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Tang Prize winner urges environmental action

OSLO, Norway--Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, named the winner of the first Tang Prize in Sustainable Development on Wednesday, hopes for a faster and more united global response to tackle environmental problems.

Speaking to CNA in Oslo, the guiding force behind the 1987 Brundtland Report on sustainable development said the suggestions laid out in her landmark report still apply to the world today. “We don't need to change the definition” of sustainable development, she said. “What we need to do is to (take) more action, to do what is necessary.”

Every country and even individual is responsible, she said, “so we can safeguard the planet and humanity for future generations.”

The Brundtland Report coined the term “sustainable development” and put sustainability on the international political agenda. The landmark report was authored by the World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland Commission), which the former prime minister chaired from 1984 to 1987.

In the report, sustainable development was defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It laid the groundwork for the convening of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which produced a global action plan for sustainable development known as Agenda 21 and initiated the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, leading up to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Decades later, Brundtland still believes it is “necessary to increase the pace in which we move forward” as many environmental issues warned about in the 1987 report have only gotten more severe.

Countries have to “act together” to avoid climate change and other threats to the planet and humanity, she urged.

”It is necessary not only for the rich countries, but also for middle-income and lower-income countries to be part of the solution,” she said.

Meanwhile, Brundtland said any decision-making process on the environment should address all three pillars of sustainable development -- the social, economic and environmental aspects, which she believes are all linked together.

”There is no way to have development without taking care of people and the environment,” she said.

As prime minister of Norway, Brundtland said she began addressing the problem of using coal and high-sulfur oil as fuels after discovering that sulfur pollutes the air and causes acid rain and health problems such as asthma.

Political leaders need to have the courage to make such decisions, she said.

Brundtland currently serves as deputy chair of The Elders, a group of world leaders brought together in 2007 by late South African president Nelson Mandela to work for peace and human rights and find solutions for global crises such as climate change and the AIDS pandemic. She said The Elders will be putting a lot of their efforts into climate issues.

”We will try to influence public opinion and world leaders to do what is right and necessary to save the planet and to save humanity,” she said.

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Former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland is seen in this file photograph. She served as the director-general of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003, during ...

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