sustainably we would all be doing a lot better than at present. The World Land Trust (WLT) projects all contain elements of management, and they all strive to improve the lot of the communities associated with them.
Possibly WLT projects do include development -- it's the very nature of humans to want to improve their material wealth. But is this really development? There was an underlying misinterpretation of Darwinian evolution, that also assumed that evolution was 'progress' -- from shrew, to monkeys and apes to humans, onwards and upwards. But that is not what evolution is about, it is about change, and modification to be more suitable for the appropriate environment.
Nonetheless there are still those who, because they view man as created in the likeness of a god, to be the epitome of evolution, and consequently they also believe that 'development' is essential. And this philosophy tends to be the one that drives foreign aid, which in my opinion has generally had as many negative impacts as positive. In fact if I am honest, I believe that overall foreign aid has rarely improved the lot of those nations it is given too, but often improves the economies of the donor nations.
But sustainable development? It is surely an oxymoron.