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Brundtland Commission

Page history last edited by Professor Wayne Hayes 11 years, 8 months ago

Brundtland Commission Report


Gro Harlem Brundtland, then Prime Minister of Norway, chaired a United Nations high commission to grapple with this dilemma: How to decrease global levels of poverty while at the same time protecting the global environment, which had clearly begun to fray. Her report opened up a broad international discussion of Sustainable Development, which was defined by her seminal report. The report has had an enormous impact.


Follow the story from Sustainable Development through World Sustainability. Pay special attention below to the historical unfolding of the concept of sustainability. Conclude with two important concepts, below: Limits to Growth and Triple Bottom Line.




Prelude to Brundtland

Economic globalization had begun earlier in the decade and the results were being questioned: inequality was growing and environmental havoc was widespread. The historical prelude to Sustainable Development and Brundtland included unprecedented deforestation, species extinction, and ecosystem destruction. At the time, only hints of global warming were circulating. Note the chilly reception by the Reagan White House.

Key Term: Development

How and when did development get onto the world stage? What was implied by defining the multitude of humanity as underdeveloped?

Origins of sustainable development

Sustainable development officially starts with the Brundtland Commission Report. This is the seminal  and authoritative introduction to sustainable development. Read the overview chapter, especially section #3 on sustainable development.

What makes sustainable development so important?

There is an easy answer: click here to find out. Then here and here. And Gro Harlem Brundtland has not gone away. Read her recent comment on the 20 year anniversary of her seminal report.

Intergenerational concerns

"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." Brundtland expanded the time horizon to include generations, a major challenge issued by the Commission. Think about it.

Limits to Growth

"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." 

Global poverty persists

When we examine the global crisis in Part II, using Lester Brown Plan B 4.0, we will examine the dimensions of the social crisis. Exclusion and inequality at the global level will be assessed. Poverty must be mitigated while we respect Earth's limits, a daunting challenge. Without a grand global compact involving all nations, the mission of sustainable development cannot be attained. This theme runs through our course. There is some good news: the percentage of the Earth's population "living" on under the equivalent of $1/per day is decreasing. But more must be done.

The Triple Bottom Line

The Triple Bottom Line refers to the simultaneous consideration in decision-making of the social, economic, and ecological aspects of sustainability. This makes sustainability more conceptually demanding but also more transparent, collaborative and democratic. This shows how sustainability requires a paradigm shift. See my notes on the Triple Bottom Line.


©Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. 5/24/2008

Comments (8)

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 10:50 am on Jun 20, 2011

Barbara, exactly. Humanity would overwhelm Earth's carrying capacity to live like Americans, but access to the basics, as you say, is desirable ---- and humans are precious. The Sub-Sahara is the global hot spot but much (uneven) progress has been seen in, say, India and China. Sustainability focuses on the basics, as does Brown. These steps toward sustainability are generally easy and inexpensive, local and democratic. The focus might best be on women and children. ~WH

bbodden@ramapo.edu said

at 6:44 pm on Jun 19, 2011

I don't think development necessarily means that everyone has to be like Americans(plus consumerism is the worst type of society in terms of sustainability). Basic entitlements, though, are important to everyone: food, water, shelter, sanitation, basic health care and education(any kind of education makes for a better life). These entitlements could come in any form- big or small. Often in say sub-Saharan Africa, people work hard everyday just to grow "something" to eat and to find any water(whether clean or not).

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 10:57 am on Jun 4, 2008

About half of humanity now lives in cities, including burgeoning slums. Land based people have generally more security, if not displaced by growth or ecological disruption. Further migration to cities exacerbates social costs. See the Sachs article in Schroyer and Golodik. ~WH

bpielka@... said

at 9:44 pm on Jun 3, 2008

Decent human existance is different for everyone based on culture, ethnicity, religion, etc. An African hereder could be happy with 50 animals, a house and fresh water. An American needs some of everything! I guess there is some group out there coming up with theories about what each person needs. Liz I can do without television too. You answered your own question.
Decent human existence is who you are and where you are and how you sustian yourself

LizJoyce said

at 1:11 pm on Jun 3, 2008

AND...I Have a question related to this quote: "Millions continue to live far below the minimum levels required for a decent human existence, deprived of adequate food and clothing, shelter and education, health and sanitation." Who determines the level of decent human existence? I imagine my level might be much different than another's - I could totally live without TV and maybe even electricity except for an hour per day - others (like my husband & kids) might think that's crazy. What if people in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, don't want to live like Americans or become developed? Is it just a matter of getting clean drinking water over there?

LizJoyce said

at 12:59 pm on Jun 3, 2008

Just wanted to add...those videos (why sustainable development is so important) are amazing, breathtaking, unbelievable.

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 9:37 pm on May 28, 2008

Thanks for noticing, Adriene. ~WH

Adriene said

at 9:13 pm on May 28, 2008

The chronology for the Brundtland commission report link above is helpful to see what exactly each of the summits or reports we are discussing in this class was about...

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