Gro Harlem Brundtland was the youngest person and the first woman ever to hold the office of prime minister in Norway. With two other periods as prime minister from 1986 to 1989 and 1990 to 1996, Dr. Brundtland was head of government for more than 10 years.
Throughout her political career, Dr. Brundtland has developed a growing concern for issues of global significance. In 1983 the then United Nations secretary-general invited her to establish and chair the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission, which is best known for developing the broad political concept of sustainable development, published its report Our Common Future in April 1987.
The Commission’s recommendations led to the Earth Summit—the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
Dr. Brundtland finally stepped down as prime minister in October 1996. In her successful bid to become director-general of the World Health Organization her many skills as doctor, politician, activist and manager have come together.
Dr. Brundtland was nominated as director-general of the World Health Organization by the executive board of WHO in January 1998. The World Health Assembly elected her for the position on May 13, 1998.
Question: Are we focusing too much on carbon? What else is important?
Gro Harlem Brundtland: If we go back to the original concept, it was not only a concept that deals with a low carbon economy, it deals with finding the solutions that will make it possible for the world at large, including all the different parts and the different kinds of populations to be able to live decent lives, to have a future for their children. And that we can live in a pattern of development that means that we are not undermining our own future by ruining the planet, undermining our environment, and biodiversity. And so, it's true that in the broader context, it's not only a question of CO2 emissions, or even low carbon. It is a broader concept, social and environmental concept including equity, including the reality that people in all parts of the world, poor people today. They need to be able to survive, they need to have decent lives and livelihoods and this is something that is a common destiny for all of us, whether in the rich or the poor world now.
Question: What is your outlook for the degree to which it will be constraint on the one hand versus ingenuity on the other that will solve this problem?
Gro Harlem Brundtland: Well, I'm basically an optimist. I believe in human ingenuity, I believe in innovation, I believe we can do a lot of what's necessary by doing investment into research and technology, but also into social awareness of understanding that not only people living in industrial North have the rights to a future safer and more prosperous life. This is a combination of social understanding and global understanding and using the methods and to invest in new technologies and new ways of doing things in such a way that we can all survive in a better lifestyle even than today, and that we can overcome poverty and really get on the track of sustainable development, also in the poorest countries around the world.
So, I am an optimist. I think the limitations on general standard of living worldwide are not going to be in any way dramatic. It's going to be moving forward in a consistent pattern of using what's known that can help us enter a sustainable pattern and to invest into even more new solutions to help that happen.
Recorded on February 25, 2010