It's the Environment, Stupid.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Brundtland Report 20th Anniversary

One of my biggest pet peeves is how people (mainly experts, government officials and journalists) throw around the Brundtland Commission Report definition of sustainable development to explain sustainability in an environmental context.
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The definition is rarely quoted as it appears in the report and it is often applied in situations that emphasize environmental conservation without taking into consideration any social or economic aspects. A reading of the (lengthy) report reveals that sustainable development must include all three elements - environmental, social and economic - in order for this definition to be achieved.

(On a side note: the other thing that bugs me is how the term sustainable development is (wrongly) attributed to originating in the report, as is the concept of itself. The term was first used in international dialogue in the World Conservation Strategy in 1980, the concept I believe was introduced in the international arena in the Stockholm Declaration of 1972. Read my definition evolution here.)

Of course this is not to minimize the importance of the Brundtland Report and the commission's work (the commission was created in 1983 - the report came out five years later in 1987). It really was the first of its kind to draw broad links between environmental, social and economic concerns and it made international policy recommendations accordingly.

It also provided a strong platform for the concept of sustainable development to jump to a higher level. It prompted the UN to call for the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the event that churned out the precursor to the Kyoto Protocol and Local Agenda 21 (local efforts at environmental conservation and clean-up actions globally).

On the 20th anniversary of the report's release the World Business Council on Sustaianble Development (WBCSD) has come out with a report of its own, "Then and Now: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the "Brundtland Report.""

The WBCSD report gives an accurate summation of the Brundtland report and focuses on how the WBCSD has stepped in to fill void of the business voice in the sustainable development arena and what steps they're working on in moving towards the future. While it is primarily a nice self-promotional piece, "Then and Now" does highlight positive efforts and initiatives the WBCSD and their member companies have achieved over the years.

Still, 20 years later, nearly everything in the Brundtland report (including messages of caution and precaution regarding climate change) applies today - which can be viewed as both positive (tremendous insight and forward thinking) and negative (we've done little as a global community to remedy these concerns.) With this recent resurgence of popularity for enviro concerns, I think we're seeing a little more effort from governments and policy makers to address the issues that have been put off for too long.


  • What is really annoying is that when one talks of environment especially in regard to designating special areas of conservation (SAC);a requirement of the EU Habitats Directive, people turn to the argument that politicians are putting animal and birds before people. STUPID!

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