Brandt Commissions

On January 14, 1977, Robert McNamara, the president of the World Bank, announced the idea of establishing a commission of experienced, respected politicians and economists. He proposed that the members of this new international panel should not be official representatives of governments, but would work independently to formulate 'basic proposals on which global agreement is both essential and possible'. The commission was to make recommendations on ways of breaking through the existing international political impasse in North-South negotiations for global development.
Willy Brandt was asked to preside over the commission, which was to be equally represented by the developed North and the developing South. Through various discussions, Brandt carefully shaped the commission so that it would be met with collaboration, rather than opposition, by North and South alike.

On September 28, 1977, Brandt announced that he was prepared to form and chair an 'Independent Commission on International Development Issues'. The Brandt Commission was to be autonomous, would not interfere with ongoing international negotiations, and would make recommendations to help improve the climate of North-South relations. In composing the membership of the Commission, Brandt wanted it to represent as many views and interests, and as much political and regional balance as possible. Brandt's idea was that a majority of partners would be from developing countries, including representatives from both the Left and Right, women, a prominent industrialist, and a trade representative.

Although no members of the Commission were from communist nations, Brandt did discuss the Commission's work with Eastern European Party members, as well as the Soviet and Chinese leadership. Brandt's decision not to invite members from the communist world was based upon the consideration that those nations were slowly moving towards greater involvement in North- South negotiations, and he did not want to force them into taking a premature position.

The first session of the Commission was held from December 9-11, 1977, at which the Commission's terms of reference and a working agenda were agreed upon. The concept of 'mutual interest', it was agreed, would be central to the reports, influencing international political attitudes toward greater cooperation.

The Commission was supported by a Secretariat that consisted of specialists on various development problems. Almost all of the staff had previous experience with the World Bank, and all were well aware of the type of proposals that would be needed to achieve successful and viable development programs at the international level.

The Commission's purpose was to influence public opinion to help change government attitudes, as well as to make proposals for revitalizing North-South negotiations.

Broadly speaking, the Brandt Commission's reports gave new life to earlier North-South proposals by placing them in a new context, which emphasised a dual relationship: the northern nations dependent on the poor countries for their wealth, and the poor countries dependent on the North for their development.

The Brandt Commission's two reports, North-South (1980) and Common Crisis (1983) give primary emphasis to the international issues of food and agricultural development, aid, energy, trade, international monetary and financial reform, and global negotiations. The Brandt Reports also sought solutions to other problems common to both North and South, including the environment, the arms race, population growth, and the uncertain prospects of the global economy. Since these problems ultimately concern the survival of all nations, the Brandt Commission's recommendations were presented as a structural program to address the world's problems collectively.

Bruntland Report

In 1987 the Brundtland Report, also known as 'Our Common Future', alerted the world to the urgency of making progress toward economic development that could be sustained without depleting natural resources or harming the environment. Published by an international group of politicians, civil servants and experts on the environment and development, the report provided a key statement on sustainable development, defining it as: 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.

The Brundtland Report was primarily concerned with securing a global equity, redistributing resources towards poorer nations whilst encouraging their economic growth. The report also suggested that equity, growth and environmental maintenance are simultaneously possible and that each country is capable of achieving its full economic potential whilst at the same time enhancing its resource base. The report also recognised that achieving this equity and sustainable growth would require technological and social change.

The report highlighted three fundamental components to sustainable development: environmental protection, economic growth and social equity. The environment should be conserved and our resource base enhanced, by gradually changing the ways in which we develop and use technologies. Developing nations must be allowed to meet their basic needs of employment, food, energy, water and sanitation. If this is to be done in a sustainable manner, then there is a definite need for a sustainable level of population. Economic growth should be revived and developing nations should be allowed a growth of equal quality to the developed nations.

Gaia Atlas of Planet Management

A prototype for a global and cultural view of conservation management is the Gaia Atlas of Planet Management first published in 1985. It mapped and analysed a mass of environmental data, statistical predictions, and often conflicting opinions and solutions. The procedure was to examine each critical area of concern in terms of the factors limiting human production or quality of life, and propose a range of alternative strategies to put things right.

Blueprint for a Green Economy

Blueprint for a Green Economy (Earthscan, London) was published in September 1989. It's theme was that economics can and should come to the aid of environmental policy. Properly interpreted, economics provides a potentially powerful defence of conservation and a novel array of weapons for correcting environmental degradation. Moreover, it offers the prospect of doing it all rather more efficiently than traditional approaches based on "command and control". In Blueprint 2 this message was extended to set out an agenda for international and government action to deal with the problems of the global economy -climate change, ozone "holes", tropical deforestation, and resource loss in the developing world. The message is similar to that of Blueprint for a Green Economy that was originally prepared as a report for the UK Department of the Environment. Its remit was to dwell on the meaning of the term "sustainable development".

Blueprint for a Green Economy
was commissioned in December 1988 by the Department of the Environment and was designed to advise government if there was a consensus meaning to the term "sustainable development". The rest of the terms of reference related to the implications of sustainable development for the measurement of economic progress and the appraisal of projects and policies. The chapters in Blueprint for a Green Economy on "valuing the environment" and "market-based incentives" (green taxes, etc.) were added because one of the production team thought the official report told an incomplete story.

Blueprint 1 concluded that:
  • sustainable development is readily interpretable as non-declining human welfare over time - that is, a development path that makes people better off today but makes people tomorrow have a lower "standard of living" is not "sustainable". This is consistent with the Brundtland definition that sustainable development means making sure that development "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs";
  • the conditions for achieving sustainable development include the requirement that future generations should be compensated for damage done by current generations - e.g. through global warming;
  • compensation is best secured by leaving the next generation a stock of capital assets no less than the stock we have now (the "constant capital" requirement). This enables the next generation to achieve the same level of human welfare (at least) as the current generation. If they fail to do this, the responsibility is theirs, since they have inherited the same "productive potential" as was available to the previous generation;
  • the capital in question is both "man-made" (Km) and "natural" (Kn). Natural capital refers to environmental assets;
  • the requirement to keep the total of capital (Km + Kn) constant is consistent with "running down" natural capital - i.e. with environmental degradation - so long as Km and Kn are readily substitutable for each other. Thus, the "constant capital" rule is consistent with removing the Amazon forest so long as the proceeds from this activity are reinvested to build up some other form of capital;
  • the constant capital rule requires that environmental assets be valued in the same way as man-made assets, otherwise we cannot know if we are on a "sustainable development path". We cannot know if overall capital is constant in the Amazon deforestation case unless we know the value of the services and functions that we surrender when it is lost. To put it another way: valuation is essential if we are to "trade off" forms of capital. This is the relevance of valuation; nor is there any escape from it. We "trade off" either explicitly, or implicitly, since all decisions imply valuations;
  • but careful inspection of the values of natural capital (i.e. looking at what environmental assets do for us) will show that the trade-off has been biased in favour of eliminating or degrading those assets in favour of either "consuming" the proceeds (i.e. not reinvesting at all) or investing too readily in man-made assets. Very simply, if the "true" value of the environment were known, we would not degrade it as much;
  • for some environmental assets termed "critical capital", there is no question of an acceptable trade-off. Once allowance is made for the high values of natural capital, for the uncertaintysurrounding the functions and benefits of natural capital, and for the fact that, once eliminated, the effects are irreversible, then there is a strong case for a precautionary approach in which the bias is towards conserving natural capital. It is in this sense that environmental economics offers a rationale for even greater protection of the environment than is conventionally thought; (i) the instruments for securing sustainable development include the traditional "standard- setting" regulatory approach (which we called "command and control" - cac) and a panoply of measures which make use of the marketplace. These "market-based instruments" (mbis) include taxes on emissions and discharges, deposit-refund systems and tradeable emission and resource-use permits. mbis are more powerful than cac because (i) they keep down the costs of complying with regulations; (ii) they act as a continuous "irritant" to the polluter, who therefore has a repeated incentive to avoid the mbi by introducing cleaner and cleaner technology; (iii) the consumer has a clear incentive to avoid polluting products because their prices will be higher than clean products (other things being equal); (iv) environmental taxes can be used in a "fiscally neutral" way to reduce other distorting taxes in the economy;
  • the measures of economic progress based on "gnp" (Gross National Product) need to be changed because gnp fails to measure the true "standard of living". It largely ignores environmental assets and treats them as if they have a zero or near-zero price. (And if something is underpriced, too much of it will be consumed.) But the first priority is to construct environmental and economic indicators that show the links between economy and environment. Adjusting the national accounts (which compute the gnp) is expensive and not as high a priority as constructing "environment-economy indicators";
  • "cost-benefit thinking" would greatly enhance the chances of conservation competing with "development" on equal terms and, indeed, would generally improve the quality of decision- making.

First Environment Summit (1992)
The ideas of the 1980 World Conservation Strategy were adopted by the UN in the 1992 Environment Summit as a set of costed strategic objectives. The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was unprecedented for a UN conference, in terms of both its size and the scope of its concerns. Twenty years after the first global environment conference, the UN sought to help Governments rethink economic development and find ways to halt the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources and pollution of the planet. Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life were drawn into the Rio process. They persuaded their leaders to go to Rio and join other nations in making the difficult decisions needed to ensure a healthy planet for generations to come.

The Summit’s message — that nothing less than a transformation of our attitudes and behaviour would bring about the necessary changes — was transmitted by almost 10,000 on-site journalists and heard by millions around the world. The message reflected the complexity of the problems facing us: that poverty as well as excessive consumption by affluent populations place damaging stress on the environment. Governments recognised the need to redirect international and national plans and policies to ensure that all economic decisions fully took into account any environmental impact. And the message has produced results, making eco-efficiency a guiding principle for business and governments alike.

Second Environment Summit (2002)
When the United Nations General Assembly authorised holding the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, it was hardly a secret— or even a point in dispute— that progress in implementing sustainable development has been extremely disappointing since the 1992 Earth Summit, with poverty deepening and environmental degradation worsening. What the world wanted, the General Assembly said, was not a new philosophical or political debate but rather, a summit of actions and results.

By any account, the Johannesburg Summit has laid the groundwork and paved the way for action. Yet among all the targets, timetables and commitments that were agreed upon at Johannesburg, there were no silver bullet solutions to aid the fight against poverty and a continually deteriorating natural environment. In fact, there was no magic and no miracle— only the realization that practical and sustained steps were needed to address many of the world's most pressing problems.

However, it is now it is becoming increasingly obvious that local operational management plans to meet these objectives stand or fall by the attitudes and values of people in the developed world towards natural resources and the needs of other cultures as members of one humankind. It is at this level that the NGOs come into thier own, stepping in to fill a gap left by governments. This provides guidance for how the world can one day get beyond the sort of impasse that has blocked international progress on many economic, social, and environmental issues in the past decade.

In his book, High Noon, J. F. Rischard argues that the sheer scale and complexity of many problems have reached the point where traditional nation-states and intergovernmental processes can no longer cope with them, let alone get ahead of the avalanche of problems now rushing toward us. Rischard goes on to suggest that traditional hierarchical processes at the international level should be supplemented by what he calls "global issues networks"—voluntary alliances of governments and NGOs working under the auspices of U.N. bodies such as the U.N. Environment Programme or U.N. Development Programme on specific challenges that face the world today.