Sustainable Development

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A First International Effort to Envision a Shared Strategy of Sustainable Development

Our Common Future, published by the United Nations in 1987.

  • Multilateral relations and interdependence -- we are all connected
  • A search for sustainable development paths -- our goal is multigenerational

The "Common Future" vision statement sought to recapture the spirit of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment - the Stockholm Conference - which had introduced environmental concerns to the formal political development sphere.

"Our Common Future" placed environmental issues at the top of the global political agenda with the environment and development presented as one single issue.

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Over 900 days an international effort gathered and brought together 'best ideas' from governments and representatives, scientists and experts, research institutes, industrialists, non-governmental organizations, and the general public throughout the world.

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They reported "critical issues of environment and development"...

They formulated "innovative, concrete, and realistic action proposals"

They proposed to "strengthen international cooperation on environment and development and to assess and propose new forms of cooperation"

They challenged governments and existing economics to "break out of existing patterns and influence policies and events in the direction of needed change"

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They called for action "on the part of individuals, voluntary organizations, businesses, institutes, and governments”

“They focused "on the areas of population, food security, the loss of species and genetic resources, energy, industry, and human settlements" - realizing that "all of these are connected and cannot be treated in isolation one from another."

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The proposals assembled as the "Brundtland Commission Report" recognised that "human resource development in the form of poverty reduction, gender equity, and wealth redistribution was crucial to formulating strategies for environmental conservation..."

It recognised that "environmental-limits to economic growth in industrialised and industrialising societies existed..."

"As such, the Report offered “[the] analysis, the broad remedies, and the recommendations for a sustainable course of development” within such societies..."

"However, the Report was unable to identify the modes of production responsible for degradation of the environment, and in the absence of analysing the principles governing market-led economic growth, the Report postulated that such growth could be reformed (and expanded); this lack of analysis resulted in an obfuscated-introduction of the term sustainable development."

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Even as "market-led economic growth" was not specifically addressed with reform proposals, others (with green/sustainable/eco-nomic proposals) continue to move forward with proposals, both near- and far-term, realistic and less-than-realistic, but all looking to further develop the fast developing field of ecological eco-nomics...

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The publication of "Our Common Future" and the work of the "World Commission on Environment and Development" laid the groundwork for the convening of the "1992 Earth Summit" and the adoption of "Agenda 21", the "Rio Declaration" and the establishment of the UN "Commission on Sustainable Development"...

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An often quoted definition of sustainable development is defined in the report as:

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Key contributions of "Our Common Future" toward a shared concept of "sustainable development" include the recognition that the many crises facing the planet are interlocking crises that are elements of a single crisis of the whole -- and rising to the front of mind is the vital need for active participation of all sectors of society in consultation and decisions relating to sustainable development.

Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future

When the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission) published its report in 1987, it presented a new concept - sustainable development. The concept became one of the most successful approaches to be introduced in many years. In fact, it helped to shape the international agenda and the international community's attitude towards economic, social and environmental development.

The Brundtland Commission's report defined sustainable development as "development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". The concept supports strong economic and social development, in particular for people with a low standard of living. At the same time it underlines the importance of protecting the natural resource base and the environment. Economic and social well-being cannot be improved with measures that destroy the environment. Intergenerational solidarity is also crucial: all development has to take into account its impact on the opportunities for future generations.

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An Eco-nomics That Works Today and For Future Generations

"Seventh generation" sustainability ...

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