Brundtland Revisited

The lead author of the Brundtland Commission's landmark report on sustainable development reflects on the state of the world 25 years on.
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February 4, 2013

Exactly 25 years have passed since the Brundtland Commission presented its landmark report, Our Common Future, to the United Nations General Assembly, which, following an extensive debate, endorsed the commission’s call for a rapid global transition to more sustainable forms of development. I was the secretary-general and a member of the commission at the time. During a recent conference in the Netherlands, I was asked to look back on our work during the mid-’80s and comment on the progress – or the lack of progress – since then. I was also asked to look ahead and examine the prospects of getting off the largely unsustainable path we are still on.  This article is based on those remarks. While my conclusions will seem pessimistic to some, I believe they offer some prospect of a turnaround toward a more sustainable future, providing Mother Nature doesn’t suffer a terminal heart attack before we finally get our act together – terminal not for planet Earth, of course, which is in no danger, but for the narrow range of conditions that enable human life to thrive on it.

The Brundtland Commission was unique for its time. We numbered 22 top leaders – politicians, industrialists, and scientists – and together we represented almost every shade of ideology on the planet at that time – a time that was heavily marked by the Cold War. Indeed, one of our commissioners, a distinguished scientist from the Soviet Union, was accompanied to all of our meetings by a friendly KGB minder. In 1985, however, after Mikhail Gorbachev took office, not only did the KGB minder disappear, but President Gorbachev also surprised us with an invitation to hold our second-last meeting in Moscow. He surprised us even more when he didn’t revoke his invitation after he learned of the conditions we imposed on every government that invited us: no censorship of our agenda, open public hearings with the invitations controlled and issued by us, free access to the media, and so on.

The world was changing very rapidly. By the time of our Moscow meetings, we were approaching the end of the Cold War era and nearing completion of the enormous task the United Nations General Assembly had asked us to undertake four years earlier. That year, 1983, was the 11th anniversary of an earlier landmark, the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. I led a major part of Canada’s preparations for that conference and also served as a special adviser to the conference secretary-general, my great countryman and close friend, Maurice Strong.

It was in Stockholm that we first put environment on the global agenda. A remarkable achievement for its time, it paved the way for those of us living in the richer industrialized countries to make some impressive gains in environmental quality. Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of humankind living in the developing world benefited very little and, as a result, just 10 years after Stockholm, the UN reported that global environmental trends were getting steadily worse.

There were many reasons for this, but one stands out above all of the others and it applies as much today as it did then. We discussed it at some length in Our Common Future. Briefly, we found that the environmental-protection agenda that nations’ adopted before and after Stockholm tackled only the symptoms of environmental degradation; it completely ignored the sources. The sources were to be found not in our air, soil, and waters, which were the focus of the environmental-protection agenda, but in a whole range of perverse public policies, especially our dominant fiscal and tax policies, our energy policies, and our trade, industry, agriculture, and other policies.

In 1972, we all, in effect, took a huge aspirin to treat the symptoms of our environmental headaches (and feel better, at least temporarily), but we did nothing to address the causes of our multiple and growing environmental maladies.

Nearly 100 national environmental agencies were established before and after Stockholm, and in virtually every case, the governments concerned made it clear that the policies that caused those maladies were off limits. The new environment agencies would stick to cleaning up pollution after the fact, largely through aspirins known as “end-of-pipe measures”: retrofitting, rehabilitating, and restoring. But they were to have no authority to influence the policies and programs of the powerful central economic and finance agencies, the energy agencies, or any of the other departments of the government whose policies were at the source of the degradation.

Cleaning up pollution after the fact and measures to retrofit, rehabilitate, and restore were, above all, politically safe. Most companies didn’t like them, but they didn’t really threaten their bottom line or their access to the resources that were needed to feed our growing economic system.  They didn’t require changes in the policies that promoted unrestricted growth. And, most of all, they ensured that the geese that laid the golden eggs would not be touched, however dirty the eggs and the processes involved in making them might be. Moreover, they didn’t raise questions about the distribution of wealth and power between rich and poor groups and rich and poor countries.

Consequently, during the decade after Stockholm, we not only failed to catch up with the legacy of the past, but we also could not even keep up with the steady day-by-day increase in pollution and degradation and loss of resource and environmental capital.

Einstein once said that you can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking you used when you created them. The UN General Assembly certainly wasn’t thinking about Einstein in 1983, but after a year-long debate, it agreed to ask the secretary-general to establish an independent commission to take a fresh look at the issues and come up with some new answers.

Just 10 months later, in October of 1984, we held our first meeting in Geneva. At one point, I asked the other commissioners how they felt our report might be received three years later.  Everything suggested to me that it would get a very cold and frigid reception. We were in what I called at the time “an environmental recession,” as we had been for six years, and the downward spiral showed no signs of reaching bottom.

A few months later, however, media attention to a series of high-profile environmental disasters began to slow this spiral, and soon we saw the beginning of a rising wave of public opinion demanding action. That wave grew through 1985 and 1986 and, when we launched the commission’s report, Our Common Future, at a major event in London in April of 1987, we found ourselves on a rising surge of environmental excitement.

Looking back, we now know that this was the beginning of the second of only two massive pressure waves of public concern demanding action on environmental issues in the entire 20th century. We experienced many minor waves, of course, at the local or national levels, but only two that were of global scale and sustained over a number of years. The first began in the late ’60s, crested after Stockholm following the first oil shock in 1973, and fell into a deep trough after the second oil shock in 1978.

The first wave, in my view, was the principal driver of the environmental-protection agenda, just as the second wave, which I am coming to, drove the concept of sustainable development.

Our 1987 media launch in London was absolutely packed, and, as I looked over that large audience, I could almost feel the second wave rising. But I was still shocked by the scale of what followed.

I never expected – nor did any of the other commissioners – that within a year, our recommendations would be endorsed by the UN system and virtually every other international body of significance, including all the multilateral banks. Nor did I expect that within two years, they would begin to reshape curricula in universities and graduate schools and become a preoccupation of a growing number of leading companies worldwide. Nor did I expect that within three years, many governments in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere, including Canada, would not only respond officially to our recommendations, but would also commit themselves to the policy reforms and other measures needed to institutionalize sustainable development.

And I certainly never expected that just a few years later, by the early ’90s, the two words “sustainable development,” which I introduced to the commission at our first meeting in 1984, would become part of the common, everyday lexicon of humankind. But they did. It seems that people were not only pressing for change, but were also looking for a new direction, and many thought they found it in Our Common Future. It went on to become the most widely read UN report in history, selling more than a million copies in some 25 languages. And in the process, it provoked a global debate about the need for deep reform of the policies that were at the source of continuing environmental destruction.

Unfortunately, it provoked something else I never expected. It spawned a new growth industry.  This took the form of hundreds of seminars and conferences around the world – meetings that were devoted to defining and redefining the concept of sustainable development. Isaac Newton warned that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. He was talking physics, not politics, but it applies in that realm as well. I was more than surprised, as illustrated by the fact that in 1992, I wrote that a new way to define “infinity” was the ever-expanding number of self-serving interpretations of sustainable development. Most of them, of course, were – and are –totally self-serving. I no longer shock easily, but, to this day, I remain stunned at what some governments in their legislation, some political parties in their appeals, and some industries in their policies claim to be “sustainable development.” Only in a Humpty Dumpty world of Orwellian doublespeak could the concept be read in the way some would suggest.

Try as they may, however, they can’t escape the fact that the concept raises profound questions about values, and about our relationship with nature, on whose integrity and stability all life depends. Neither can they ignore that it is not a fig leaf for the status quo. To quote my friend Bill Ruckelshaus, the American member of the commission who was then a Republican, “sustainable development implies a revolution in the way we now do business.

Back in 1987, we thought the concept was plain enough. We had defined it in several ways: ethical, social, and ecological. They were all interrelated, but there were two that I thought were quite basic.

The first referred to the need to live within nature’s limits. Development was sustainable, we said, if, at a minimum, it did not “endanger the natural systems that support life on earth – the atmosphere, the waters, the soils, and the living beings.”

Later, we pointed out that current forms of development drew too heavily “on already overdrawn accounts of ecological capital,” and that they could not be extended into the future without “bankrupting those accounts.” We further said that, while we “may show profits on the balance sheets of our generation … our children will inherit the losses.” They may “damn us for our spendthrift ways,” we said, “but they can never collect on our debt to them.”


At the 1985 Brundtland Commision hearing in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The second referred to consumption levels. Development was sustainable, we said, if it was “based on consumption standards that are within the bounds of the ecologically possible and to which all can reasonably aspire.”

Later, we pointed out that, “most efforts to maintain human progress [to] meet human needs and [to] realize human ambitions are simply unsustainable in both rich and poor nations.” We went on to warn that if we continued on these paths, we would “threaten ecological collapse.”

Today, of course, no one remembers those definitions. In 1987, only one definition grabbed the headlines, and it stuck. It’s the one that features the need for intergenerational equity, framed as, “development which meets the needs and aspirations of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

I have always regretted that turn of events. Intergenerational equity is obviously an important feature of any viable definition of sustainability, but standing alone to the exclusion of the others, it doesn’t make sense – not in today’s world. It was clear even in 1987 that the world’s economic systems had become totally interlocked with the Earth’s ecological systems. If we were to maintain a habitable planet for our species, we would soon have no choice but to begin to live “within nature’s limits,” keeping consumption at levels that are “within the bounds of ecologically possible.”

The commission drew from this one very practical conclusion. Beginning immediately, we said, the environment had to be integrated into all processes of economic decision-making – from the cabinet chambers of government, to the boardrooms of business, to the kitchens of our homes.  We felt so strongly about this that we highlighted it on the back cover of our report:

Our Common Future serves notice that the time has come for a marriage of economy and ecology, so that governments and their people can take responsibility not just for environmental damage, but for the policies that cause the damage. Some of these policies threaten the survival of the human race. They can be changed. But we must act now.

Following 343 pages of diagnosis and analysis and 350 specific recommendations for policy and institutional reforms, we called upon governments worldwide to launch an urgent transition to more sustainable forms of development. And, to take the next step, we called upon governments to convene an international conference within five years to develop and agree on concrete plans for this transition.

To be frank, I honestly never thought that would happen, at least not within five years. But I failed to consider the growing power of the second wave of public pressure, which, by 1988, had become so intense that a number of heads of government found it necessary to undergo a very public baptism as “born-again” environmentalists. Margaret Thatcher was the first to declare her conversion before a meeting of the Royal Society in London. She was followed by a chastened George Bush Sr., who, standing before the election cameras in Boston Harbor, promised to be an “environmental President.” Before the end of the year, Helmut Kohl, François Mitterrand, Brian Mulroney, and many others found themselves on the road to their own environmental Damascus.  With the public driving them, they all gathered in Rio in June 1992 for the largest political summit in history, the Earth Summit, again under the inspired leadership of Maurice Strong.

Rio was a political success. It produced several major agreements, principally the conventions on Climate Change and Biodiversity and the now forgotten Agenda 21. But the brutal fact is that the pledges made in Rio were just that – pledges. Nowhere in these agreements will you find a single word in which the assembled governments committed themselves to actually do something. You will find many “shoulds” and “mays,” but you will search in vain for any “musts” or “wills.”

The second pressure wave reached a peak just before we got to Rio, and after the conference it disappeared quickly. So when our leaders got home, most of them felt free to ignore the commitments they had just made, although there were some notable exceptions in northern Europe.

So what progress have we made in the 20 years since Rio? What has become of the commission’s call for an urgent global transition to more sustainable forms of development?

Briefly, in my view, the journey to a more sustainable world is barely underway, even though we have made a significant amount of progress.

Take population, for example. Our species is growing at about one-half the rate it was in 1987 – still much too fast, but progress. Or poverty reduction. Some of the so-called BRICS, like China, have made significant gains, although globally, we still have a very long way to go. Or energy efficiency. Again, positive gains, but when you crunch the numbers you find that they are not much more than the one per cent annually, which comes from capital turnover under business-as-usual.

I’m more encouraged by the huge gains we’ve made in freedom and democracy worldwide, as well as the enormous gains in transparency, and in the growth of civil society.

We leaned heavily on civil society in preparing Our Common Future, but the sector we worked with was a mere baby compared to the giant of today. It is now almost a new estate of governance – a fifth estate, with enormous influence and global reach. With iPods and Facebook, members of civil society today can mobilize thousands in a minute and bring millions onto the streets. Witness recent events in the Arab world. And as a megaphone for Mother Nature, its impact has never been greater.

As for the private sector, hundreds of companies have come on board. It’s a mixed bag, of course. Not all companies, or even a majority of them, are on board. But a growing number are, and that’s progress.

I think I can say the same for governments, although, outside of northern Europe, their numbers are fearfully small. Northern Europe has led the way on Kyoto, on new energy and environmental technologies, and on the politically difficult process of shifting the burden of taxation from income to carbon.

Other bright spots can be found in Asia. Take China. It is today a huge new burden on the global environment, soon to surpass the West. But recently, it has also become our largest generator of solar and wind power. My friend Maurice Strong, who spends considerable time in Beijing, recently told me that China plans to build 100 new and green cities, with populations of one million or more, over the next 20 years.


The Xinjiang Tianfeng Wind Power Plant in Dabancheng district of Urumqi, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (Reuters).

Unfortunately, North America is a very different story. Since Rio, our national governments have excelled at doing as little as possible for as long as possible. My European colleagues constantly tell me of their surprise and regret that our current Canadian government has turned its back on, and reversed, our proud record of achievement from the ’60s through the ’90s.

North America has also become the world capital of a new anti-environment growth industry, supported largely by corporate money and devoted to demonizing science and denying climate change. And it’s been very successful. Denying climate change is now a litmus test for acceptance in one of our neighbour’s two major political parties.

I’m glad to say that it’s a different story at state and city level. A number of U.S. governors and mayors have taken the lead in measures to reduce carbon emissions. The same is true in Canada, where the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec have even introduced a carbon tax.

All in all, significant progress has been since 1987, and the pace is picking up. Yet, we are, as you know, in a much deeper mess today than we were then.

Global growth has doubled in the past 25 years. In 1987, the Gross World Product stood at US$33 trillion. Today, it stands at more than US$66 trillion. In constant dollars. And economists happily assure us that it’s on track to double again over the next 20 years, and double yet again over the following 15 years, and so on, ad infinitum.

Virtually everyone hails this growth as good news. After all, it has, as I said, brought a significant reduction in levels of poverty in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. It has also brought new jobs and rising incomes, and, along with that, new dignity, independence, and hope for hundreds of millions of people who never had any hope before. It has also brought education, better health, and longer life expectancies.

Isn’t that just what the commission called for? Shouldn’t we then continue to focus on creating more of it, and then still more?

The commission did, in fact, call for a huge increase in global growth to lift billions in the Third World out of poverty. And, frankly, I can’t think of any other single recommendation in Our Common Future that has resulted in more misunderstanding. Caveats are usually misunderstood – or ignored – and that call came with a large number of caveats.

In calling for a huge increase in global growth, we insisted that new growth must not be a continuation of the resource-consumptive and ecologically destructive model of the past. We insisted – indeed, our whole report insists – that future growth must be based on forms of development that are economically, socially, and ecologically sustainable. If it is not, we said, “our future will be in peril.”

And we spelled out clearly what we meant. In chapter after chapter, we described in detail some 350 policy and institutional changes needed to put energy, agriculture, industry, urban, and other sectors on a more sustainable path. Governments endorsed those recommendations, and then on the road to Rio they negotiated for months and elaborated on them more fully and explicitly in Agenda 21, a masterpiece of analysis and proposals for reform leading to a sustainable future.  At the Earth Summit in ’92, Agenda 21 was approved by the more than 100 heads of state present and voting.

No one in a position of power in the early ’90s could reasonably plead ignorance of the changes needed to put the world on a more sustainable path. If they didn’t act, and most of them didn’t, it wasn’t because they didn’t know what needed to be done.

Change is never politically easy, and there is no doubt that many of the policy and institutional changes required for a transition to more sustainable forms of development were, and are, politically very difficult. If they had been politically easy, we would now be well on our way to a sustainable future.

Following Rio, most of our leaders knew what needed to be done to change course. Most still do. What they didn’t know, and what they still don’t know – or, at least, what they greatly fear they don’t know – is how to do it and still get re-elected.

As a result, during the past two decades, we have not seen the transition that our leaders in Rio agreed was imperative. We remain wedded to the same growth model and stuck on the same unsustainable path we were on then – with consequences that are both awesome and awful.

Back in 1987, the world had not yet crossed any of nature’s limits. Today, scientists tell us that we have crossed at least four of the most critical planetary boundaries. Carbon is the one that everyone talks about because of global warming, but there are also those relating to nitrogen, water, and the loss of species. In addition, a large number of ecological services that are absolutely central to the maintenance of our economic systems are now in serious jeopardy. In 2005, the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that 15 of the 24 major ecosystem services that support the human economy – services such as providing freshwater, purifying air, and regulating the climate – were being pushed beyond their sustainable limits.

So while governments, economists, and people generally may cheer the amazing growth of the past quarter-century, they should be aware that in choosing not to implement Agenda 21, and to instead continue with the same environmentally destructive growth model that brought us to Rio (and later to Jo-Burg, to Copenhagen, and, this year, back to Rio), we have placed the human species in much greater peril than it was 25 years ago.

Civil society, the private sector, and even governments may be making some laudable progress, but when we add it all up, what we find is a bit like the old fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The unsustainable business-as-usual growth machine to which we are all addicted is racing ahead like a hare at the speed of a souped-up supersonic Concorde. At the same time, progress toward a sustainable future is crawling forward like a tortoise, at a pace somewhat better, perhaps, than Louis Blériot when he crossed the Channel in 1909, or even Charles Lindbergh when he crossed the Atlantic in 1927, but no faster than the last scheduled propeller-driven trans-ocean passenger flight in 1967.

In Aesop’s famous fable, as you know, the confident hare takes a rest, and when he wakes up, the tortoise has won the race. We can only wish. In the real world, the only way for the hare to lose is for governments to begin to back the tortoise by finally implementing the measures they adopted in Rio with all the resources at their command. But I’m afraid that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Judging from the recent elections in Canada and the one now underway in the United States, our leaders believe that the only way they can get re-elected is by persuading voters that they know how to grow the economy faster than their opponent – nonstop and forever. And the economics profession, using models that are utterly devoid of earthly constraints, or that, at best, treat the Earth as a mere externality, is busy offering them a steady stream of advice on how they might do just that.

What, then, will it take to enable our leaders to change the unsustainable course we are on?  What will it take to enable them to enact the policy and institutional changes needed, and at the scale needed, to make a difference? Let me repeat: at the scale needed. Given the race we are in and the speed we are travelling, scale is everything.

Today, we see literally thousands of examples worldwide of new ways of building communities, new ways of managing forests and fisheries, new ways of generating energy, and so on, which come very close to being sustainable. Take solar power, for example. When Jimmy Carter put a solar roof on the White House in 1979, it cost $50 per watt. Today, that same installation would run around $0.84 per watt. No surprise, then, that the U.S. will install more solar power this year than it has in the last decade, or 2,500 MW, the equivalent of two nuclear power stations.


The Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada (Reuters).

All of this demonstrates that we can, in fact, do what needs to be done. But not at the pace at which these innovations are currently being applied. We should be under no illusions about that. We can all change our light bulbs or drive a sleek hybrid Prius, but it is only when our leaders change the rules governing energy markets and use taxes to ensure that prices reflect the true costs of fossil fuels that we will get change across the whole marketplace at the scale required to make a difference.

So, the $64,000 sustainability question today is not how we will make the transition. The question is, what will it take to enable our leaders to finally do it?

Politicians can, and will, act only if they have a strong partner in the public pressing them to act, as they did in 1972 and 1987. In which case, there may be some good news. Compared to 1987, there are many more political leaders today who have read the evidence and accept that (a) we are on an unsustainable course and (b) we are running out of time. But on their own, they can, and will, change very little. In order to act, they need to feel the pressure of public opinion breathing down their necks and driving them forward.

If the past is any guide, this won’t happen until we experience another huge pressure wave of public concern – a third wave of global scale and significance.

Both the first wave in the late ’60s and the second wave in the ’80s were driven by extensive media coverage of a series of large-scale environmental disasters and I expect a third wave will be no different.

There is no shortage of budding environmental disasters, although in North America the corporate oligarchies controlling our media are loath to report them as such. The Arctic ice sheet is shrinking fast, glaciers are melting, deserts are creeping, forests are flaming, and temperatures and sea levels are rising. Even so, only a minority of citizens in the large and geographically resilient carbon-states like the U.S. and China see this as a real crisis threatening their own economic and social well-being. But that is bound to change.

Last November, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency, an organization hardly known for its green credentials, warned that current global energy consumption levels put the Earth on a trajectory to warm by six degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, an outcome that he said would be “a catastrophe for all of us.” He’s right, of course. Just think what an increase of a little less than one degree Celsius has already meant. And then think what an increase of two or three degrees Celsius would mean for all of the other issues we addressed in Our Common Future. The growing water crisis alone would impact on food production, refugee flows, social tension, military conflicts – you name it – to shake the planet from South to North and East to West. Six degrees is simply unthinkable. After all, civilization exists by environmental consent.

But what if governments continue to fail to take the transformational measures needed to de-carbonize their economies? Or worse, what if governments begin to feel that it’s all too late – that the changes needed in the time still available are simply beyond their political reach? In that case, the threat of a rise of six degrees Celsius, or even three or four degrees Celsius, might well open the door to really extreme measures. One, lurking in the background, is geo-engineering.  Serious proposals are being advanced to salt the seas with iron filings to stimulate phytoplankton bloom and increase the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide; or to inject sulphate particles into the stratosphere to screen out the sun’s radiation; or to install giant mirrors in the sky to shade the Earth from the sun; or even to blast an asteroid to create a giant dust cloud in outer space. Geo-engineering is not governed by any existing conventions, but desperate governments could well see it as a politically cheap get-out-of-jail-free card. “If the technology seems promising,” they might say, “why not risk it? We can continue dumping CO2 into the atmosphere. We won’t have to fight the carbon industry. We’ve got nothing to lose, so let’s run with it.” That may sound fanciful, but it’s not: We know that parts of the military establishment are already working on it.

Why is it that we seldom see western citizens, and especially our young people, in the streets today demanding action? After all, it’s their futures that are most at stake. In 2007, we had what I thought was the mother of all wake-up calls. That summer, we lost 1.2 million km² of Arctic ice, an area larger than Germany, France, and the United Kingdom combined! It happened on our northern shores, and I half expected to see our young people at the doors of Parliament demanding action. If it had been the late ’60s, they would have been there. The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970, and it saw 25 million Americans take to the streets of urban America to demand action to curb environmental pollution. More Americans were on the streets that day than the total 1970 population of Canada. Fast-forward 37 years to when a much greater environmental disaster was unfolding on our northern shores. Where were young Canadians?   Not on the streets. Why?

Earth Day came at the end of the ’60s, that wonderful liberal decade I remember so well, which brought us not only the environmental movement, but also feminism, civil rights, and the ’68 student revolts (not to mention the hippies and The Beatles). The prevailing socio-political climate is much different today. The year of the great Arctic melt followed the conservative – some would say neoconservative or neoliberal – conquest of much of the West. Back in the ’60s, we also had a vigorous independent media, not the corporate oligopoly we have today.

If the public cannot be aroused, we may simply have to wait until Mother Nature suffers a massive heart attack, the equivalent of a climate 9/11. Public awareness and fear may then bring people by the millions into the streets and thereby empower our leaders to finally stand up and override the powerful coalitions blocking action and actually implement measures to curb the growth of fossil-fuel production and consumption.

Perhaps it will take more than one shock to the system. We may need a series, each strong enough that to ignore it would threaten a government’s chances of re-election.

We do know that things can change very quickly. An instant after the Berlin Wall collapsed, we went from a bipolar world to a unipolar world dominated by the Washington Consensus. A decade later, the Washington Consensus was dead and we found ourselves in a multipolar world.  Today, the power structure is rapidly shifting eastward to Asia. Geopolitical shifts that used to take a century now take a decade or less.

When the environmental stars align once again, and the power of an aroused public opinion combines with that of civil society, the progressive business and corporate world, and enlightened political leadership to drive the massive policy and institutional changes required for a sustainable future, the politically impossible could become the politically inevitable almost overnight. It has happened before. As my great friend Barbara Ward used to say, “we all have a duty to hope” … it will happen again.