Putting sustainability into sustainable human development

Wouter Peeters, Jo Dirix, Sigrid Sterckx

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
167 Downloads (Pure)


Abating the threat climate change poses to the lives of future people clearly challenges our development models. The 2011 Human Development Report rightly focuses on the integral links between sustainability and equity. However, the human development and capabilities approach emphasizes the expansion of people’s capabilities simpliciter, which is questionable in view of environmental sustainability. We argue that capabilities should be defined as triadic relations between an agent, constraints and possible functionings. This triadic syntax particularly applies to climate change: since people’s lives and capabilities are dependent on the environment, sustainable human development should also include constraining human activities in order to prevent losses in future people’s well-being due to the adverse effects of exacerbated climate change. On this basis, we will advocate that the goals of sustainable human development should be informed by a framework that consists of enhancing capabilities up to a threshold level, as well as constraining the functionings beyond this threshold in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-76
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Human Development and Capabilities
Issue number1
Early online date28 Feb 2013
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Feb 2013


  • sustainable human development
  • 2011 Human Development Report
  • capabilities
  • Climate change


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