Gro Harlem Brundtland

Brundtland—COP21 Holds the Promise of Improving Billions of Lives

  • Gro Harlem Brundtland
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In late September this year, 154 heads of state agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals, or Agenda 2030, set forth at the summit meeting in New York. Trillions of dollars will be allocated to reach these goals and end abject poverty in the next 15 years. With 17 Goals and 169 specific targets for action, the Goals have been called the most inclusive plan of attack on poverty in history. The next step in this process is COP21 (the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference), which will take place from November 30 to December 11.


The Tang Prize Foundation recently spoke with Gro Harlem Brundtland, the “Godmother of Sustainable Development,” on the importance of the upcoming conference in Paris later this year. Brundtland sees the recent conference in New York and the upcoming meeting in Paris as crucial moments in the immediate future of sustainability on Earth.


One of the essential decision that all countries must agree with is to maintain a 2 degree Celsius maximum in global temperature rise, a figure that was already agreed upon in 2010, Brundtland says. Countries must begin immediately by designing and implementing more effective, more accurate, and more reliable carbon credit pricing systems, which will act both as a deterrent to dirty energies and as a catalyst to development in clean renewables. They must also agree to a common goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.


Leaders will need to commit to very specific goals, and spell these goals out in timetables that they will be accountable for as countries ease their dependence on fossil fuels and replace them with clean renewables. Financial plans that make adaptation easier and less costly are one such path to making these plans a reality.


Developing countries will play no less important a role in the realization of a sustainable world. But, as Brundtland emphasizes, “developing countries need to grow in a way the world’s industrialized societies did not.” Rather than using the same path that got us to where we are today, developing countries have a chance to find new and innovative ways to develop, ways that do not depend on fossil fuels, inefficient use of energy, and un-reigned emissions.


The science is clear, Brundtland stresses, but the economic side needs clear signs of where we are headed. If leaders all around the world can see the necessary path and rise to this momentous occasion, they can give their nations the leadership and motivation they need to reach these goals. That includes individual actions as well as the collective actions of nation states. As Brundtland emphasizes, “We are all responsible, as individuals and citizens. We all should let our voices and preferences be heard, on behalf of future generations.”