Brundtland Commission: Our Common Future

Brundtland Commission:
Our Common Future
Professor Wayne Hayes
V. 0.5, Build #6 | 2/10/2013
The goal of this
presentation is
. . . to understand the origins of
Our context here is
• We are living in the Anthropocene. Our Home
is astonishing, but also in danger.
• Forests are burning and native people and
others are unsettled.
• Growth destroys limited resources and cannot
be the answer to the challenges of the
• The dominant paradigm is riddled with
We need a pathway
toward an answer.
So before proceeding to the
global crisis and its remedies,
we must introduce
our core concept,
upon which
our course focuses:
Note the book cover.
Note the title of this
classic book:
Report of the World Commission on Environment
and Development:
Our Common Future:
From One Earth to One World.
Or, simply: The Brundtland Commission Report.
Who was Gro Harlem Brundtland and
what was her background?
Brundtland has a resume!
• She was born 20 April 1939.
• She is a medical doctor with a public health degree. She is
former director of the World Health Organization.
• A feminist, she was Prime Minister of Norway (1981, 1986–
89, 1990–96), the first woman and youngest ever.
• She was chosen to direct the U.N. World Commission on
Environment and Development.
• Since 2007, she is a special U.N. envoy on climate change.
• She is among the Elders --- view the web site.
Brundtland’s classic definition of
sustainable development:
"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.“
(Cited from original report. This is an important but brief
View the table of contents of
The Brundtland Commission Report
Click on the web site of the Report.
Study the organization of the report.
Professor Hayes will provide background.
Note the Overview of the report.
Please scan the Overview but focus on the
Global Challenge and the Call for Action.
Note the title of the Overview:
“Our Common Future,
From One Earth to One World”
Which rises to the challenge of the
The challenge is to reconcile this
With this:
Sounds familiar?
The Brundtland Commission attempted to
define in 1987 a reconciliation of the occupation
of the Earth by the human species.
The scope of the report is daunting.
• The time perspective is generational.
• The geographical scope is global, but attempts
to harmonize the interest of poor nations and
• The report calls for a synthesis of broad
themes: nature, society, and the economy.
• The report stands outside the dominant social
paradigm of growth.
Thus, sustainability is presented as
. . . a serious response to the challenges posed
to World Sustainability, such as:
1. The Anthropocene
2. The limits to growth
3. The global crisis as interlocking natural,
social, and economic challenges.
The report was mindful of burning forests and of
climate change. The report does not simplify
these concerns.
Which puts Brundtland’s classic
definition of sustainability in context.
"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.“
(Cited from original report. This is an important but brief
The report is a good starting point
from which to understand
sustainability .
Browse the original report to get a sense of the
historical mission of sustainability, why it is
important, and how the concern represented by
sustainability is framed.
What’s hiding in the
Brundtland Report?
The Brundtland Report was a paradigm shift
that altered the assumptions that dominated
the existing approach to economic
How does the Brundtland report
change the paradigm?
Ecology and economy are interlocked and
embedded in society and must be thought of
together. The report states (p. 5):
“Ecology and economy are becoming even more
interwoven --- locally, regionally, nationally and
globally --- into a seamless web of causes and
Population is still important but
. . . population is linked to other issues such as
1. The empowerment of women (after all,
Brundtland is a feminist) (p. 11)
2. The right of tribal and indigenous people to
livelihood, an alternative term for economics.
Right after population comes the
discussion of food and agriculture:
The issue is now food security to include:
1. Agricultural subsidies by the rich countries
that hurt farmers in other countries
2. Lack of purchasing power among poor
nations as income distribution
3. The need for rural development (pp. 12-13
and later chapters).
The agents of sustainability were
enlarged and made inclusive.
As an arm of the U.N., such commissions are generally limited to
nation-states. Not so here:
• Civil society organizations were central players in the
• Poor nations were to be active and not simply a recipient of
aid from rich and powerful nations.
• The role and status of women was central
• All stakeholders were to be empowered and mobilized as
agents of sustainability.
The report questioned the role of the
international economy.
1. The destruction of the environment that was so
obvious in the 1980s
2. The growing inequality produced by the global
3. The growing debt burden of the poor nations
4. The lack of attention to the shared Commons
5. The lack of economic diversification at the local
and regional levels.
See specifically the Role of the International Economy.
Brundtland Report re-defined the core
concept: development.
The prior definition might be called the Truman Doctrine (1949
Inauguration Speech):
"All countries, including our own, will greatly benefit from a
constructive program for the better use of the world's human
and natural resources. Experience shows that our commerce
with other countries expands as they progress industrially and
Truman articulated a doctrine that implied that progress
for the multitude of the world's peoples and cultures was to be
found through emulating the material progress of the USA and
its partners in what was then called the Free World (WSY Wiki).
Wolfgang Sachs explains the
assumptions of the Truman doctrine.
"Truman's imperative to develop meant that societies of
the Third World were no longer seen as diverse and
incomparable possibilities of human living arrangements
but were rather placed on a single 'progressive track,'
judged more or less advanced according to the criteria of
the Western industrial nations. Greater production is the
key to prosperity and peace. And the key to greater
production is a wider and more vigorous application of
modern scientific and technical knowledge" (Sachs, 4).
The challenge posed to you:
• Use the assignment, the sustainability graphic
organizer, to think through for yourself the
challenge, scope, and meaning of
• Convey your thinking at as high a level as
possible to your professors. You will get