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This week I was posed an interesting question: what does sustainability actually mean?

The answer at first might seem obvious, but there are many components of sustainability. The 1987 Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as “meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

We often focus on the environmental component of sustainability, while big businesses might be more focused on economic sustainability. Social sustainability is also an important element, but all three must be considered for a holistic and truly sustainable approach. In recent years, islands seem to have had their sustainability defined for them as climate change, in some cases the two become almost synonymous. Climate change is no doubt a serious concern, but is it synonymous with sustainability?

Adaptation to climate change is just one of the many development challenges faced by island communities. The “Eco-Island Trap” and “Conspicuous Sustainability” are just two of the terms that have been coined to describe an absolute focus on climate change at the expense of other development issues such as health and education. Climate change adaptation projects should not be at the expense of the very real development needs of today, but many islands and Arctic communities are forced into this paradigm and must frame any project in the context of climate change to get funding. This is not at all to say climate change should be ignored but a delicate balance needs to be found between it and other development issues.

recently presented on this subject at 7th International Conference on Environmental Future (check out awesome conference artwork summaries here and here). The point is that island communities themselves can develop innovative strategies to succeed globally and should not be limited by the constraints of the climate change narrative imposed on them from outside.

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