Global warming is a paradigmatic sustainable development challenge. Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are emitted by a vast array of human activities that range from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, transportation, cooking, industrial, commercial, and governmental activities, to raising cows for meat and dairy products, growing rice, transporting natural gas, mining coal, and using fertilizer to grow the food we eat. The cumulative effect of the increased atmospheric concentration of GHGs is that more heat from the sun is trapped in the atmosphere, thereby warming the earth and modifying its climate. The climate change resulting from anthropogenic GHG emissions will adversely affect, among other things, public health, agriculture, weather patterns, water supplies, sea levels, the habitability of the coastal regions of the world, ecosystem health, and biodiversity; and could result in catastrophic effects such as the disappearance of the Gulf Stream, and alterations of other ocean currents. Adaptation to the climate change will be hugely expensive, to the extent adaptation is possible. Reduction of GHG emissions to mitigate the degree and speed of warming will require modifying the way we produce and use energy, grow our food, and changing the underlying price and market assumptions that organize our economic and social lives.
Sustainable development, although a concept difficult to define precisely, seeks economic development that is ecologically sound, equitable as to both present and future generations, and promotes social welfare.