Working paper

Sustainable Development: Environment and Economic Framework Integration (WP 01/27)

Authors: Basil M H Sharp


Sustainable development is a multifaceted concept that has drawn on a number of disciplines including economics, ecology, ethics, sociology and political science. Sustainable development links the welfare of generations with the capacity of the biosphere to sustain life and has a policy focus. Sustainable development is not a fixed state but rather a process of change in which resource exploitation, the direction of investment, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are made consistent with the future as well as present needs.

Practical policy analysis needs to be guided by specific objectives analysed within a consistent and coherent framework. In the absence of an operational framework the policy analyst is left with an indeterminate model to work with. This vacuum can lower the quality of advice, increase reliance on ad hoc decision-making and potentially impact economic growth and the welfare of current and future New Zealanders. This report does not consider the range of policy instruments that could be used in achieving sustainable development outcomes.

A framework for economic-environment integration is proposed. The specific framework is shown to depend on "the problem". It is not a mechanistic process and careful attention has to be given to grafting a rigorous model for analysis. Three case studies illustrate how economic-environment integration can be achieved. Specific frameworks can be developed for the purpose of empirical analysis and hypothesis testing.

Three themes for future research are described. One theme is empirical and suggests a study of existing rules and mechanisms vis-à-vis sustainable development. Another broad theme is directed at obtaining a better understanding of sustainable development within the context of an open-economy dependent on key natural resources for economic growth. Finally, there is a need to develop a range of indicators for policy analysis.