7th GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
Orlando, Florida, 17 December 2003
The seventh General Assembly of the International Environment Forum (IEF) was held on the evening of Wednesday, 17 December 2003 during the IEF Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, USA. A total of 27 people attended, including 17 members and 10 guests. The meeting was opened at 7:00 p.m. by the President of the IEF, who welcomed the members and guests, and invited everyone to introduce themselves. Ballot papers were distributed for the election of a chairperson and secretary of the General Assembly. Arthur Dahl was elected Chair, and Peter Adriance as Secretary. The draft agenda prepared by the Governing Board was proposed to the assembly, and approved without modification (Annex 1).
The Annual Report of the Governing Board (Annual Report 2002-2003) was presented and opened for consultation. In response to a question concerning the book being produced by IEF, it was indicated that this will consist of selected papers on environment and sustainable development presented at IEF conferences. There are still some key areas for which papers are being sought, as well as case studies. If members want to contribute to the volume, they should contact the editor, Sylvia Karlsson, concerning the gaps to be filled. Concerning the report of the conference, it will be posted on the IEF web site.
The Governing Board has been trying to build on our significant accomplishment last year in receiving accreditation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development by the United Nations as a scientific and technological organization. The IEF is trying to demonstrate to the scientific community that it can partner successfully with a religiously-inspired organization. This is another step towards the unity of science and religion. On eco-agriculture, we tried to follow up the meeting in Johannesburg, but did not receive a response.
Modification of By-Laws
The Governing Board proposed to the General Assembly that the Board be increased from 5 to 7 members to facilitate sharing the work load. The Board had to cope with growing e-mail correspondence, preparation of the minutes of its meetings, maintaining the web site, etc. The Board meets by e-mail, so members can be anywhere in world. The change in the by-laws was approved by consensus.
Election of the Governing Board
The ballots and list of members were distributed to all members before the meeting, and those not present could vote by e-mail. There were 23 votes cast in total; 17 in person and 6 by e-mail. Board members elected to serve until the next General Assembly were (in order of the number of votes received): Arthur Dahl (Switzerland); Peter Adriance (USA); Sylvia Karlsson (USA); Irma Allen (Swaziland); Roxanne Lalonde (Zambia); Gail Lash (USA); Lloyd Brown (USA).
Consultation on the implementation of the IEF Five Year Plan
The IEF Five Year Plan was adopted in 2000 to provide strategic guidance for the development of IEF. It is on the website, and describes where the IEF wants to concentrate its activities. Members were invited to consult on its implementation. A member asked how it aligns with the sustainable development agenda and the Millennium Development Goals. As international priorities evolve, the Board can consider if/how to adjust the plan.
It was suggested that the IEF might organize some of its activities by continent, where members are closer together and share many interests. The plan of the Board to appoint issue monitors would also help members to group by interests.
One suggestion was that the national Bahá'í communities in the US and Canada might provide some financial help for the Education for Sustainable Development project.
In response to a question on the level of collaboration with the Bahá'í International Community (BIC), it was explained that, as with other organizations that IEF partners with, the working relationship was very close while respecting the differences between the organizations. The IEF designed part of its web site to be helpful to organizations preparing for the WSSD, and the BIC referred its national communities to the IEF web site as a resource. The IEF also organized workshops at WSSD. Bahá’í-inspired organizations like IEF are independent of the Bahá'í institutions and have to distinguish themselves from BIC, since they also have members who are not Bahá'ís, and their work is complementary. The IEF board keeps the BIC and the Bahá'í World Centre informed of its activities. The IEF has also benefited from the long BIC experience in international fora.
On the relationship with the United Nations, the Board has decided to apply for Consultative Status with ECOSOC. The President explained the process and rationale for applying, as this would allow participation in key meetings like the Commission on Sustainable Development. A letter of intent had been submitted expressing IEF interest in obtaining accreditation, and the Board was awaiting details on the procedure for application. If approved, IEF will be challenged to find appropriate and available representatives among its members.
A concern was expressed that the name IEF does not convey the organization's interest in the broad sustainable development agenda. Given that IEF is also the name of another organization, the name might be reconsidered. This suggestion stimulated some discussion as follows. Raising the issue of religion in development is a focus that should be emphasized. Education is a key component of environment, so including education in the name would be important. The discourse between science, religion and development would be a natural place for IEF. The Board might want to tinker with how it mentions the name. In response it was pointed out that the subtitle on the letterhead and website describes IEF as a Bahá'í-inspired organization addressing the environment and sustainable development, which should suffice. It took a long time to arrive at the name after extensive discussion. Since the IEF had already been accredited by the UN to WSSD as a scientific organization, a name change now could create confusion about our application for accreditation to ECOSOC.
While piggy-backing on other conferences often works well, there was some concern that it did not do so at the Orlando meeting, because there was a lot of overlap between the sessions. The IEF programme drew a lot of the invitees away from the development seminar activities. The piggy-back model in future should take this into consideration. Since the Rabbani Trust was responsible for the programming, the IEF should consult with the Trust to look for ways to cooperate more closely on the sessions, and try to maintain complementarity. (This was already happening, with an agreement to combine sessions the next day.)
Thanks were expressed to the Board for its leadership of IEF.
Consultation on activities and priorities for the coming year
The Board sought the suggestions of the membership on activities and priorities for the coming year. It was suggested that the IEF be a resource to Bahá'í institutions. However, completing the book, educational materials, etc. will depend on member contributions.
Tree planting had been suggested last year as an area where we could unite efforts and become known, and this was again discussed in detail. Many aspects of trees could be addressed, then applied differently in different countries. "Men of the Trees" is part of our Bahá'í heritage. The Bahá'í World Centre had said it might be useful to have a source of expertise on trees provided by IEF. There are many resources: one member volunteered to help with information on forest farming. Another described a tree/peace statement project in Reston, Virginia. The Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is a great resource. IEF should consider contributing trees to compensate for the greenhouse gas generated by traveling here. Experience in Costa Rica providing training in leadership to NGOs could dovetail with a tree planting initiative.
It was proposed that the IEF Educational Materials task force be divided by continent so that programmes could address regional needs.
Representation of IEF at UN meetings
The IEF recently had a note from the UN Division of Sustainable Development on preparations for the Commission on Sustainable Development. The next topic is water. Certain NGOs have been asked to coordinate the effort, and are looking for experts to be nominated, contributions to an NGO paper, and inputs to a multistakeholder process. The IEF needs human resources to be able to contribute, and be able to recommend as a representative. The CSD has adopted a 12 year work programme, so we know the needs far ahead. It was suggested that IEF should develop a clear understanding of its relationship of the Millennium Development Goals. One member reported contacts that could be useful and the need to know about IEF resources.
Concern was expressed that IEF might function better with some financial resources. The President responded that having no funds had been the strategy so far, so that the limited human resources could be devoted to substantive work. Where funding is needed the IEF tries to partner with an organization that can handle funds. In Johannesburg, the European Bahá'í Business Forum (EBBF) rented the booth and received some members’ contributions. The process works well mostly, but sometimes is awkward.
The chair asked for suggestions for the location of the next annual meeting. The Townshend School in the Czech Republic was one suggestion, as were sites in Asia or Latin America. Germany might host our conference in exchange for our help with their environmental projects.
Closing of the General Assembly
The chair thanked all the participants for their contributions, and closed the 7th General Assembly at 9:50 p.m.
International Environment Forum
7th General Assembly
Orlando, Florida, 17 December 2003
1. Opening of the General Assembly
2. Presentation of the Annual Report
3. Modification of By-Laws
4. Election of the Governing Board
5. Consultation on the implementation of the IEF Five Year Plan
6. Consultation on activities and priorities for the coming year
7. Representation of IEF at UN meetings
8. Financial resources
9. Other business
10. Closing of the General Assembly
See the Annual Report 2002-2003