Prelude To Brundtland

Brundtland Commission Report


Our film (not available on-line) on the destruction of Brazil's great rainforests, Banking on Disaster, provides a glimpse into the underlying conditions that prevailed in the 1980s and reveals the expanded role of the World Bank, chartered at Bretton Woods in 1945, to intervene in the economic and social policies of the Third World. The doctrine of neo-liberalism and the institutions promoting economic globalization dominated the policy agenda of the world's then leading trading nations: the USA under President Ronald Reagan and Great Britain under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, both strident Conservatives.


This was to be the passage into an era of free markets built on a distortion of the international regime forged in 1945 at Bretton Woods. As we will see later, Bretton Woods was to be transformed through the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in 1995 with the establishment of the World Trade Organization championed by U.S. President Bill Clinton. Bretton Woods originated as an arrangement among the industrialized nation states, albeit with prerogatives extended to the USA, but was transfigured into a global regime of ostensibly free markets that privileged the trans-national corporations and that actually undermined the sovereignty of the very national communities that established Bretton Woods.


The Brundtland report was a response to the conflict between the nascent regime promoting globalized economic growth and the emerging ecological disaster on a global scale. The challenge posed in the 1980s was to harmonize prosperity with ecology and to address the needs of what was then perceived as the developing world -- explicitly interjecting the norms of social justice into the dynamics of a relentlessly roiling Global South. This was to be achieved by redefining the doctrine of economic development as the new doctrine of sustainable development, as it was christened in the Brundtland report.


This ushered in a profound paradigm shift that still perplexes us. To comprehend this paradigm shift, we start with what we intend by the key term: development.