_____ What is _____

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The World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, alerted the world in 1987 to the urgency of reconciling economic development with the protection of social and environmental balance with the publication of ‘Our Common Future’ (now more commonly known as the Brundtland Report).

The report defined sustainable development as:

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

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Sustainable development is a bridge concept connecting economics, ecology and ethics. The challenge is to connect and integrate various sectoral policies, such as agriculture, energy, trade or investment.

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Historical Timeline

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    Publication of Silent Spring

    Silent Spring is a nonfiction book written by Rachel Carson that became one of the most-influential books in the modern environmental movement. Published in 1962, Silent Spring was widely read by the general public and became a New York Times best seller. The book provided the impetus for tighter control of pesticides and has been honoured on many lists of influential books, including Discover magazine’s list of the 25 greatest science books of all time.

    Read Rachel’s New York Times 1962 editorial
    Rachel Carson and the Origin of Scientific Environmentalism | AMS OpenMind
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    Publication of Limits to Growth

    The Limits to Growth is a 1972 report developed by four distinguished systems scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William Behrens. It discussed the possibility of exponential growth with finite supply of resources, studied by computer simulation. The study used the World3 computer model to simulate the consequence of interactions between the earth and human systems. They mapped out 12 future scenarios, depending on various social interventions that might mitigate a large-scale catastrophe. With no intervention, their converging trend lines suggested serious ecological crises early in the 21st century, that is, roughly now. Importantly, the Limits to Growth did not actually make any predictions. Rather the authors offered 12 scenarios that might unfold on Earth between 1972 and 2100, based on whether or not humanity recognized the ecological risks, and took appropriate action. The book sold over 12 million copies in 37 languages, the best selling ecology book of all time.

    Download the Book in PDF
    Limits to Growth video
    What was the message of Limits to Growth?
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    1972 June

    First ever UN conference on the Human Environment

    Gathering in Stockholm, this world conference brought to the fore the linkages between environmental, economic, and social issues for the first time at this level, sparking the creation of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The event’s emphasis on environmental concerns marked a notable and lasting shift in postwar conversations on international governance.

    Stockholm, 1972 – When Environmental Protection was Born
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    UN Forms Commission to Investigate Environment-Economy Connection

    The United Nations formed the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem in 1983, which investigated the interrelationship between human activity and the environment and their implications for economic and environmental policy.

    Episode 1 : Birth of Modern Sustainability | Sustainable Development | SDG Plus
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    Brundtland Report published

    Our Common Future (Brundtland Report) published by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) which first defined sustainable development.

    Read the Report
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    Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

    The first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or ‘Earth Summit’ was held in Rio de Janeiro, where the first agenda for Environment and Development, also known as Agenda 21, was developed and adopted. The Rio Summit was the largest environmental conference ever organized, bringing together over 30,000 participants, including more than one hundred heads of state. The summit represented a major step forward, with international agreements made on climate change, forests and biodiversity. Among the summit’s outcomes were the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, Principles of Forest Management, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and Agenda 21, which required countries to draw up a national strategy of sustainable development. The summit also led to the establishment of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

    1992 Rio Earth Summit Adverts
    Severn Cullis-Suzuki at Rio Summit 1992
    Read Agenda 21
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    UN member states agree the MDGs

    The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were the eight goals set by the UN member states in September 2000 and agreed to be achieved by the year 2015. They were in their day the first international consensus on facing global problems.

    The Millennium Declaration was signed at the September global summit held at the UN headquarters in New York and the 149 international leaders in attendance committed to combating disease, hunger, poverty, illiteracy, discrimination against women and environmental degradation. The MDGs were derived from this Declaration, and specific indicators and targets were attached to them.

    The following are the eight Millennium Development Goals:

    1. to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger;
    2. to achieve global primary education;
    3. to empower women and promote gender equality;
    4. to reduce child mortality;
    5. to promote maternal health;
    6. to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases;
    7. to promote environmental sustainability; and
    8. to develop a universal partnership for development.
    Episode 3 : Origin Story of Millennium Development Goals | MDGs Origin | SDG
    Download the Millennium Development Goals Report 2015
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    2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development

    This event in Johannesburg led to more governmental commitments and helped extend the concept’s reach into the areas of business, local government and civil society.

    Johannesburg World Summit
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    EU Commits to Sustainable Development

    In a significant and forward-looking move, the European Union solidified its commitment to sustainable development by formally incorporating it as a central and enduring goal within the framework of its operations. This historic step was taken through the inclusion of Article 3(3) in the Treaty on European Union, signifying the EU’s recognition of the paramount importance of harmonizing economic, social, and environmental considerations for the well-being of both current and future generations. This legal provision not only underscores the EU’s dedication to promoting balanced progress but also underscores its active role in shaping global sustainability agendas.

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    Rio+20 Conference

    The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20, was held as a 20-year follow up to UNCED in 1992. At the Rio+20 Conference, a resolution known as “The Future We Want” was reached by member states. Among the key themes agreed on were poverty eradication, energy, water and sanitation, health, and human settlement.

    The Future we want
    Read the outcome document, ‘The Future We Want’
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    Open Working Group on the SDGs established

    The 30-member UN General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals was established to identify specific goals for the SDGs.

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    Irish UN Ambassador appointed SDG co-facilitator

    The President of the UN General Assembly appointed Ireland’s UN Ambassador in New York, David Donoghue, and his Kenyan counterpart, Machiara Kamau, to lead negotiations between world governments on a new set of goals to follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

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    SDGs formulated

    The SDGs were formulated in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as part of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which sought to create a future global development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, which ended that year.

    Episode 4: Origin Story of Sustainable Development Goals | Origin of SDGs | SDG Plus
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    2015 July

    Addis Ababa Action Agenda

    Countries agreed on a series of bold measures to overhaul global finance practices and generate investments for tackling a range of economic, social and environmental challenges at the United Nations Third International Conference on Financing for Development, held in Addis Ababa. This provided the foundation for the SDG agreement which was due to be adopted in September 2015. The agreement was reached by the 193 UN Member States attending the Conference, following negotiations under the leadership of Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. This Agenda provided a new global framework for financing sustainable development by aligning all financing flows and policies with economic, social and environmental priorities.

    UN development conference calls for global finance reform
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    2015 September

    Agenda 2030 adopted

    The 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. This agenda has 92 paragraphs. Paragraph 59 outlines the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the associated 169 targets and 232 indicators. They were formally articulated and adopted in a UNGA resolution called the 2030 Agenda, known colloquially as Agenda 2030. Agenda 2030 is grounded in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and international human rights treaties and emphasises the responsibilities of all states to respect, protect and promote human rights. There is a strong emphasis on the empowerment of women and of vulnerable groups such as children, young people, persons with disabilities, older persons, refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants. 193 countries adopted the Goals.

    The United Nations Sustainable Development Summit: 17 Goals to Transform Our World
    Read the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
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    UNGA resolution adds specifics to SDGs.

    The SDGs were made more actionable by a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution that identifies specific targets for each goal and provides indicators to measure progress.

    Find the targets and indicators
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    Guterres urges Decade of Action implementation.

    António Guterres (secretary-general of the United Nations) issued a global call for a Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This decade will last from 2020 to 2030. The plan is that the secretary general of the UN will convene an annual platform for driving the Decade of Action.

    Decade of Action
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    75th Anniversary of the UN

    The 75th Anniversary of the United Nations was marked in June 2020 with a declaration by Member States that included 12 overarching commitments along with a request to the Secretary-General for recommendations to address both current and future challenges.

    Take action
    Read the declaration
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    Our Common Agenda report

    The Secretary-General responded with his report, Our Common Agenda, a wake-up call to speed up the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and propel the commitments contained in the UN75 Declaration.

    Sustainable Development- Our Common Agenda
    Read the report or summary
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    Earth4All launched

    Earth4All is an international initiative to accelerate the systems-change we need for an equitable future on a finite planet. Their analysis combines the best available science with new economic thinking. They found that the next ten years must see the fastest economic transformation in history if we want to steer humanity away from social and ecological catastrophe. Earth4All has identified five extraordinary turnarounds needed to create wellbeing for all on a (relatively) stable planet. These five turnarounds hold the potential to bring about real systems change and can be achieved by implementing key policy goals; five turnarounds to rethink economic growth as a measure of progress and set our societies on a safe pathway to wellbeing for all.

    From The Limits to Growth to Earth for All
    Buy the book
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    2022 June

    Stockholm+50 Conference – ‘A Healthy Planet for the Prosperity of all’

    The international meeting featured four plenary sessions in which leaders made calls for bold environmental action to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Three leadership dialogues, hundreds of side events – including several youth-led sessions – and webinars, as well as series of regional multi-stakeholder consultations in the run-up to the meeting enabled thousands of people around the world to engage in discussions and put forward their views.

    Fifty Years of Progress on Sustainable Development: Celebrating Stockholm+50
    Read the official report
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    Heads of State and Government gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to follow-up and review the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs. They carried out a comprehensive review of the state of the SDGs, responding to the impact of multiple and interlocking crises facing the world, and providing high-level political guidance on transformative and accelerated actions leading up to the target year of 2030 for achieving the SDGs. The Summit also brought together political and thought leaders from governments, international organizations, the private sector, civil society, women and youth and other stakeholders in a series of high-level meetings with the Heads of State and Government. The 2023 SDG Summit marked the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July 2022 under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council called for the Summit to “ mark the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals .” A political declaration for ‘rescuing’ the SDGs was unveiled at this Summit, and Ireland co-facilitated the process of developing this declaration.

    UN Chief on SDG Moment | Sustainable Development Goals | United Nations
    Read the Political Declaration adopted in 2023 here
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    Summit of the Future

    Having welcomed the submission of Our Common Agenda, the General Assembly passed a resolution in 2022 (A/RES/76/307) to hold the Summit of the Future on 22-23 September 2024. Practical consultations on preparations for the Summit begin in February 2023 and a Ministerial meeting will take place in 2023. An action-oriented Pact for the Future will be endorsed by Heads of State/Government at the Summit, showcasing global solidarity for current and future generations.

    Read the document here

Our History ___

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The Brundtland report came at a time when the oil shocks of the seventies, droughts in Africa, concerns about tropical forests, the depletion of the ozone layer and several other problems were posing great challenges to policy at every level, and it offered a way of looking at these problems in a holistic way.

The main long-term impact of the report is that we can no longer talk of economic and environmental policy in separate compartments. Sustainability refers to progress toward (or retrogression from) preferred futures, rather than to a defined endpoint. This idea means that sustainability is not an absolute concept, but a relative one. Sustainability implies equity, both within contemporary society (intragenerational) and in terms of the legacy for future generations (intergenerational) (Kobayashi et al., 2020).

Kobayashi, A.L., Cocklin, C. and Moon, K. (2020) ‘Environmental Policy and Sustainability’, in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier.
Our common future (1987). S.l.: WCED.

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Agenda 2030 ___

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