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On Sustainable Development
From UN Documents - Gathering a Body of Global Agreements
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Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future
Transmitted to the General Assembly as an Annex to document A/42/427 - Development and International Co-operation: Environment - Oslo, 20 March 1987
Table of Contents

Acronyms and Note on Terminology

Chairman's Foreword

..."But the "environment" is where we all live; and "development" is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable. Further, development issues must be seen as crucial by the political leaders who feel that their countries have reached a plateau towards which other nations must strive. Many of the development paths of the industrialized nations are clearly unsustainable. And the development decisions of these countries, because of their great economic and political power, will have a profound effect upon the ability of all peoples to sustain human progress for generations to come..."

From One Earth to One World

In the middle of the 20th century, we saw our planet from space for the first time. Historians may eventually find that this vision had a greater impact on thought than did the Copernican revolution of the 16th century, which upset the human self-image by revealing that the Earth is not the centre of the universe. From space, we see a small and fragile ball dominated not by human activity and edifice but by a pattern of clouds, oceans, greenery, and soils. Humanity's inability to fit its activities into that pattern is changing planetary systems, fundamentally. Many such changes are accompanied by life-threatening hazards. This new reality, from which there is no escape, must be recognized - and managed.

        Part I. Common Concerns
  1. A Threatened Future

    1. Symptoms and Causes
    2. New Approaches to Environment and Development

  2. Towards Sustainable Development

    1. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
    --- the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
    --- the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.
    2. Thus the goals of economic and social development must be defined in terms of sustainability in all countries - developed or developing, market-oriented or centrally planned. Interpretations will vary, but must share certain general features and must flow from a consensus on the basic concept of sustainable development and on a broad strategic framework for achieving it.
    3. Development involves a progressive transformation of economy and society. A development path that is sustainable in a physical sense could theoretically be pursued even in a rigid social and political setting. But physical sustainability cannot be secured unless development policies pay attention to such considerations as changes in access to resources and in the distribution of costs and benefits. Even the narrow notion of physical sustainability implies a concern for social equity between generations, a concern that must logically be extended to equity within each generation.

    1. The Concept of Sustainable Development
    2. Equity and the Common Interest
    3. Strategic Imperatives
    4. Conclusion

  3. The Role of the International Economy

    ..."Two conditions must be satisfied before international economic exchanges can become beneficial for all involved. The sustainability of ecosystems on which the global economy depends must be guaranteed. And the economic partners must be satisfied that the basis of exchange is equitable; relationships that are unequal and based on dominance of one kind or another are not a sound and durable basis for interdependence. For many developing countries, neither condition is met."
    ..."Economic and ecological links between nations have grown rapidly. This widens the impact of the growing inequalities in the economic development and strength of nations. The asymmetry in international economic relations compounds the imbalance, as developing nations are generally influenced by - but unable to influence - international economic conditions..."

    1. The International Economy, the Environment, and Development
    2. Decline in the 1980s
    3. Enabling Sustainable Development
    4. A Sustainable World Economy

    Part II. Common Challenges

    1. Population and Human Resources

      1. The Links with Environment and Development
      2. The Population Perspective
      3. A Policy Framework

    2. Food Security: Sustaining the Potential

      1. Achievements
      2. Signs of Crisis
      3. The Challenge
      4. Strategies for Sustainable Food Security
      5. Food for the Future

    3. Species and Ecosystems: Resources for Development

      1. The Problem: Character and Extent
      2. Extinction Patterns and Trends
      3. Some Causes of Extinction
      4. Economic Values at Stake
      5. New Approach: Anticipate and Prevent
      6. International Action for National Species
      7. Scope for National Action
      8. The Need for Action

    4. Energy: Choices for Environment and Development

      1. Energy, Economy, and Environment
      2. Fossil Fuels: The Continuing Dilemma
      3. Nuclear Energy: Unsolved Problems
      4. Wood Fuels: The Vanishing Resource
      5. Renewable Energy: The Untapped Potential
      6. Energy Efficiency: Maintaining the Momentum
      7. Energy Conservation Measures
      8. Conclusion

    5. Industry: Producing More With Less

      1. Industrial Growth and its Impact
      2. Sustainable Industrial Development in a Global Context
      3. Strategies for Sustainable Industrial Development

    6. The Urban Challenge

      1. The Growth of Cities
      2. The Urban Challenge in Developing Countries
      3. International Cooperation

      Part III. Common Endeavours

      1. Managing The Commons

        1. Oceans: The Balance of Life
        2. Space: A Key to Planetary Management
        3. Antarctica: Towards Global Cooperation

      2. Peace, Security, Development, and the Environment

        1. Environmental Stress as a Source of Conflict
        2. Conflict as a Cause of Unsustainable Development
        3. Towards Security and Sustainable Development

      3. Towards Common Action: Proposals For Institutional and Legal Change

        1. The Challenge for Institutional and Legal Change
        2. Proposals for Institutional and Legal Change
        3. A Call for Action


      Throughout this report, quotes from some of the many people who spoke at WCED public hearings appear in boxes to illustrate the range of opinions the Commission was exposed to during its three years of work. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission.

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