Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies
22nd Annual Conference of the International Environment Forum
in support of the
United Nations High Level Political Forum
New York, 9-18 July 2018
The 22nd Annual Conference of the International Environment Forum will be a series of activities in support of the UN High Level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF) in New York on 9-18 July 2018. The events are planned primarily to allow participation at a distance, to avoid the cost and environmental impact of many members travelling to New York. The programme of activities will be updated on the web site as more information becomes available.
The IEF has already provided inputs to the official Scientific and Technological Major Group paper for the HLPF.
We are co-sponsoring and contributing to the side event that PERL is organizing at Scandinavian House on 12 July from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Education for Sustainable Lifestyles Workshop
HLPF 12 July 2018, 9am-1pm
Volvo Hall, Scandinavian House
58 Park Avenue, New York City
This workshop is organized by The Partnership for Education and Research About Responsible Living (PERL)
Join us in learning how sustainable lifestyles can become more desirable, accessible and normal.
Assuming your goal is to live a healthier, happier more sustainable life, then how do you achieve that? Whose responsibility is it to change existing unsustainable aspirations and systems into ones that promote sustainable development for all? Whether we function in governments, business, advertising, civil society, education, or simply as individuals we all face the fundamental challenge of contributing in one way or another to the shift towards more sustainable ways of living.
This workshop is organized as an interactive game in which everyone participates including the panel of invited international experts. We will explore what sustainable lifestyles are and who has what responsibility for making sustainable lifestyles the norm and not the exception.
The game will help us examine essential ingredients of living well: family and community, time as a resource, freedom and discovery, and balancing obligations and wishes. It will assist us in reflecting on relevant strategies for achieving sustainable lifestyles—strategies such as deciphering the systemic nature of lifestyles, taking advantage of life stages and transitions, accommodating diversity in lifestyles, and engaging in collective action.
IEF members Victoria Thoresen and Arthur Dahl are among the international experts who will be participating in the workshop.
Victoria Thoresen is also contributing to an educational activity in the UN Building on 11 July.
HLPF PANEL ON YOUR SMARTPHONE
To save HLPF participants from the effort of finding a meeting room to hear a panel of experts on the themes of the 2018 HLPF, the International Environment Forum invited its experts to record their short presentations on YouTube, so that you can watch them whenever and wherever convenient on your smartphone or tablet. They are below, and more are still to be added. The written texts are also available further down the page.
by Arthur Dahl at https://youtu.be/lox_vzhsLBo
by Rafael Shayani, Universidade de Brasília, at https://youtu.be/HfqyrHlhpzs
"Responsible consumption and production" (SDG12)
by Arthur Dahl, International Environment Forum, at https://youtu.be/i8TQh-ZZovs
by Arthur Dahl at https://youtu.be/lox_vzhsLBo
Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum
What do we mean by transformation? The Secretary-General, in his
synthesis report on the Post-2015 Agenda, said that
- fundamental transformation is needed in society and the economy, with the
- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defining a paradigm shift for people and planet
- inclusive and people-centred, leaving no one behind
- integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions
- in a spirit of solidarity, cooperation, mutual accountability
- with the participation of governments and all stakeholders (UN 2014).
This is clearly not business as usual.
The results of science in various fields are signalling the urgency of the necessary transformation, and the response so far has been too slow. On 13 November 2017, a warning supported by more than 15,000 scientists reviewed the status of the world environment since a first warning 25 years ago, and showed that almost all the trends were negative. They concluded:
"To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world's leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home." (Ripple et al. 2017).
Science can do much to define the directions that the transformation should take, depending on the country situation (O'Neill et al. 2018), and to recommend the speed with which actions should be taken to avoid extreme or irreversible damage to human interests or the environment on which we depend. The warnings are becoming increasingly strident. Transformation cannot be just superficial tinkering at the margins, but rapid and fundamental change. We have no time to lose.
However scientific knowledge by itself rarely changes human behaviour. Knowledge needs to be coupled with an emotional response, and this is often best triggered by a call to ethics, values and faith.
Change at this level must start with our basic assumptions about human nature and purpose. Are we inherently aggressive and self-centred, or should we not rather aspire to justice, solidarity, generosity, altruism and service to the common good? The SDGs are a framework for expressing the oneness of humankind in the expression "leave no one behind". They require both structural transformation in our institutions of governance, and social transformation in how we organize society and the economy, based on a new shared value system. Our actions need to be in coherence with SDG values in our collective search for viable solutions to the world’s problems. Our challenge today, especially at the HLPF, is to rise above partisan concerns and self-interest to strive to achieve unity of thought and action.
Sustainable is another word that we all can agree on without sharing a common definition, which is convenient for diplomats. It is not a goal that we reach but a dynamic balance that we have to maintain over time into the distant future. How can a growing, rapidly developing, and not yet united global population, in a just manner, live in harmony with the planet and its finite natural resources? Endless economic growth is not the answer. Neither are fear of the "others", marginalization and exclusion of other human beings, and disregard for their suffering. Social distress is inherently unsustainable and a source of insecurity.
It is worth also reflecting on the meaning of resilience. It can mean resistance to shocks or the ability to bounce back, implying strong social cohesion. It also means reimagining the economic sphere so that it is socially just, altruistic and cooperative, creating meaningful work for all and eliminating poverty as called for in the SDGs. The result can be collective prosperity through justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance. Today the world still has ample food and economic resources for everyone, but there are problems of access and equitable distribution, with increasing extremes of wealth and persistent poverty. Reducing inequality is also a SDG, not through charity but by finding ways to address the root causes of poverty.
The international governing council of the Bahá'í Faith has recently written:
"The stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one are being felt within international relations as much as in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small. With prevailing modes of thought found to be badly wanting, the world is in desperate need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds." (UHJ 2017)
To end on a positive note from a Bahá'í International Community statement to the UN:
"The pathway to sustainability will be one of empowerment, collaboration and continual processes of questioning, learning and action in all regions of the world. It will be shaped by the experiences of women, men, children, the rich, the poor, the governors and the governed as each one is enabled to play their rightful role in the construction of a new society. As the sweeping tides of consumerism, unfettered consumption, extreme poverty and marginalization recede, they will reveal the human capacities for justice, reciprocity and happiness." (BIC 2010)
Bahá'í International Community. 2010. Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism. Bahá'í International Community's Contribution to the 18th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, 3 May 2010. https://www.bic.org/statements/rethinking-prosperity-forging-alternativ…
Daniel W. O’Neill, Andrew L. Fanning, William F. Lamb, Julia K. Steinberger. A good life for all within planetary boundaries. Nature Sustainability, 2018, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0021-4
UN. 2014. The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet Synthesis Report of the Secretary-General On the Post-2015 Agenda, released 4 December 2014
UHJ. 2017. Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá'ís of the World, 1 March 2017. Bahá'í World Centre, Haifa.
William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Mauro Galetti, Mohammed Alamgir, Eileen Crist, Mahmoud I. Mahmoud, and William F. Laurance. World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. BioScience, Volume 67, Issue 12, 1 December 2017, Pages 1026–1028, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix125.
by Rafael Shayani at https://youtu.be/HfqyrHlhpzs
by Prof. Rafael Amaral Shayani, Universidade de Brasília, Departamento de Engenharia Elétrica, Laboratório de Fontes Renováveis de Energia
The energy issue has been a formidable challenge for humanity. The world's energy consumption grows year after year, based on fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). Renewable energy sources (solar, wind, etc.), despite hitting records of growth, still correspond to a very small fraction of the energy matrix. As a result, the energy sector increases its greenhouse gas emissions, contributing more and more to global warming, in contradiction to all global efforts in pursuit of sustainable development.
The energy sector is extremely conservative. There is a deep-rooted idea that energy security is the main point to be pursued, and that only fossil fuels are capable of ensuring this security, since many of the renewable sources are intermittent and therefore unable to provide reliable energy.
The Paris Accord, however, presents a different way of doing energy planning. It recognizes the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches, and also that the fight against climate change must respect, promote and consider the respective human rights obligations, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, people with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations, the right to development, as well as gender equality, women's empowerment and intergenerational equality.
This is a completely different way of doing energy planning! Such a change of approach requires that the Energy theme be treated in an interdisciplinary way. It is no longer sufficient that the matter be treated only from a technical engineering point of view, for example. Human and social issues should be studied by students interested in Energy. The following questions should be discussed in universities, providing important elements for students, who will become future professionals qualified to deal with this complex subject, to take decisions with a broader and more complete view of the subject: What is the relation between Energy and Environment? Energy and Social Justice? Energy and Public Health? Energy and Human Rights? Energy and Poverty Eradication? Energy and World Citizenship? Energy and World Peace? The focus of energy studies must cease to be technologies and become the human being. Students should be able to analyze the technical, social and environmental impacts of certain technologies and their respective costs. We can no longer consider the implications related to the emission of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels as externalities; they should be considered in the costs and influence the decision to adopt them or not!
Another important point is to make students reflect on the energy issue with its global implications. Students should draw inspiration from the words of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892) that "the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens" and "let your vision be world-embracing rather than confined to your own self " by considering energy solutions that promote social justice and direct humanity toward world peace. It is up to teachers to change their teaching method, deepening human and social issues in engineering courses, to train the new professionals of the 21st century with a broader and more comprehensive view than before.
"Responsible consumption and production" (SDG12)
by Arthur Dahl at https://youtu.be/i8TQh-ZZovs
Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum
The goal to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns touches on both sides of the economic process producing goods and services to support human well-being, both of which are today highly unsustainable, with the rape and pillage of the planet's resources to respond to short-term demands. Driven by the wrong indicators like GDP that simply measure the flow of money through the economy without judging the purpose of those flows or their contribution to human well-being, we have structured the economy around governments dominated by economic thinking and private enterprises driven by the profit motive. The economy has globalized while government regulation remains largely national, and with a natural tendency toward monopoly positions with an increasing concentration of power and wealth, giant multinationals are more influential today than most governments and there is no global institution capable of regulating them in the common interest.
The result is a circular diseconomy with enormous sums spent on advertising to cultivate desires in passive consumers for goods of marginal utility, if not actually damaging to health and well-being, produced with as little labour as possible to expand profit margins. and planned obsolescence to keep consumers coming back for more. The natural and social capital required to produce these goods are treated as externalities and not included in corporate profit and loss statements or national accounts, hiding the fact that we are living far beyond our means, while economic, social and environmental debts accumulate for future generations to bear. Businesses claim that they are simply responding to consumer demand, when in fact they work hard to create that demand and steer it in the most profitable directions.
Among the consequences are our failure to respond adequately to climate change because of the vested interests in the production and consumption of fossil fuels. The alarming recent signs of the collapse of biodiversity and a human caused planetary extinction event are largely due to multinational agroindustries and chemical manufacturers pushing intensive large-scale farming methods dependent on the widespread use of chemical fertilizers and toxic chemicals, all with the primary purpose of increasing corporate profits. There is no global mechanism to regulate damaging production processes or to defend planetary carrying capacity. While there are many responsible producers and innovators showing that sustainable production is possible, they carry little weight in the present unsustainable production system.
Ultimately it is each of us as a consumer that decides what to buy and how to consume it, at least within the choices presented to us, or to decide not to buy at all beyond basic necessities. For the poor, there is often no choice, just consuming whatever is available. Responsible living becomes an ethical challenge, especially when bombarded with messages and surrounded by social pressures, designed with great sophistication to push us into buying. New technologies have only amplified the problem, both with an ever-expanding range of products and with new media connecting us constantly with those aiming to manipulate us in multiple ways.
More research is needed in the social sciences to understand how we so easily fall prey to this psychological manipulation. For example, the impacts of the spread and consumption of IT products and networks need to be studied, both to improve their use to empower the poor and provide everyone with access to knowledge and science, and also to understand the dangers of overconsumption, the cultivation of addictions to social media, impacts of children's use of technology on their education and the development of young minds, and the dangers of their use to manipulate the public in everything from consumption patterns to elections. The extensive research in marketing and product design to increase consumption is not presently balanced with research to reduce excessive consumption. There are behavioural barriers, mindsets, confirmation biases and ideologies that are resistant to fact-based information. Alongside a reorientation to more durable and recyclable products, a major new effort is needed on how to motivate simpler, less material lifestyles, being content with little, and turning in other directions once basic needs are met. Researchers in the social sciences need to partner with those dealing with the ethical, moral and spiritual dimensions of human purpose where some of the answers may be found.
The ephemeral pleasure of the materialistic consumer society, where status is measured by consumption and greed is admired, needs to give way to the satisfaction of leading a virtuous life. Young people can be vaccinated against consumerism if they learn early the pleasure of altruistic acts of service to their community. If each of us learns to be content with little, there will be enough for everyone. As Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, as put it "Take from this world only to the measure of your needs, and forego that which exceedeth them."
On the production side, the necessary fundamental transition will challenge the economic sciences to design alternative economies that are socially just, altruistic and cooperative, create employment, and reduce poverty and inequality, as called for in the Sustainable Development Goals.
While business is a legitimate partner in implementing the SDGs, attention is needed to both the danger and the potential consequences of businesses "taking over" sustainable development, becoming the dominant partners to make it a profit-making enterprise for the very few. "Greening" products is necessary, but is not the core of sustainable development. More fundamental change is often needed in directions that will not be attractive to business. For example, it is important to encourage products and technologies that people and communities can master themselves, and not only those that are profitable in a business context.
Obviously, the economic transition would have to be planned carefully. Major parts of the economy are engaged in production that does not contribute to sustainability or human well-being. Major investments must be written off, capital will need to be reoriented, and new forms of employment created for all those whose jobs will be lost during the transition. Fundamental change is always painful for many, and their needs have to be taken into consideration.
In a larger perspective, as the Bahá'í International Community has put
"Sustainable production is not simply about ‘greener’ technology but rather, should involve systems that enable all human beings to contribute to the productive process. In such a system, all are producers, and all have the opportunity to earn (or receive, if unable to earn) enough to meet their needs.
The concept of justice is embodied in the recognition that the interests of the individual and of the wider community are inextricably linked....
Ultimately, the transformation required to shift towards sustainable consumption and production will entail no less than an organic change in the structure of society itself so as to reflect fully the interdependence of the entire social body—as well as the interconnectedness with the natural world that sustains it." (BIC 2010)
The IEF Annual General Assembly will be held separately over the Internet after the HLPF. An announcement will be sent to all IEF members with instructions on how to participate.
Last updated 23 June 2018