I have been extremely busy lately and therefore running completely behind on my writing schedule. If that was not enough, the IPCC decided to publish another of its so-many-hundreds-of-pages-counting reports on climate change. This time I decided to not even start reading the executive summary. Why, you ask? Because I am getting so damn tired of reports, press conferences, talks, climate summits, and what not the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been dropping on us since the first global Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.
Tagged: Earth summit
The Brundtland report is probably the most famous document regarding sustainable development. The report, officially titled “Our Common Future”, was published in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) under the lead of former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland.
The 300-pages long report coined and defined the term sustainable development for the first time as a broad economical and ecological concept. Although it had been used before with regard to sustainable forestry and fisheries, it was not until the release of this document that economic and ecological policies were linked in an integrated framework.
By now, the document’s definition has become famous, quoted in countless studies, reports and policy documents around the world. Chances are high you have come across it yourself already.
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Personally I don’t think it’s the best definition to quote from the report, but it might have to do with the fact that it is the very first sentence of the chapter that introduces the concept of sustainable development. Less abstract is article 15 of that same chapter 2:
In essence, sustainable development is a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development; and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.
By using the first definition, all too often the focus shifts to the now-future relation; we have to live and consume now such that the future generations are not compromised. It is essential though that the document also stresses that sustainability demands equity among all within one generation.
A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises.
This is strikingly similar to what Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical Laudate Si last year. Ecological crises can simply not be seen decoupled from social and humanitarian wrongs. Everything is interconnected.
The Brundtland report laid the foundations for the famous Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro five years later. It became an environmental conference of unseen scale, with more than hundred heads of state present. The conference was a major step forward, with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Agenda 21 and so on.
Since then, countries have been meeting yearly during climate conferences, also known as “COPs”, Conferences of the Parties. Soon those conferences turned into a diplomatic arena for developed versus developing countries. Finally, in December 2015 they reached an internationally binding agreement on how to tackle climate change.
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45 years ago, US senator Nelson organised what he called a “national teach-in on the environment”. The Americans were polluting as never before, but didn’t bother about the possible results of their emissions. Instead, protests against the war in Vietnam were the order of the day. Nelson believed he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution and their country, and believed it would inforce political action. And he succeeded. That 22nd of April 1970, 20 million people took to the streets for a sustainable way of living. In the next years, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) was founded, the Clean Air act, Endangered species act and Clean Water act were passed in congress. Earth Day became a yearly tradition and spread all over the world, fostering action to demand environmental protection. It created a social and political platform that is likely to have contributed to the first United Nations Earth Summit in 1992, often seen as the first global conference on climate policy (read more about in my post about the history of climate change policy). Today Earth day celebrates its 45th birthday and the message is clearer and more urgent than ever. Back in the early days, the science of climate change was not yet fully settled. Nowadays, 98% of climate scientists agree present man-made climate change is threatening the Earth in drastic ways. Action is needed, not only the twenty second of April, but every day from now on.