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Global Change and Our Common Future by GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND We live in an historic transitional period of burgeoning awareness of the conflict between human activities and envi- ronmental constraints. The world is finite, but it will have to provide food and energy to meet the needs of a doubled world population some time in the coming century. Its natural re- sources, already overtaxed in many areas, will have to sustain a worIci economy that may be 5 to 10 times larger than the present one. This cannot be done if humans continue to pursue current patterns. As people continue their endless quest for new materials, new energy forms, and new processes, the constraints imposed by clepletion of natural resources and the pollution caused by human activity have brought society to a crossroads. Abun- dance coexists with extreme need, waste overshadows want, The Afterword is adapted from the keynote address and Franklin Lecture pre- sented by Mme, Brundtland at the Forum on Global Change and Our Common Future, Washington, D.C., May 2, 1989. The views do not necessarily reflect those of the Na- tional Academy of Sciences. 147
148 AFTERWORD and our very existence may be in danger owing to mismanage- ment and overexploitation of the environment. In spite of all the technological and scientific triumphs of the present century, there have never been so many poor, illiterate, or unemployed people in the world, and their numbers are growing. As they struggle to survive, they have little choice but to pursue activi- ties that may undermine the environment, the natural resource base on which they depend, and the conditions that sustain life itself. As the descriptions in this book make all too clear, we face a grim catalog of environmental deterioration. The very real possibility that our actions are depleting the earth's genetic resources, changing the climate and the composition of the at- mosphere, and upsetting the chemical balance of our lakes and waterways proves that if we all do as we please In the short run, we will all lose in the long run. We need to develop a more global mentality as we chart our collective future, and we need not only firm political and institutional leadership but also sound scientific advice. Indeed, the role of men and women of science in shaping our future will become more central as the challenging dynamics of global change gradually become clear. The interplay between scientific process and public policy is not new but has been a characteristic of most of the great turning points in human history. One need Took no further than the dawning of the nuclear age to see that Fermi, Bohr, Oppen- heimer, and Sakharov influenced today's world just as much as Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill, Gandhi, and Hammarskjold did. It may be more important than ever for scientists to keep the doors of their laboratories open to political, economic, social, anct ide- ological currents. The role of scientists as isolated explorers of the uncharted world of tomorrow must be reconciled with their role as committed, responsible citizens of the unsettled world of today. The international agenda is varied and complex, but also promising. Advances are being made in a number of fields. The most notable of these may be that tensions between East and West are easing, brightening prospects for gains in peace
AFTERWORD 149 and security and the settlement of regional conflicts. Should we not take advantage of this favorable atmosphere and direct our efforts toward the critical environment and development issues facing us? Many of these problems cannot be solved within the confines of the nation state, nor by maintaining the dichotomy between friend and foe. We must increase communication and exchange and cultivate greater pluralism and openness. In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Devel- opment, of which ~ was chairperson, presented its report, Our Common Future. The report sounded an urgent warning: Present trends cannot continue. They must be reversed. The Commis- sion did not, however, add its voice to that of those who predict continuous negative trends and decline. The Commission en- visioned a positive future. Never before in our history have we had so much knowledge, such sophisticated technology, ant! such wicle access to resources. We have an opportunity to break the negative trends of the past. For this to happen, we need new concepts and new values based on a new global ethic. We must mobilize political will and human ingenuity. We need closer multilateral cooperation based on the recognition that nations are increasingly interdependent. The World Commission offered the concept of sustainable development, which it defined as an approach toward meeting the needs and aspirations of present and future generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It is a concept that can mobilize broader political consensus, one on which the international community can and should build. it is a broad concept of social and economic progress. lit requires political reform, access to knowledge and resources, and a more just and equitable distribution of wealth within and between nations. it demands that we move beyond compartmentalization and outmoded patterns to draw the very best of our intellectual and moral resources from every field of endeavor. Over the past couple of years, some progress has been made in the environmental field, both in terms of raising consciousness and in terms of taking on particular challenges, such as in the Montreal Protocol on the ozone layer and the Basel \
150 AFTERWORD Convention on hazardous wastes. The picture is very uneven, however, and the achievements do not justify complacency. As far as development is concerned, the 1980s were a lost decade. Some countries did well, but in the Third World eco- nomic retrogression was widespread. Living standards have declined by one fifth in sub-Saharan Africa since 1970. Unsus- tainable, crushing burdens of debt and reverse financial flows, depressed commodity prices, protectionism, and abnormally high interest rates have all created an extremely unfavorable international climate for development in the Third World. It is politically, economically, and morally unacceptable that there is a net transfer of resources from poor countries to rich ones. Nearly a billion people live in poverty and squalor, and the per capita income of some 50 developing countries has con- tinued to decline over the past few years. These trends must be reversed. As the World Commission pointed out, only growth can eliminate poverty. Only growth can create the capacity to solve environmental problems. But growth cannot be based on overexploitation of the resources of developing countries. It must be managed to enhance the re- source base on which these countries all depend. We must create external conditions that will help rather than hinder developing countries in realizing their full potential. We need a global consensus for economic growth in the 1990s. Such a unified plan must include the following attributes: . Economic policy must be coordinated to promote vig- orous, noninflationary economic growth. Major challenges in- clucle reducing the imbalance of payments between developing nations and the United States, Japan, and the Federal Republic of Germany, and making the surpluses of wealthy industrialized nations readily available to developing countries. The financial surpluses of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries should be increasingly invested in developing countries rather than used to finance private con- sumption in the major industrialized countries. . Policies should be adopted that will foster more stable exchange rates and increase access to markets on a global ba
AFTERWORD 151 sis. Protectionism is a confrontational issue and a no-win game. Every year developing countries lose twice as much clue to pro- tectionism as the total they receive in development assistance. The benefits of free trade for both the North and the South are obvious. · Policies should be devised that will sustain and improve commodity prices. Other policies should encourage and support diversification of the economies of the cleveloping countries. · Third World debt must be reduced. This problem re- quires major new efforts. For debt owect to multilateral institu- tions, the scheme based on a Nordic proposal to soften interest payments on such loans has been taken up by the World Bank. ~ believe this and similar schemes should be extended in the future. According to a very civilized, ancient legal provision, "If a man owes a debt, and the storm inundates his field and carries away the produce, or if the grain has not grown in the field, in that year he shall not make any return to the creditor, he shall alter his contract and he shall not pay interest for that year." This quote from the Code of Hammurabi, King of Baby- lon, dates from 2250 B.C. Four thousand years later the debt burdens, the environmental crisis, and the decline in the flows of resource transfers deserve equally civilized consideration. In acictition to revamping our debt policies, we should increase development assistance for the poorer nations of the developing world, especially in Africa. In recent years, Norway has given around I.] percent of its gross national product in official development assistance to developing countries, and we are disappointed that the OECD average has declined to a mea- ger 0.34 percent. Those donor countries that have been lagging behind should make renewed efforts in line with their abilities. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe should also contribute to a far greater extent than they have so far. The developing countries have been declaring their readiness to do their part in terms of policy reforms and constructive negotiations. A global consensus for economic growth in the 1990s must be consistent with sustainable development. It must take heed
52 AFTERWORD of ecological constraints. There are no sanctuaries on this planet. If 1990s are truly to be a decade during which we respond to the serious problems confronting the world, the issue of sustainable global development requires special, and urgent, attention. The threats to the global environment have the potential to open our eyes and make us accept that North and South will have to forge an equal partnership. It is time to launch a new era of international cooperation. Issues like the debt crisis, trade policies, resources for the international financial institu- tions, harnessing technology for global benefit, strengthening the Unitecl Nations system, and specific major threats to the en- vironment such as global warming are increasingly interrelated. Is it not appropriate to consider our economic and our environ- mental concerns together, given the critical links between the two? Third WorIcl nations seem convinced that the poverty they endure is not a mere aberration of international economic re- lations that can be corrected by minor adjustments, but rather is the unspoken premise of the present economic order. De- veloping countries have had to produce more and sell more in order to earn money to service debt and pay for imports. The amount of coffee, cotton, or copper they must produce to buy a water pump, antibiotics, or a truck keeps increasing. This has caused people to place extra stress on the environment, which has fueled soil erosion, accelerated the cancerous process of desertification and deforestation, and begun to threaten the genetic diversity that is the basis for tomorrow's biotechnology, agriculture, and food supply. Biotechnology warrants special consideration because of its potential effects on agriculture and food security in the Third World. It is difficult to imagine producing enough food to feed a doubled worIcl population without employing the techniques and advances of biotechnology. The benefits of plant breed- ing and breeding of varieties with greater resistance and more rapid growth potential have been and will continue to be im- mense. But there are inherent dangers that could further widen the gap between poor and rich. These benefits may become
AFTERWORD 153 available only to the rich, even though the genes employed in the process often originated in developing countries. Strong international corporations may dominate this field. Legal pro- tection and very firm rules regarding rights of ownership may reduce the availability of products that are important for nutri- tion and the prevention of famine. Small-scale farmers in the Third World risk being victims in this process. if biotechnology produces substitutes for their crops, they may lose income and the ability to provide for their families. These problems are avoidable. The industrialized countries have a responsibility for controlling market forces in this field and for promoting greater equity between developed and devel- oping countries. The protection of intellectual property rights and royalties must be in a form that promotes research, provides for a fair distribution of financial benefits between inventors and the country of genetic origin, and, not least, makes the products of biotechnology available to those who need them. The issues related to handling of biotechnology also pertain to our response to the possibility of global heating and climatic change. These events may require drastic changes in how we conduct our daily lives, and pose more severe threats to future development than any other challenge mankind has faced. A possible exception is the threat of nuclear war, but there is a decisive difference. At present nuclear war seems more remote than at any time since World War IT, but unless we reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, we will be caught in the heat trap of global warming. We may be about to alter the entire ecological balance of the earth. Plants and animals normally need hundreds of years to acIjust to new climate conditions. Unless we make changes in our collective behavior, ecosystems will not have time to adjust. Deserts will spread. Crops will be lost. What will happen if we experience 2 years in succession in which summers are as dry as the one in 198S, or 10 such summers? What will happen to crop yields? Can we conceive of a doubling of food prices, or even food scarcity in the industrialized countries? The developed countries may be able to cope in the short run as long as they
154 - AFTERWORD can pay for necessary imports, but that option will soon be lost to the developing countries. Can we imagine the effects on low- lying countries if sea level should rise according to predictions? How will we handle the political instability that will accompany increased migration as the number of environmental refugees continues to multiply? These things may not happen, or may not be that drastic. But the potential risks are so high that we cannot sit back hoping that the problems will solve themselves. The present generation has a great responsibility to con- trol its use of limited resources, in particular the fossil fuels, which, when burned, contribute so significantly to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We must recognize that the earth's atmosphere is a closed system. We do not get rid of our emissions when we vent them to the atmosphere. in fact, the current system is like a car that channels its fumes into the driver's compartment. We must combat the myth that energy consumption can be allowed to grow unchecked. The industrialized countries have the greatest resources, both financially and technologically, to change production and consumption patterns. The developing countries will need much more energy in the future. Many of them have contributed only marginally to the greenhouse effect, and many of them will be most severely victimized by the effects of global warming. They must be allowed time to adapt, and a chance to increase their energy consumption and standards of living. it is quite clear that developing countries need assistance in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of industrialized coun- tries. lit is essential that energy-efficient technology be made available to developing countries even when they cannot pay market prices without assistance. We need concerted international action. There are certain imperatives that must be vigorously pursued: . We must agree on regional strategies for stabilizing and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Reforestation efforts must be included as a vital part of the carbon equation.
AFTERWORD 155 . We must strongly intensify our efforts to develop re- newable forms of energy. Renewable energy should become the foundation of the global energy structure during the twenty-first century. · We should speed up our efforts on international agree- ments to protect the atmosphere. There are different views on how to proceed on this issue. T urge that negotiations to limit emissions of greenhouse gases begin immediately. Twenty-two heads of state or government took steps to- ward achieving these goals in March 1989, when they signed a declaration that set a standard for future achievements to pro- tect the atmosphere. The Declaration of The Hague calls for more effective decision-making and enforcement mechanisms In international cooperation as well as greater solidarity among nations and between generations. The declaration calls for a new international authority with real powers. On occasion its power must be exercised even if unanimity cannot be reached. The principles we endorsed are radical, but a less ambitious approach will not serve us. The burden must be shared. That is why we called for fair and equitable assistance to compensate those developing countries that will be most severely affected by a changing climate but that have contributed only marginally to global warming. In April 1989 the Norwegian government adoptect a white paper in response to the proposals advanced in Our Common Future. The white paper is the Norwegian government's major policy document on sustainable development. It presents a plan that involves all ministries, not only that of environment, and implies change in attitudes and policies, and tough challenges for ministries such as energy, industry, transportation, finance, foreign affairs, and trade. The prime minister's office has been directly engaged in charting a course for the future that cuts across all of these sectors. The issue of atmospheric pollution and climate change proved very difficult because Norway is fortunate in having
156 AFTERWORD vast hydropower resources. We do not burn coal or of} to pro- duce electricity. Any reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in Norway would involve transportation. Nonetheless, Norway adopted a policy for stabilizing its carbon dioxide emissions during the 199Os, and by the year 2000 at the latest. By also reducing its emissions of CFCs and nitrogen oxides, Norway will be able to reduce its total emissions of greenhouse gases by the turn of the century. The government anticipates that further reductions will be possible thereafter. ~ believe we are the first country to make a political commitment to reduce carbon diox- ide emissions, even though Norway contributes only 0.2 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted worldwide. While even one nation can work to improve conditions in the global environment, ecological problems such as the ozone layer, global warming, and unsustainable use of the tropical forests clearly face mankind as a whole. To adciress these prob- lems, additional resources will be needed. In the white paper, we propose, as a starting point, that industrialized countries allocate 0.1 percent of their gross domestic product to an "Inter- national Fund for the Atmosphere." Tcleally, all countries would contribute. Much work is needed to make this proposal opera- tional, and it will meet considerable resistance. But unless we establish a set of international support mechanisms, there is little chance that we will be able to reduce greenhouse emissions in time to slow the rate of global warming, or even give ourselves sufficient time to adapt. To transform the essence of Our Common Future into real- ity will require broad participation. Every person can make a difference. Changes are the sum of individual actions based on common goals. A particular challenge goes to youth. More than ever before, we need a new generation today's young people-that can use their energy and dedication to transform ideas into reality. Many of today's decision makers have yet to realize the pert! in which the earth has been placed. T believe that Our Common Future can be an effective lever in the hands of youth and that its core concepts that development must be sustainable, and that the environment and world economy are
AFTERWORD 157 totally, permanently intertwined transcend nationality, culture, ideology, and race. Young people will hold their governments responsible and accountable, and will build the foundation of their own future. If we are earnest in our desire to solve some of the pressing problems facing humanity, we can no longer separate the global environment from political, economic, and moral issues. En- vironmental considerations must permeate all decisions, from consumer choices to national budgets to international agree- ments. We must learn that environmental considerations are part of unified management of our planet. This is our ethical challenge. This is our practical challenge. A challenge we must all accept.