Sustainable Development - Foreword

 

Since the Brundtland Commission published its landmark report in 1987, we have come a long way in our refl ections on sustainable development. Few would dispute its fundamental principles: that our actions must take into account effects on the environment, economy and society, and that what we do today should not compromise the well-being of future generations.

In the last 20 years, signifi cant progress has been made. Most national governments have begun to incorporate sustainable development into their planning and policy. Pro-active businesses across the globe have brought sustainability to their products and processes. Local initiatives have had success in informing citizens of the importance of participating in reducing waste, renewing urban spaces and other programs.

In spite of these efforts, though, putting the principles of sustainable development into practice has proven to be anything but simple or straightforward. After all, both people and institutions have their habits, and changing them, even when the need is obvious, can be daunting. A key question remains whether
we have made enough progress, or taken the warnings seriously enough to allow us to grasp and confront our biggest, most pressing problems.

We have solid evidence of climate change, with projections pointing to an increase in extreme environmental events with potentially devastating consequences for the systems that support human life and society. About half the world still lives on less than $2.50 dollars a day, lacks access to clean water, sanitation, adequate health care and education – an unacceptably stark contrast to the much higher standards of living in developed countries. Some emerging economies, such as China and India, are undergoing rapid growth, resulting in more wealth, but also an increased demand for energy and greater pollution problems. Finding sustainable solutions for growth holds the potential to help reduce poverty, foster development and preserve the environment. Implementing them requires political will and co-operation on a global scale.

The OECD has been at the forefront of the effort to advance sustainable development. We have supported extensive research on the challenges of sustainability and been active in efforts to develop best practices in areas such as sustainable production and consumption and measuring sustainable development. One of the signifi cant challenges lies in policy coherence – ensuring that different policies and practices support each other in reaching a goal. Achieving this coherence in our policies and institutions is essential to achieving real and lasting progress. With a long record of research, analysis and international co-operation, the OECD can offer policy options for addressing these challenges.

The aim of the Insights series is to generate an informed debate on some of the key issues that affect our societies and economies today. For a truly meaningful dialogue, we need to go beyond exchanging opinions – no matter how fiercely they are held – and look at the facts and fi gures. We also need to move beyond jargon. After all, it is this kind of inclusive and broad-based dialogue that will produce the most widely-supported decisions and strongest results.

 

Angel Gurría

Secretary-General of the OECD

 

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