Her Excellency Gro Harlem Brundtland, founding chair of the world commission that launched the concept of sustainable development to the center of the global stage in 1987, shared her thoughts with Restorative Leadership Institute Executive Director, Dr. Seana Lowe Steffen, in a rare interview at the time of the 20-year anniversary of the first Earth Summit, Rio+20.
As world leaders descend upon New York this week to answer critical sustainability questions with internationally binding Sustainable Development Goals, Dr. Brundtland’s insights are important to consider.
Seana: What would you say is distinct or unique about the leadership that is needed at this time in our planet’s history?
Gro: Leadership always means taking the long view, inspired by our common needs and a clear sense of shared responsibility for taking the necessary action. In our time it means thinking even further ahead than leaders had to do one or two generations ago. Now we have the evidence to show us that that our human activities, the footsteps of our own time, will affect negatively the lives and choices we leave to future generations in a potentially disastrous way, due to our own overstepping of planetary boundaries. We face a moral challenge to act and to act in time to protect Planet Earth and the livelihood for new generations.
Seana: As a grandmother committed to a healthy, life-enhancing future, and as a global leader acutely aware of the dynamics affecting the pace of decision making and the politics of inaction, what do you think it is really going to take for us to make the changes needed to meet the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs?
Gro: The way we measure economic growth has to change, so that it integrates the social and environmental aspects of development.
Seana: In your 2007 speech at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development you stated, “Great achievements often start with a vision that seems to be bordering on madness.” If we continue to hold out for the most hopeful of all possibilities, what would be your ideal outcomes and why?
Gro: If the world could agree that we now are ready to agree to set sustainable development goals, that all countries will be accountable, and that they will report regularly to the UN on their achievements, ready to be held to account if they don’t deliver, we would have made a major shift forward.
Seana: While directing the WHO you consistently emphasized the simple fact that, “Human health and the health of ecosystems are inseparable.” What do you think keeps people from understanding and acting on that interconnection?
Gro: I am afraid the answer is that so many are still not really ready to take seriously the mounting evidence of how humanity is affecting her own future through lack of attention to how policies and actions urgently need to change.
Seana: What do those working for global sustainability and planetary wellbeing need to be successful?
Gro: We are all in this together, every human being. We all need to realize that time is running out, and that the only answer to give is to take commonly based actions, and take seriously our shared and combined responsibilities.
Read the full interview as part of Seana’s forthcoming book: We Are the Tipping Point, How Women are Guiding the Necessary Leadership rEvolution