“Economies are stalling. Ecosystems are under siege. Inequality – within and between countries – is soaring. I will make the point I always make: these afflictions are clearly rooted in political short-sightedness, where narrow interests triumph over common interests, common responsibilities – and common sense.” Gro Brundtland begins the Elders+Youngers dialogue with a message to the 'Youngers'.
Dear ‘Youngers’ – it seems I have the honour of starting this global discussion.
I know that you are four leading young activists. We Elders have been working on many of the issues that you care about for a long time. We hope that together, by questioning, by encouraging and by occasionally challenging each other, we might identify the actions and solutions we all know are needed; the challenges are too important and urgent not to.
But let me first say this: I am sure you are impatient for change, and you are right to be.
Our debate will lead up to a major meeting of world leaders in Rio this June. I know first-hand just how important it is that we seize this opportunity: business, investors, activists - none of us alone can change the way we use energy, nor can we pull a blueprint for a sustainable planet out of thin air.
We need governments for that – and we need political will. That is why our voices are so important. But let me tell you something else: your impatience is not new.
A similar global feeling of impatience was precisely the context when – as you may know – the United Nations asked me to lead a totally new body, the World Commission on Environment and Development, back in the 80s.
Its mandate seemed impossible and enormous. We were expected to address a series of pressing global challenges: threats to the environment and natural resources, increased population pressures, poverty and lack of development.
I have a feeling they will sound familiar to you. They were the order of the day then; they still are today.
We wrote the report Our Common Future and put our new, main concept, sustainable development, on the urgent to-do list of world leaders.
Five years later, as we suggested, we had a famous conference in Rio in 1992 – that is precisely 20 years ago. You know all about it, of course. The world came together to look at the big picture, and made pledges to live together in a fairer, better, more sustainable way.
It frustrates me to say that 20 years later, we have not succeeded in changing our ways very much.
And these last two decades have given us even clearer confirmation of the threats we face.
What is more: the threats are coming closer.
Economies are stalling. Ecosystems are under siege. Inequality – within and between countries – is soaring. I will make the point I always make: these afflictions are clearly rooted in political short-sightedness, where narrow interests triumph over common interests, common responsibilities – and common sense.
Some progress has been made – fewer people are living in poverty. We have protected the ozone layer. Let us acknowledge such achievements: they show what can be done when we put our minds to the task.
But the overall picture is gloomier than ever because we still struggle, as a global community, to govern ourselves in the ways that matter most.
That is why Rio matters, and that is why we must all do our utmost to address the threats we face, as citizens, in the companies or NGOs we work for, in schools and universities. It is not just about political leaders: political will is a force that goes far beyond them. It is about all of us.
Our dialogue should reflect this and show how all of us, young and old – and anyone else online who wishes to join us – must work harder to promote a greater sense of shared responsibility, not just as citizens of our respective countries but as equal members of an increasingly interconnected global community.
With this debate we have a chance to explore just that. I am very pleased to be joined by some of my fellow Elders – Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu and Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
I look forward to it – starting with getting to know a bit more about you.
All the best,