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Long-term Sustainability

The 'Brundtland Report' is the commonly used name for 'Our Common Future'. The name refers to the chairperson, Gro Harlem Brundtland, of the WCED World Commission on Environment and Development, which compiled the report as book, first printed in 1987.

The WCED World Commission on Environment and Development was an international committee set up in 1983 by the UN to investigate North-South development issues, and to make recommendations as to how the UN could help to prevent catastrophic environmental problems in the future.

Brundtland Report cover
Brundtland Report cover (1987)

The Vice-Chairman was Mansour Khalid, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sudan. Some other members of the committee were:

  • Susanna Agnelli, a senior Italian member of parliament (Italian and European) and senator
  • Volker Hauff, former transport minister of Germany
  • Maurice Strong, Canadian, Secretary General of the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, best known as the Earth Summit, Rio 1992

Title of the Opening Chapter: From One Earth to One World: an Overview by the WCED Brundtland makes reference to Willy Brandt's 'Programme for Survival' and 'Common Crisis North-South' (1983).

Following the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) report, the UN convened the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. This gave birth to the UNFCCC, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to a great extent based on the findings of the WCED, and subsequently the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1996 in Kyoto, Japan.

Brundtland Report definiton of Sustainable Development

The 1987 Brundtland Report (WCED, Our common Future) is perhaps best known for its early use of the term sustainable development. In its introductory chapter "From One Earth to One World: an Overview by the OECD", the report gives a popular definition of sustainable development.

Sustainable Development

27. Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The concept of sustainable development does imply limits - not absolute limits but limitations imposed by the present state of technology and social organization on environmental resources and by the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities. But technology and social organization can be both managed and improved to make way for a new era of economic growth. The Commission believes that widespread poverty is no longer inevitable. Poverty is not only an evil in itself, but sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to fulfil their aspirations for a better life. A world in which poverty is endemic will always be prone to ecological and other catastrophes.

28. Meeting essential needs requires not only a new era of economic growth for nations in which the majority are poor, but an assurance that those poor get their fair share of the resources required to sustain that growth. Such equity would be aided by political systems that secure effective citizen participation in decision making and by greater democracy in international decision making.

29. Sustainable global development requires that those who are more affluent adopt life-styles within the planet's ecological means - in their use of energy, for example. Further, rapidly growing populations can increase the pressure on resources and slow any rise in living standards; thus sustainable development can only be pursued if population size and growth are in harmony with the changing productive potential of the ecosystem.

30. Yet in the end, sustainable development is not a fixed state of harmony, but rather a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs. We do not pretend that the process is easy or straightforward. Painful choices have to be made. Thus, in the final analysis, sustainable development must rest on political will.