Brundtland Definition of ‘Sustainable Development’

2004 Rio de Janeiro Declaration on Sustainable Social Development, Disability & Ageing

2020-04-28:  A look back at a Benchmark Document, and an Introduction written nearly 16 years ago …

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2004 Rio de Janeiro Declaration on Sustainable Social Development, Disability & Ageing  (Download PDF File, 306 Kb)

The words ‘green’, ‘environmental’, ‘ecological’ and ‘sustainable’ are becoming part of everyday language in the Developed World, but are frequently interchanged without understanding.  To date, however, the concept of Sustainable Development has been hijacked by Environmentalists.  For example, no connection at all may be seen between a ‘sustainable’ building and ensuring that it can be safely and conveniently entered and used by ordinary people.

In other parts of the World, the ambiguous WCED / Brundtland Definition of Sustainable Development is being systematically rejected ;  the concept is viewed as an unaffordable luxury and/or as a means of continued domination and control by the ‘North’.  Yet, sustainability must be a global compact.

In this intolerant and more fundamentalist 21st Century, the United Nations System, International Law, and Social Justice continue to come under sustained attack.  And the Beslan School Tragedy* demonstrates that it is far more hazardous for disadvantaged, vulnerable and indigenous peoples in every society.

[ * The 2004 Beslan School Massacre … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beslan_school_siege … and its commemoration 10 years later … https://www.rt.com/news/183964-beslan-school-hostage-crisis/ ]

Some specific objectives for the 2004 Rio Declaration were as follows …

  • To present a 2nd Generation Definition of Sustainable Development which is more acceptable to the Developing World ;
  • To restore primacy to the Social Aspects of Sustainable Development … and particularly the ethical values of Social Justice, Solidarity and Inclusion-for-All ;
  • To embed the concept of the ‘Person’ in Sustainable Development … rather than the fleeting reference to ‘People’ which too often results in Disadvantaged, Vulnerable and Indigenous Groups being left behind ;
  • To signal one of the main challenges of Sustainable Development ahead – which will be to establish a framework of horizontal co-ordination at the many institutional levels … and between the many actors and end users … in the human environment.

Adopted in December 2004, at the Brazil Designing for the 21st Century III Conference, the Rio Declaration consists of a Preamble, 10 Principles and 5 Appendices ;  its central concern involves People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF).

This Declaration extols implementation, and the targeting and monitoring of ‘real’ performance – as opposed to ‘imagined’ or ‘paper’ performance.

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2010 ACRECONF in Delhi (Dilli), India – 8th & 9th January

It was a great pleasure to be invited to speak on the subject of Sustainable Fire Engineering at the 2010 ACRECONF in Delhi (Dilli), India.  This ground breaking conference in Asia took place at the India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, Delhi … on the 8th & 9th January last.  Back during August (2009) in Bengaluru … the ACRECONF Chairman, Mr. Ashish Rakheja, told me that he expected an attendance of somewhere between 500-600 people at the Delhi Conference.  Over the two days of the actual conference, approximately 1800 delegates participated … an enormous response by architects, civil and service engineers, developers, client and construction organizations, etc., etc., from right across the country … and from the deep south.

Colour photograph showing some of the many participants at the 2010 ACRECONF in Delhi, as they enjoy talking and networking during the morning coffee break of the second day at the conference. The venue was the India Habitat Centre on Lodhi Road. The weather was chilly for the time of year, and there had been a heavy fog earlier in the morning. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-01-09.
Colour photograph showing some of the many participants at the 2010 ACRECONF in Delhi, as they enjoy talking and networking during the morning coffee break of the second day at the conference. The venue was the India Habitat Centre on Lodhi Road. The weather was chilly for the time of year, and there had been a heavy fog earlier in the morning. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-01-09.

For me … refreshing, extremely impressive, and certainly the highlight of the conference … was a multi-media presentation … on the second morning, just after the coffee break … by Mr. Karan Grover, the renowned Indian Architect.  He is quite an individual !

Before the break, delegates had been treated to an elaboration of the Environmental Design Innovations incorporated into the 71 storey Pearl River Tower (Guangzhou, China), by Mr. Varun Kohli of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in New York.  Construction of the Tower is now well under way.  Afterwards, however, an important discussion took place concerning the issue of fire safety, and fire engineering generally, in Sustainable Buildings.  It became clear to all of the participants that this issue is a major oversight … an intentional gap … in the design of these buildings.  I made the point, forcibly, that Sustainable Fire Engineering is open to innovation and design creativity. There will be an important follow-up to this discussion.

Colour photograph showing a silly tourist on a bicycle rickshaw, as he is brought sightseeing around the Bazaar District in Old Delhi. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by Mr. Daljeet Singh, Ministry of Tourism, with CJ Walsh's camera. 2010-01-09.
Colour photograph showing a silly tourist on a bicycle rickshaw, as he is brought sightseeing around the Bazaar District in Old Delhi. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by Mr. Daljeet Singh, Ministry of Tourism, with CJ Walsh's camera. 2010-01-09.

Unfortunately, the conference was peppered with references to ‘Green’ Buildings … an outdated marketing concept (!) … which, within its limited world-view, gives people the false comfort of not having to deal with thorny issues such as ‘social justice, solidarity & inclusion for all’.  I have discussed this issue many times in previous posts.

Even more unfortunately, where the Brundtland Definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ was actually presented in one session … as usual, it was only the first half of the definition which made any appearance.  The second, and more important, half of the definition had mysteriously vanished without trace … which made the whole effort a meaningless exercise !   What a waste !!   No wonder there is such confusion over the concept … at all levels … in most countries !!!

It was not surprising, therefore, that what was not stressed enough, during the entire conference, was that Sustainable Design Solutions must be appropriate to local geography, climate, economy, culture, social need and language(s)/dialect(s), etc.  The LEED Building Rating System (USA), for example, is not being properly adapted to local conditions in India !

A final issue … another major oversight … another intentional gap … in the design of buildings … Accessibility-for-All !   Even though India ratified the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 1st October 2007 … this essential aspect of design … certainly in Sustainable Buildings … received no mention whatever during the conference … except by yours truly, in my presentation.

Overall … a magnificent achievement for the organizers !

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