This paper considers engagement with sustainable development in the rich industrialized countries since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, focusing particularly on environmental limits. It argues that while the idea of 'limits' is in one sense ubiquitous, contemporary societies are only beginning to come to terms with its implications. The discussion considers different understandings of environmental limits, explores the example of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, reflects on fruitful ways to approach environmental limits, and references recent 'green growth' and 'green economy' initiatives associated with Rio+20. It suggests that normative judgments are essential to give social and political meaning to environmental limits, and notes the importance of defining the positive social goods that are to be secured through the recognition of such limits. The paper particularly emphasizes the importance of securing absolute reductions in critical environmental loadings, because this is the side of the issue which tends to be obscured when sustainable development is reduced to a 'quality-of-life' agenda and severed from concerns with global equity.

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Keywords Climate change, Developed countries, Environmental governance, Environmental limits, Green economy, Green growth, Sustainable development
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1068/c1338j
Journal Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy
Citation
Meadowcroft, J. (2013). Reaching the limits? Developed country engagement with sustainable development in a challenging conjuncture. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 31(6), 988–1002. doi:10.1068/c1338j