“Visiting one of the great figures of our time—a figure like Gro Harlem Brundtland—really makes you feel greatly honored and hopeful for the future,” said Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern, describing his visit to the recipient of the 2014 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development Gro Harlem Brundtland in her native Oslo, Norway. His visit was both an opportunity to talk with the “godmother” of sustainable development and to personally extend an invitation to the Tang Prize Award Ceremony, where she will be receiving her medal and NT$40 million in prize money on September 18.
Madame Brundtland and her husband live in a 130 square meter two-floor apartment on the Bygdøy peninsula near the city center of Oslo. “Norway’s Iron Lady,” as she has been called, is not just a lady of the political arena but also a mother and grandmother to four children and nine grandchildren. She has worked a long and full career in the public sector, having been the Norwegian Minister for Environmental Affairs, leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, Director General of the UN World Health Organization, and served three terms as Norway’s Prime Minister. One guest to her flat, she recalled, a high-level official from Africa, was surprised to learn that Mrs. Brundtland did not hire help, but rather cooked and cleaned and generally took care of all the household matters herself. Not a strange thing for “the people’s prime minister.” As strong a politician and activist as she is, in her role as mother she was still greatly affected by the sorrowful passing of one of her children at the young age of 25. Ten years later it is still a very fresh memory for Madame Brundtland, though life and time have helped her to cope with the unimaginable loss.
Just having finished penning the speeches and lectures she will be delivering during award week, Mrs. Brundtland met with Dr. Chern and discussed what will be her first trip to Taiwan. She also took the opportunity to learn more about Taiwan and its work in Sustainable Development, for example: Taiwan’s work to reduce energy consumed by office air conditioning. In many countries, meeting rooms are kept at a chilly, sneeze-inducing low. Not so in Taiwan (a sub-tropical island, no less); the Taiwanese government has restricted the use of air conditioning in a number of offices, hotels, and stores to 26°C or above. Brundtland, who usually opts for more lose-fitting clothing, was happy to hear that Taiwan has made a real effort to make meetings both more comfortable and sustainable.
As the Brundtlands and their guest Dr. Chern continued to enjoy a local meal and lively discussion in a lone restaurant on the Bygdøy peninsula, one thing distracted from their convivial atmosphere—the empty tables and seats at the restaurant that led Madame Brundtland to express her doubt whether the eatery was close to closing down, showing that even an “Iron Lady” involved in global affairs like Brundtland cares deeply about her community and local goings-on, just like any down-to-earth Norwegian.
Down-to-earth she may be, but she has been—and continues to be—a central figure to furthering the development of sustainable living on Earth. Various news reports on Brundtland’s winning of the Prize described her as “the woman behind global carbon emissions plans” and without whom “we would not have the Kyoto Protocol, nor would Taiwan have been able to get the resources it received from the WHO during the SARS scare.” The reports continue, “The ‘Brundtland Commission’ changed the lives of the 7 billion people who now live on this planet. This is the ‘Iron Lady’ of Norway; this is the ‘Godmother’ of sustainable development.” When Brundtland heard such descriptions she laughed and said one word with all the candor and confidence of a woman in her position, “Yes.”
Her schedule for the award week already packed, Brundtland has also agreed to meet with the European Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan, an organization that, with its Low Carbon Initiative, has been a longtime supporter of sustainable development and Madame Brundtland’s work. Brundtland has also said she will be donating a 15 kg statue of her likeness in bronze for keeping in the Tang Prize Museum; while the statue gives viewers a surface glimpse into her strength and determination, even a bronze bust pales in comparison to the wisdom, the ability, and the élan of the real woman, this “iron lady” of Norway.