In 1987, the United Nations released the Brundtland Report, which defined sustainable development as “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” While this definition provides a relatively stable theoretical base from which development economists and political scientists can begin to tackle issues surrounding sustainable development, the inherently amorphous nature of this definition has also created a fair amount of ambiguity in both the economic literature surrounding sustainable development and the subsequent attempts by economists to measure it.
Historically, those interested in the science of development have typically relied on very specific and fundamental indicators and measurement tools (GDP, HDI, etc.) in their attempts to define and understand development trends around the world. In response to emerging interest in the relatively new idea of “sustainable development,” a number of economists and political scientists have attempted to define and measure the popular term. However, due to the vague nature of the term itself and the multitude of opinions concerning its true meaning, the current economic literature concerning sustainable development is exceptionally hazy, lacking any real consensus on the exact definition of the term and more importantly: how best to measure it.
This project rectifies this gap in economic and political understanding surrounding sustainable development. The project funnels a fairly exhaustive review of contemporary literature on the topic into a comprehensive, polished definition of sustainable development. Based on this new definition, and with solid footholds in development theory, the project then creates a composite statistic that can be used to measure sustainable development on a national scale, in a generalizable and cross national context. The resulting index, the SDMI (Sustainable Development Measurement Index), integrates economic, social, and environmental components in its assessment of the sustainability of development in each nation where it is applied.
Lastly, through the juxtaposition of the SDMI with classic developmental measurement techniques like GDP and the Human Development index (displayed through the utilization of in-depth, intricate maps), this project illuminates an array of contemporarily relevant issues in the fields of economics and political science.