Brundtland Commission and Brundtland Report [‘Our Common Future’]

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Summary of Brundtland Commission

The World Commission on Environment and Development (more popularly known as Brundtland Commission) was held in December 1983.

Ten years after the passing of the Stockholm Conference, it was observed by the UN member nations that most of the environmental issues have not been dealt with. In fact, many of the issues have grown up.

Under these circumstances, the nations felt it necessary to develop a concept which is strong enough to create a balance between economic development and environmental protection.

In December 1983, the Secretary General of United Nations asked the Norwegian Prime Minister- Gro Harlem Brundland- to create an organisation which focuses on environmental and developmental problems. This new Organisation or Commission came to be known as the Brundtland Commission or more formally of the World Commission on Environment and Development [WCED].

The Commission consisted of two members- Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland as the Chairman and Mansour Khalid as Vice-Chairman [former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sudan].

In 1987, the Commission gave its first report “OUR COMMON FUTURE” or informally known as the Brundtland Report which strongly influenced the Rio Summit, 1992.

The Commission gave ideas to the world that while the term ‘environment’ is perceived as by us as a separate sphere from ‘development’ [which is used to describe economic progress]- the two are actually in relation to each other. To quote Bruntland:

“The environment is where we live and development is what we do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode… The two are inseparable”The main objective of Brundtland Commission was to:

  • Re-examine the critical issues of the environment and development and to formulate innovative, concrete and realistic actions proposals to deal with them;
  • Strengthen international co-operation on environment and development and assess and propose new forms of co-operation that can break out of existing patterns and influences policies and events in the direction of needed change;
  • Raising the level of understanding and commitment on the part of individuals, business, institutes and governments.
  • To achieve these ends, the Commission has mainly focused on:
    • Population;
    • Food Security;
    • Loss of Species and Genetic Resources;
    • Energy;
    • Industry;
    • Human Settlements.

Summary of Brundtland Report

The Brundtland Commission published its report in the year 1987 named “our common future”.

The most striking feature of the Report was the formulation of the new concept of ‘Sustainable Development’. The Report defines Sustainable Development as development that meets the need of present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

This concept when published for the first time in this report, assumed a huge importance as the concept supports strong economic and social development in particular for people with a low standard of living.  At the same time, it also underlines the concept of protecting the narural resource base and environment. Therefore, it was realised through this Report that economic and social well-being cannot be improved with measures that destroy the environment.

Furthermore, it was also realised that all developmental activities has to take into account its impact on the opportunities for the future generations. Therefore, justice has not only to be done within the present generations but also between the present and future generations.

To achieve this end, the Report insisted on strong links between poverty, inequality and environental degradation. The Report also insisted on greater need for co-ordinated political action and responsibility.

The Commission observed that the effects of environemntal degradation are grave and sometimes even, irreversible.therefore, in this context the Report suggested certain changes in 6 priority levels:

  • Getting at source;
  • Dealing with the effects;
  • Assessing the global risks;
  • Making informen choices;
  • Providing legal means;
  • Investing in our future.

Another major contribution of this Report was the introduction of the concepts of Precautionary Principles and Polluter Pay Principle- which are again very essential features of the concept of Sustainable Development.

The Commission in its 900 pages Report also proposed and adopted 22 legal principles to be adopted by the member nations of the UN for protection of environment and developement. These 22 principles have been divided into four categoies:

General Principles, Rights & Responsibilities: These general pprinciples cover the entire ramge of the State’s obligation to ensure development of human rights, inter-generational equity, conservation and sustainable use, environmental monitoring, environment impact assessent, prior notification, sustainable development and co-operation amongst States.

Principle Rights and Obligations Concerning Transboundary Natural Resources:  The States obligations with regards to the use of transboundary natural resources ar reasonable and equitable use, strict liablitity, co-operation on transboundary movement, exchange of information, prion notification, prion consultation, equal access and treatment.

State’s General Responsibility

Peaceful Settlement of Disputes

Accordingly, it was realised that:

  • Each and every human being has the fundamental right to environment.
  • States shall conserve and use the environment and its natural resources.
  • States shall maintain ecosystems and ecological processes.
  • States shall establish adequate environmental protection standards.
  • States shall make or require environmental assessment of prosed activity i.e. Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • States shall take all reasonable precautionary measures to limit the risks while carrying out dangerous but beneficial activities.
  • States shall cease activities which breaches an international obligation regarding environment. For instance – nuclear war.

For Important Case Laws of Environmental Law, Click Here.

For more articles on Environmental Law, Click Here.

For law notes, Click Here.

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