Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

1 Apr 2024

The Brundtland beginning

Posted by Michael Keating

photo of Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland
Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland

It’s hard to believe it was 40 years ago I flew to the United Nations headquarters in New York to interview, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, head of the new World Commission on Environment and Development. In 1983 a number of countries, including Canada called for a commission on the future of the environment. Wisely, the United Nations turned that into something broader, looking at the kind of development that was destroying the environment while providing things people needed and wanted. Dr. Brundtland, a no-nonsense get things done person, pulled together a panel of experts from around the world and in 1987 released a report, Our Common Future, which popularized the term “sustainable development,” now usually referred to as sustainability. It brought a global wave of support but it’s sobering to look at where we are today on the curve of sustainability. Most people are aware of the growing environmental crises and many are changing their behaviour. Governments have enacted many new laws to curb pollution and protect species. Nations of the world have agreed on sustainability goals. But is far from enough. The climate change crisis keeps getting worse because we still don’t have enough affordable and available sources of green energy. Tropical forests are still cut and burned to create agricultural lands. The seas are still being over-fished. There is still poverty, hunger and war. It’s worth celebrating the achievement of getting us on the path to sustainability but the real celebrations will have to wait until we bring our consumption and pollution within nature’s capacity to deal with it on a permanent basis.

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