Sustainable Development in a Capitalist World

November 15, 2023
November 18, 2023

The United Nations’ aim of sustainable development is to “end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere.”  In 2015, the UN introduced 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to incorporate targets ranging from environmental to socio-economic sustainability into its 2030 action plan. The Sustainable Development Goals Report of 2022 reflects the concerns of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who stated in March 2022 that “We are moving backward in relation to the majority of the Sustainable Development Goals because of [...] a fundamental lack of solidarity in today’s world [...] We need to rescue the SDGs and get them back on track”. While these words are troubling, they are also a call to action.

Historically, capitalistic market economies have been a catalyst for economic growth and development. Adam Smith, an 18th-century Scottish economist and philosopher, argued that individuals’ self-serving nature could sustain society’s material needs much better than command, mercantile economies. Capitalism is based on free market competition, which is checked with laws, but not managed by governments. The economic systems of many countries today have developed simultaneously with social policy, e.g. the German social market economy, the French dirigisme, the Chinese socialist market economy, and many other hybrid systems. Capitalism has had global positive impacts over the past centuries. Proponents of capitalism such as Friedrich Hayek, who believes that capitalism ensures liberty, and economists such as Rainer Zitelmann from the Adam Smith Institute argue that “Capitalism has done more to overcome hunger and poverty than any other system in world history.” 

However, since the ensuing industrial revolution, capitalist development has led to greater inequality and its growth is not sustainable. Cheap labor and environmentally unsustainable practices are especially beneficial to governments and corporations whose economic and political objectives are often short-term. For these reasons, it is important to explore the possibilities of reform to our current capitalist-dominated economic systems to achieve sustainable development.

Achieving the SDGs is possible, as shown by the initial progress made toward these goals. Doing so in our capitalist world will require innovation and diplomacy. This will be the key to success for all participants in BERMUN 2023.


Solomon Iro, Secretary-General

Ophelia Reuter, President of the General Assembly

Maya Hauff, Deputy Secretary-General

Moana Kammerer, Deputy Secretary-General

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