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.