Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

Posted by Michael Keating

Major Reports

Major environmental and sustainability publications

Following is a list of some influential books and reports on environment and sustainability.

Silent Spring, 1962

This book, by U.S. biologist and ecologist Rachel Carson, warned of the harmful effects of pesticides, such as DDT. It triggered a huge public debate about chemical risks in general, and is often considered the start of the modern environmental era.

Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, 1972

The Stockholm meeting was the first global conference on the environment, and the first world conference to focus on a single issue. The conference initially was designed to focus on environment issues, but development issues were added at the urging of developing countries. The conference produced a Declaration on the Human Environment, an Action Plan for the Human Environment, and a Resolution on Institutional and Financial Arrangements.


World Conservation Strategy, 1980

The strategy, prepared by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, United Nations Environment Program and the World Wildlife Fund, promoted the idea of environmental protection in the self-interest of the human species. It encouraged sustainable forms of development and the conservation of essential life processes for the benefit of humanity as well as other species. It was a major stepping stone in what became the concept of sustainable development.


The Brundtland Report (Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development), 1987

This is the document that launched the term “sustainable development” at a global level. The report was written by an independent but UN-sponsored international commission, headed by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, who became Norway’s prime minister. The report called for more development in some parts of the world to raise living standards for the poor while reducing the environmental impacts of development in industrialized nations. The proposal to make all development more ecologically sustainable development triggered a global debate on how to continue human development without destroying the environment that supports life.


Report of the National Task Force on Environment and Economy, 1987

This Canadian report came from a group of 17 environment ministers, business executives, environmentalists and academics appointed by the Canadian Council of Resource and Environment Ministers, and inspired by the Brundtland Commission. The Canadian report made 40 recommendations ranging from research into how to run an economy without running down the environment to educating young people on how to protect the environment. One of its key recommendations was for collaborative leadership from all sectors of society, in particular the federal government.

Report of the National Task Force on Environment and Economy

Reports of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and the Earth Summit, 1992

Five years after the Brundtland Report, the world met to decide on a roadmap for sustainable development. The UN conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, included the Earth Summit, the largest-ever meeting of world leaders. The meetings brought together the heads or senior officials of 179 governments. They were joined by thousands of citizens and officials from United Nations organizations, municipal governments, business, scientific, non-government and other groups. Agenda 21, adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, reflects a global consensus and political commitment at the highest level on development and environment cooperation. The Rio Declaration On Environment And Development laid out 27 principles defining the rights and responsibilities of nations as they pursue human development and well-being.


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment findings were a major scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide. The report by more than 1,360 experts worldwide offered a scientific basis for action to conserve and use natural resources sustainably.


The Earth Summit’s Agenda for Change

This is a summary of the five major documents that came out of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which included the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It includes the 700-page Agenda 21, a blueprint for a sustainable future; the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; the United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change; the Convention on Biological Diversity; and a statement of principles on forests. I wrote this summary for The Centre for Our Common Future, a Geneva-based organization that included members of the former secretariat of the World Commission on Environment and Development, the Brundtland commission. The summary was commissioned by the Swiss government for its citizens, but ended up being translated into 23 languages and distributed globally.

Agenda for Change

Toward A Common Future

This is Canada’s public discussion paper on the implications of the Brundtland report ,Our Common Future, for this country. I was commissioned to write it by Environment Canada in 1988, the year after Brundtland was published, and it was released at the 1989 First Ministers’ Conference. It includes two sections. The first is a synopsis of the major environmental challenges faced by the country and the world. The second looks at what was then the new environment-economy agenda of sustainable development.

Toward A Common Future