This article is the third in a series of articles which look into the 1987 report Our Common Future, prepared by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).


For more information on parts 1 & 2 please visit the links below.



This article focusses of the part of the report called Common Challenges.

Population and Human Resources

I personally felt that this was perhaps the most instructive chapter in the entire book.

There was a brilliant point that: “Almost any activity that increases well-being and security lessens people’s desires to have more children than they and national ecosystems can support.”

There was also a very interesting point about education. It is in full below.

Environmental education should be included in and should run throughout the other disciplines of the formal education curriculum at all levels – to foster a sense of responsibility for the state of the environment and to teach students how to monitor, protect, and improve it.

This is quite a vision put forward by the report’s authors; we have a long way to go to make this a reality.

Food Security: Sustaining the Potential

This chapter had a lot of cold and uncomfortable truths about industrial farming and the industrial scale of subsidies that support this industry.

The authors begin with the following situation below.

It has become politically more attractive, and usually cheaper, to export surpluses – often as food aid – rather than to store them. These heavily subsidised surpluses depress the international market prices of commodities such as sugar and have created severe problems for several developing countries whose economies are based on agriculture. Non-emergency food aid and low-priced imports also keep down prices received by Third World farmers and reduce the incentive to improve domestic food production.

They make it clear that: “it is in the interests of all, including the farmers, that the policies be changed.

Species and Ecosystems: Resources for Development

This chapter contains a poignant reminder of the importance of biodiversity with the statement that: “it would be grim irony indeed if just as new genetic engineering techniques begin to let us peer into life’s diversity and use genes more effectively to better the human condition, we looked and found this treasure sadly depleted.”

Energy: Choices for Environment and Development

This chapter has a particularly interesting sub-chapter on reducing urban industrial air pollution. This is a problem we have known about for 30 years and failed to act appropriately.

There was also a very interesting sub-chapter on wood fuel. The authors made the stunning rebuke that: “forestry must enlarge its horizons: beyond trees – to the people who just exploit them.” This is something I certainly agree with.

There was also a very enlightening sub-chapter on energy conservation, where the authors make the bold suggestion that: “within the next 50 years, nations have the opportunity to produce the same levels of energy-services with as little as half the primary supply currently consumed.

Industry Producing More With Less

The chapter begins with the pro-business statement that: “Industry is central to the economies of modern societies and an indispensable motor of growth.

The authors bring forward an ominous belief on the nature of pollution with the statement that: “It is becoming increasingly clear that the sources and causes of pollution are far more diffuse, complex and interrelated – and the effects of pollution more widespread, cumulative, and chronic – than hitherto believed.” Achieving sustainable development is a complex task.

The Urban Challenge

This chapter begins with the prediction that: “by the turn of the century, almost half the world will live in urban areas – from small towns to huge megacities.”

Later on in the chapter, they link this prediction back to the challenge of sustainable development. The authors belief is that: “the future will be predominantly urban, and the most immediate environmental concerns of most people will be urban ones.

What you need to know

Our Common Future was a report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 at the behest of the UN General Assembly.

This article dealt with the chapters that make up the part of the book titled Common Challenges.

A Subsequent article will deal with the final part of the book, Common Endeavours.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think about Our Common Future, how has the book impacted you?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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