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Summary: ‘Our Common Future’ (Brundtland Commission Report)

OUR COMMON FUTURE or Brundtland Commission Report named after the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, was published by United Nation in 1987. The report is a meticulous attempt to understand persisting socio-economic and environment-related problems around the globe. The central theme of the report is ‘sustainability’, and aspirations to achieve sustainable development. This painstaking work has tried to address some of the global concerns from poverty to global commons, as well as endeavor to provide possible solutions for these issues. This report is considered as the road map for sustainable development and led to the paradigm shift in the approach to development.

The book is categorized into three parts in which the committee primarily focused on ‘common concerns’, ‘common challenges’ and ‘common endeavors’.

Chapter 1, A Threatened Future, draws the attention of the world towards some of the symptoms and causes of global problems. It describes how the unequal distribution of resources and economic growth projects that followed by industrialized nations left the globe damaged for the long term. The growth based on the massive use of fossil fuels, industrialization, urbanization, agricultural use of land, and construction of massive dams lead to vandalization of the global environment.

Environmental problems greenhouse effect, depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, translation air pollution, toxic wastes, and reduction in genetic diversity endanger survival on the earth by disturbing balance and basic integrity of the system. Moreover, this chapter has given a new approach to environment and development and underlined the failures to manage the environment and to sustain development. It also emphasizes how environmental stress and patterns of economic development are linked to one another and how environmental and economic problems are interlinked to social and political factors. ‘

Towards Sustainable Development’ is the historical chapter of ‘Our Common Future’ that gives the definition of Sustainable Development to the world. It states, “Sustainable Development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. It also underscores how ecological interactions do not coincide with individual ownership and political jurisdiction and lead to the problems of common interests.

In chapter 3, Role of the international economy, the report showcases the challenges of the international market and still ‘export of natural resources remains a larger factor in the economy of least developed countries (LCD) that lead adverse environmental impacts. Chapter 4, Population and Human Resource address the complex relation of population growth with development. It underlines how economic development generates resources that can be used to improve education and health and how these improvements, along with associated social changes influence population growth. It is also suggesting to think beyond controlling numbers for creating the policy framework and managing population in such a way that it works as an asset rather than a liability.

More people mean more food to feed, food security becomes the major concern. So, the next chapter on Food Security points out what the world has achieved in the name of food security and the emergence of industrial agriculture, green revolution, and resource-poor agriculture. It also stresses that agriculture doesn’t lack resources but it lacks policies to ensure that food is produced where it is needed and in the manner that sustains livelihoods.

Further, it brings out how the short-sighted policies, soil degradation, blatant and intensive chemical uses, pressure on forests, desertification, jeopardize global food security. As the ending note, the chapter suggests the need for a holistic approach focused on ecosystems at the local, regional, and global level, with coordinated land use and careful planning of water usage and long-term policies to sustain the potential to produce enough for the world.

The sixth chapter underlines the importance of species and genetic diversity and how they play a significant role in development by contributing to agriculture, medicine, and industry. It also brings to notice the shift from the historical approach of isolated conservation to anticipant and prevent.

In Chapter 7: Energy: Choices for Environment and Development, the committee explicitly explains how the pattern and change of energy use may lead to sustainability as energy is the backbone for development. Furthermore, it highlights the momentousness of ‘Energy, Economy, and Environment’, and how their linkage or interdependence decides the fate of a nation. It recommends the untapped potential of renewable energy in the form of woods (important feedstock), hydropower, solar energy, and wind power.

In the next chapter ‘Producing more with less’, the authors talk about industries that are central to the modern economy. Industries extract materials from the natural resource base and insert both products and pollution into the human environment. Subsequently, they highlight how the industry and its products have an impact on the natural resource base of civilization through the entire cycle of raw material.

In chapter 10, Managing the Commons, the committee shows concern regarding the management of the global commons like the ocean, space, and Antarctica and underlines their critical roles in maintaining and supporting life on the Earth. It purposes some recommendations for international cooperation in order to strengthen the capacity for national actions and international laws.

Chapter 11, Peace, Security, Development and the Environment, endeavors to establish a relationship between environment, development, and conflicts. It illustrates how environmental stresses are the source of conflicts and in turn conflicts as a constraint to sustainable development. Nuclear wars, mass destruction, and arm culture do not only cause human annihilation but also environmental and irreversible biodiversity loss. In the end, the committee recommends some principles for peace and security and interregional cooperation. In the last chapter, they are commended for the international institutional framework and cooperation for enabling sustainable development and strengthening of the existing institutions.

This report shows to the world that it is possible to achieve development without trading off with the environment. I consider this report as the begetter of sustainable development because the whole concept not only begins from it but also provides enough possible solutions to sustain it. I like the way in which the book was written and attempted to cover every issue related to sustainability. There are many examples and solutions that don’t work for the contemporary scenario, but still, this report has its own historical significance as a classic of sustainable development. Since, this approach has not only transformed the idea of development but also highlighted the inevitable interdependence of development, environment, and society.

Reference

 Brundtland, G. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. [Online] Available at http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf

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Ritika is an Urban Fellow at Indian Institute for Human Settlement, Bengaluru. She loves to learn about small towns, water, sustainability, and climate change. She wants to explore the urbanization of small towns of India that remain under-studied in urban literature.

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