The definition of sustainable development is often attributed to the Brundtland Commission (formally known as the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). The Commission published its final report published in October 1987 called Our Common Future, also known as The Brundtland Report.
A key element in the definition is the unity of environment and development. The Brundtland Commission insists upon the environment being something beyond physicality, going beyond that traditional school of thought to include social and political atmospheres and circumstances. It also insists that development is not just about how poor countries can ameliorate their situation, but what the entire world, including developed countries, can do to ameliorate our common situation.
The term sustainable development was coined in Our Common Future. Sustainable development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The two key concepts of sustainable development are:
- the concept of “needs” in particular the essential needs of the world’s poorest people, to which they should be given overriding priority; and
- the idea of limitations which is imposed by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment’s ability to meet both present and future needs.
Most agree that the central idea of the Brundtland Commission’s definition of “sustainable development” is that of intergenerational equity. In sum, the “needs” are basic and essential, economic growth will facilitate their fulfillment, and equity is encouraged by citizen participation. Therefore, another characteristic that really sets this definition apart from others is the element of humanity that the Brundtland Commission integrates.
The particular ambiguity and openness-to-interpretation of this definition has allowed for widespread support from diverse efforts, groups and organisations. It lays out a core set of guiding principles that can be enriched by an evolving global discourse. As a result of the work of the Brundtland Commission, the issue of sustainable development is on the agenda of numerous international and national institutions, as well as corporations and city efforts. The definition gave light to new perspectives on the sustainability of an ever-changing planet with an ever-changing population.
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