Gro Harlem Brundtland to give IIED's 2018 Barbara Ward Lecture

News, 21 March 2018
The 2018 Barbara Ward Lecture will be given by the first woman Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland, who chaired the UN World Commission of Environment and Development that presented the groundbreaking Our Common Future report on sustainable development.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change  from 2007-10, will deliver this year's Barbara Ward Lecture (Photo: Joël Saget/AFP)

Gro Harlem Brundtland will become the latest 'outstanding woman in development' to give the Barbara Ward Lecture when she speaks at this year's event.

IIED's Barbara Ward Lecture series, celebrates the institute's founder Barbara Ward, a distinguished economist, journalist and policy advisor who was among the earliest advocates of sustainable development.

It was the UN's World Commission of Environment and Development (1983-87), known as the Brundtland Commission after its chair, that put the concept of sustainable development on the international agenda, through the landmark report Our Common Future.

When the commission sought to define sustainable development, it drew this from Ward's book with Rene Dubos, Only One Earth, published in 1972.

IIED director Andrew Norton said: "We're delighted to have Gro Harlem Brundtland delivering this year's Barbara Ward Lecture. Her unfaltering work on sustainable development and public health is an inspiration to all of us, and the groundbreaking work she led producing the report Our Common Future continues to influence those of us working for a fairer, more sustainable world. It promises to be a fascinating discussion."

As Norway's Environment Minister (1974-79), Brundtland established health as a key tool in tackling environmental issues and human development. Her contribution continued as director-general of the World Health Organization (1998-2003), during which time she increased access to life-saving drugs, worked to eradicate polio, and promoted awareness of the links between poverty and disease and between violence and health.

Her tireless work for people and planet was expressed through a series of influential posts, including special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change (2007-10) and member of the United Nations Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability (2011-12).

Today she is on the board of the United Nations Foundation and is deputy chair of The Elders, an inspirational group of leaders convened by Nelson Mandela to tackle the world's toughest problems. She is also a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, which focuses on issues critical to women and equitable development.

Women in sustainable development series

In the lead up to the June lecture, IIED is running a series of blogs and interviews that reflect on the role, influence and impact of women in the field of sustainable development.

A question-and-answer article with Fatima Denton, director of the Special Initiatives Division at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, launched the series on International Women's Day on 8 March. She describes a shifting policy landscape where women's voices are becoming more prominent, but explains why more work is needed if women are to see real change in their everyday lives.

The second interview of the series this week saw Philippine Sutz, senior researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group, explore women and land rights issues ahead of the World Bank Land And Poverty Conference.

In the coming weeks will feature articles from further 'outstanding women', Christiana Figueres, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Stella Gama, Beth Chitekwe and Monica Araya, addressing issues ranging from the role of women in bringing the Paris Agreement to bear to how women use technology to advance their sustainable development.

Previous lectures

The 2016 Barbara Ward Lecture was delivered by Debra Roberts, head of the Sustainable City Initiatives portfolio in eThekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa.

Other previous speakers have included former Ireland President Mary Robinson; Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action; South Africa MP Lindiwe SisuluChristiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and Fatima Denton, director of the special initiatives division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).


Anne Schulthess (, marketing manager, IIED's Communications Group

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