Sustainable Development: Implementation in Urban Water Systems

University dissertation from Department of Water Resources Engineering, Lund Institute of Technology, Lund University

Abstract: As Sustainable development, a widely used but poorly understood term, challenges traditional scientific values such as prediction and control, scientists have tried to manipulate the concept to promote their own particular agendas. Thus, it has suffered from misrepresentation which has prevented the concept from being fully implemented at a practical level.

It is asserted that traditional fragmented and mechanistic science is unable to cope with sustainability issues, and that there is no equilibrium or optimal point for an evolving system since the optimum is also moving. Therefore, approaches advocating engineering, linear, and mechanistic paradigms to define sustainability do not make much sense. Instead, we need to resort to non-linear thinking, more commonly referred to as systems thinking. Thus, System Dynamics, one branch of systems thinking which operates in a whole-system fashion, is put forward as a powerful methodology to deal with the issue.

Using a system dynamics approach, the thesis introduces the idea of Viability Loops, the balancing loops in a dynamic system that serve to check the reinforcing mechanisms.

It is also argued that sustainability is neither a system state nor a static goal to be achieved. It is an ideal of development efforts in a system. Ideals come from ethics and values, and they are indeed non-quantifiable.

Sustainable development is perceived as a dynamic process evolving through a learning process, and not as any kind of optimum or end-state of a system. Neither is it adoptable to strategies based on command and control, fixed goals, and predictability. It, therefore, refers to the goal of fostering adaptive capabilities to respond to changes while simultaneously creating opportunities for the next generation to find a variety of options to meet their needs.

The thesis argues that sustainable development is a process in which the Viability Loops are kept healthy. This process deals with evolutionary changes where the end point is not known in advance. According to this perception, measuring sustainable development does not make sense. Rather, systems should be monitored for sustainable development by means of process indicators.

Principles are required to be fostered to deal with the issue of sustainable development and to fulfill the normative level of the society ?known as morality? as well as the natural rules ?identified as god given causal relations. In the thesis, principles of sustainable development adapted for water resources systems are suggested based on the principles of The Natural Steps (TNS) to address physical relations of nature, and system basic orientors to treat both environmental and humanitarian aspects of the issue respectively.

It is argued that triggering a social learning process would be the most suitable strategy for sustainable development. To this end, backcasting is recommended as a suitable tool, and model building is regarded as a promotion of the learning process rather than a means of forecasting.