The UK government has made the achievement of sustainable development one of its principal objectives, but what does it mean?
At its heart is the simple idea of ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. A widely-used international definition is 'development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.
Although the idea is simple, the task is substantial. It means meeting four objectives at the same time, in the UK and the world as a whole:
- social progress which recognises the needs of everyone;
- effective protection of the environment;
- prudent use of natural resources;
- maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.
Sustainable forestry recognises the same wide objectives and the importance of linking the economic, environmental and social values of forests. At its simplest, it means making sure that today’s forests are still here for our children and grandchildren. But we also have to be careful of the quality of the inheritance that we pass on to future generations. They will rightly expect that their forests and woodlands will offer the same benefits and opportunities (or if possible more) as we enjoy. It is the role of the Forestry Commission and our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Forest Service to try to fulfil those expectations.
The interlinking themes of environment, economy and society that contribute to sustainable development can be visualised in a simple diagram: