1988 Esso Presentation on Implications of Brundtland Report

This 1988 document is a slide deck presentation for the Management Committee of Esso Resources Canada Limited titled “Brundtland Report Overview/Implications.” Esso is still the Canadian trading name for ExxonMobil and its related companies, including its Canadian subsidiary company Imperial Oil Ltd.

The presentation summarizes the conclusions of the 1987 Brundtland Report, written by the World Commission on Environment and Development and published by the United Nations, the first global effort to discuss development and environmental issues as a singular challenge. The report included submissions and expert testimony from government representatives, scientists, NGO representatives, and research institutes from around the world. 

As summarized in this presentation, the World Commission on Environment and Development “believes that development is absolutely essential to produce the financial resources needed to relieve widespread poverty and the major environmental and social problems it brings. Development, however…must integrate environmental planning, and the hope for the future is conditional on political will.”

The presentation’s acknowledgment of climate change includes such statements as:

  • “Environmental trends threaten many species including man. Issues include immense deforestation and desertification, acid rain, the greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, etc.”
  • “All fossil fuels contribute to complex and inter-related pollution problems including global warming, air contamination and acid rain. Risks of global warming resulting in melting of polar ice caps and submergence of coastal areas, re-arrangement of wet and dry lands with serious shifting in global agriculture and other economic activity makes increasing reliance on fossil fuels problematic.”
  • “International co-operation is required on immediate measures at energy efficiency, shifts to renewable energy, reducing choroflurocarbons (sic) etc. while longer term solutions are developed.”

In a section on Energy Alternatives, the presentation notes that “Renewable sources (mainly wood and hydropower) currently provide about ⅕ of the world’s energy but have potential to supply total current global needs. A shift in research priorities is required, however, and barriers (e.g. utility monopolies/subsidies) in favour of non-renewables need to be changed.” 

Regarding the implications of the Brundtland report’s findings on Esso’s operations, the presentation anticipates

“continued and probably growing external pressures around the concept of sustained development and a stronger emphasis on conservation and energy efficiencies. During the Energy Options process environmental issues were afforded considerable and some would argue a disproportionate share of the agendas.” 

The presentation also explicitly lays out the company’s concern with appearing environmentally-focused for PR reasons, arguing that,

“there will be an on-going need to promote sensitivity and ensure integration of environmental planning and management into economic decision-making and to be perceived as doing so as a “way of life” (emphasis added).  

Despite the fact that Esso, Imperial, and Imperial’s parent company Exxon were internally well aware of the many environmental and climate crises laid out in the Brundtland Report and acknowledged in this presentation, Exxon subsequently downplayed and denied the severity of anthropogenic climate change for decades. Even one year after this presentation took place, Imperial’s CEO failed to mention climate change or the greenhouse effect even once in a presentation on energy issues to the Empire Club of Canada in 1989. 
More documents on Imperial Oil can be found in our full Climate Files collection.

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