World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. From One Earth to One World: An Overview. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


The Commission sees the "possibility for a new era of economic growth, one that must be based on policies that sustain and expand the environmental resource base. An we believe such growth to be absolutely essential to relieve...poverty" (p.1). Growth will come through better managing technology and social organization (p.8).


The Commission's document is an overview of a conceptual/moral report on the state of global affairs in terms of environmental degradation, international economic inequality and poverty, and the inability of current national and international institutions to deal effectively with the challenges of securing equity for future generations. It provides a useful discussion of the interconnectedness of economic and environmental changes, of the interdependence of nations in both economic and ecological terms, and of the interconnectedness of regional ecological systems. The Commission concludes with recommendations for achieving global sustainable development.

Sustainable development is defined as meeting "the [human] needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (p.8) This concept implies that there are limits on environmental resources and the ability of the biosphere to absorb human activities. These limits are seen to have roots in technological inadequacies and inequitable social organization. Thus, sustainable development must entail:

a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs (p.9).

Poverty is seen as a major cause and effect of environmental degradation. The resource gap between industrial and developing nations is widening, rule-making on global scale is dominated by industrial nations, and much of the earth's ecological capital has already been used in industrial development. The Commission views these inequalities as the crux of both the planet's environmental and development problems. The solution lies in economic growth that is equitable, and environmentally sustainable. This change will rely upon informed public participation and the political will to change.

In addition to extensive attention to international equity and equity for future generations, briefly addressed are issues of gender equity (in regard to reproductive self-determination) and intra-national equity (in terms of indigenous peoples).

Issues of concern briefly outlined are developing and managing (1) population and human resources; (2) food production, distribution and terms of trade; (3) species and ecosystem preservation; (4) sustainable energy paths and consumption patterns; (5) industrial production and (6) rapid urbanization (pp.11-17).

The Commission calls for institutional reform in terms of: (1) balancing the terms of trade in the international economy to "produce an international economic system geared to growth and the elimination of world poverty" (p.18); (2) providing more comprehensive management of the global commons; (3) incorporating environmental concerns and investments into issues of national security; (4) changing the nature of institutions and laws to reflect the interconnectedness of environmental and economic problems (pp.17-21).

Keywords: sustainable development, equity, future generations