IEF 10th Annual Conference

Submitted by admin on 15. September 2017 - 23:57
2006 September 15-17
Oxford, England


IEF and BASED-UK joint conference*

Science, Faith and Global Warming:
Arising to the Challenge

Balliol College, Oxford University, Oxford, England
15-17 September 2006

Co-organized by the
Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development
of the United Kingdom

and the
International Environment Forum




Bahá'í World News Servicearticle on the conference:
One Country article on the conference:
July-September 2006, Vol. 18, Issue 2, pp. 4-5

A conference on the challenge of transforming our societies
through the knowledge of science and the wisdom of faith,
for the well-being of future generations


Society as we know it in Western countries is not sustainable. We are consuming resources and creating pollution in a way that will affect severely our well-being and that of future generations on this planet. One of the most striking examples of this is the way that our societies use energy: consuming oil and coal reserves built up over millions of years in just a couple of centuries, and in the process releasing huge quantities of carbon dioxide causing global warming. In 2006, European countries have one year's experience in trading CO2, the Kyoto Protocol is operational, and the United Nations is discussing energy for sustainable development. In parallel, Bahá'í communities around the world are engaged in collective learning processes on how to serve their societies better. The conference sought the meeting points between these two processes through exploring:
the latest scientific knowledge on climate change and its impacts on human well-being;
the wisdom from the world's Faiths, including the Bahá'í writings, on the value systems needed to face these challenges; and
the practical steps individuals and communities can take to reduce their burden on the future.

See the Conference Programme for links to speakers' papers, audio recordings and presentations, as well as the presentations of reflections set to music, and the quiz.

Group photograph


The conference took place in the beautiful setting of Balliol College, Oxford University, England, with 66 participants from 7 countries in person and another 115 from 17 countries following through the e-conference on the Internet. In his opening, Dr. Arthur Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum (IEF), welcomed all the participants on behalf of the two co-sponsoring organizations. He noted that this was the 10th anniversary conference of the IEF, and the second time that it had partnered with the Baha'i Agency for Social and Economic Development (BASED-UK).

Why pick the topic of "Science, Faith and Global Warming" for the conference? Of all the problems of the environment and sustainability, global warming is the one that most fundamentally challenges Western society technologically, economically and socially. The conference programme started with a look at the science of climate change at global level, with all its complexity, uncertainty and controversy, adding the human dimension, particularly the impact on the poor in developing countries. Leading experts then looked at various facets of climate change, including the gender aspects, the response of governments at the international level, the possibility of a north-south climate community, the role of energy use in climate change, the implications for economic systems, and the ethical and spiritual dimensions. The final day was more interactive, with workshops on sustainable living, business and transport, aimed to move participants to action, asking what we can do in our own lives to reduce our impact on climate change.

Climate change: scientific and faith perspectives

Arthur Dahl, Switzerland (President, International Environment Forum, and former Deputy Assistant Executive Director, UNEP)

In the first keynote talk, Arthur Dahl summarized the scientific evidence for global warming and how the resulting climate change would impact on society. He then linked this to our materialistic society so addicted to cheap energy that even the grave threats that climate change represented in the immediate future were having little effect. He outlined the fundamental ethical challenges that climate change presented, and the spiritual principles that could guide us towards the necessary transformation in the economy and society. [see the full paper]

Following his talk, Arthur Dahl answered a few questions. With respect to a passage in the Baha'i writings (from 1916) referring to all the ice of Greenland melting and its climate becoming temperate, is this a metaphor for the spiritual changes that must take place in mankind or is this predicting what will happen? Is climate change something with positive aspects to it and not something we need to look at in a negative way? Arthur responded: We know that any fundamental change in society involves breaking down the old system and building a new one in its place. We see processes of disintegration and integration at the same time. Climate change is going to force humanity to recognise its oneness. The problems this will create, such as with 6 meter sea level rise, will produce huge numbers of refugees. The fact that we are going through traumatic changes may be a way for us to learn spiritual lessons. There is already so much warming built into the atmosphere that even if we stopped emissions tomorrow, the climate will change to some extent. In that situation which we cannot reverse quickly, we have to see what we can do to rebuild social institutions that reduce the damage. How do we change systems of governance, find food for people, etc.? Looking for positive solutions may be the force that unites us. The significance is not because rapid climate change is a good thing but because it is pushing us in the right direction.

Another question concerned the negative message of climate change. Faith in practical action is sustained by optimism. Pessimism is a killer for faith; climate scientists speak with panic in their voices, but there is such a gulf between them and leaders in society. What do we base our optimism on to find a plan of action that is practical? Arthur replied: for more than a decade I coordinated all the environmental monitoring of the Earth in the UN system to warn governments of coming problems. It was very depressing. But as a Baha'i I knew that these were all symptoms of what is fundamentally wrong with society. Good things can grow as fast as bad things. One can start on a small scale, changing values, educating children with new values. It will go slowly at first but it will pick up momentum, especially with the modern media which can make things go so fast if they are used in a positive way. Political leaders, like the rest of us, are not sustainable; they die and others replace them. I am an optimist, based both on science and faith. We know what to do but we need more motivation. There are good signs, such as Al Gore launching the latest report disclosing CO2 related investments on Monday (the day after the conference) . There will be challenges ahead but we have the science and values. You can be optimistic after this weekend.

Impact of climate change on developing countries

Lars Friberg, Germany (Potsdam University)

In order to assess the impact of climate change on developing countries and why poor people are most vulnerable, Lars Friberg analyzed three dimensions that determine the extent of human impact: sensitivity, adaptability and vulnerability.

Sensitivity measures biophysical effects of climate change, such as the effect on crop yield or energy demand, and considers the socio-economic context. Rain-fed grain crops are sensitive to climate change, while banking and manufacturing are not. With respect to the sensitivity to damage from natural disasters, 73% of disasters between 1900 and 2004 were climate-related. A cyclone in Mozambique in 2000 caused GDP growth to drop from 8% to 2%. One quarter of Africa's population lives within 100 km of the coast, with the numbers at risk from coastal flooding rising from 1 million in 1990 to 70 m in 2080. Drought and desertification also represent a great risk in Africa.

With the big increase in climate catastrophes, people in the North take out insurance to protect against climate change, but in some places like the Florida Keys this no longer possible. In rural Kenya, for example, peoples' only insurance is their herds.

Adaptive capacity is a measure of the ability to adapt to climate change. It is a function of wealth, technology, education, institutions, information, infrastructure and "social capital". For example, 100 years ago the port of Galveston, Texas, built a seawall. However, having this capacity does not mean that it is used effectively. Adaptation is an adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate changes in order to moderate harm or to exploit beneficial opportunities.

Vulnerability to climate change is the risk of adverse things happening. It is a function of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity.

When bad things happen, such as the flooding in Europe, we can help people because we have the money to do it. However in Bangladesh people are dependant only on themselves. Cuba has built up an early warning system so no one dies, so Cuba adapted. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, suddenly Cuba had no more fossil fuel supplied from the USSR, so its agriculture had a big problem and had to adapt to low-input organic production.

Socioeconomic impacts of climate change will be significant. Small increases of temperature will prompt food prices to increase due to a slowing in the expansion of the global food supply relative to demand. Climate change will lower incomes of the vulnerable populations and increase the absolute number at risk of hunger. What would be the impact of mass starvation in an already fragile society? Will there be climate refugees? How would the rich world react, especially if it is also struggling with the negative effects of climate change?

Climate change will have a disproportionate negative impact on the poor. The annual cost of natural disasters was estimated in 2004 at $55 billion, before Hurricane Katrina which caused over $150 billion in damage in the southern United States. Climate change impact is a structural factor that exacerbates inequality and thwarts pro-poor growth. For example, up to half of the overseas development assistance in Bangladesh is at risk from climatic changes.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the biophysical effects associated with a 2 or 3 degree warming will put 70 million people at risk of flooding, 350 mn at risk of malaria, and 3.5 billion at risk of water shortage. One model shows that a warming of 1.8 - 2.6 degrees will decrease precipitation by 40 percent in North Africa by 2050.

Agriculture is another big problem. For example, a temperature increase of more than 2.5 degrees in India would cause rice and wheat output to decrease by at least 15-25 percent, forcing India to import food. A sea level rise of 1m would displace 13 million people and cut national rice production by 16 percent in Bangladesh. A half metre rise in sea level in the Nile Delta will affect nearly 4 million people and flood 1,800 square kilometres of cropland. Forest fires will increase. Sub-saharan Africa, where 52% of the population lives in absolute poverty, will be worst hit by climate change, with drought, flooding and diseases encouraging civil conflicts.

Mitigation, or the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, may be the world's greatest challenge. China, India, Brazil and South Africa will become major greenhouse gas emitters in next 20-30 years, with China overtaking the US. But these are countries working themselves up the development ladder so halting development is not an equitable option. The obstacles include the shortsightedness of politicians in democratic countries, the higher price of low-carbon technologies compared to burning coal, intellectual property rights raising the cost of clean technologies, and a price for carbon too low to be an incentive for action.

Every year China builds 60GW of power generation, four fifths from coal, requiring 40% of the world's coal, more than America, Europe and Japan together. The USA is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and must be engaged if we are to see any change. However biofuels that are not certified as produced with eco-friendly methods can cause major problems of their own.

UN convention on climate change has the goal of reducing climate change to avoid dangerous interference. The challenge is to define dangerous interference. Warming of 2 degrees threatens many millions with flooding, tens of millions with increased risk of hunger, hundreds of millions with malaria, and billions with water shortages, mostly the poor and in developing countries. Melting polar ice could raise sea level at least 1 metre by 2100 and much more later, threatening large populations everywhere, in particular in developing countries. Major ecosystems from the poles to the tropics are threatened, with the loss of forests and species affecting the lives of all, especially the poor and developing countries. Avoiding a 2 degree warming will be very difficult now but not impossible.

A target to stop global warming with a maximum of a 2 degree increase would require a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions of 70 percent by 2050. A fair and effective mechanism would need global participation through national targets consistent with the global limit, while allow the poor some development. New financial mechanisms will need to steer $17 trillion dollars into investments in low carbon solutions. Climate risks must be mainstreamed into high level policy and investment decisions for active risk mitigation. We need both mitigation and adaptation on an unprecedented level, with real urgency. We only have 10-15 years at best to create a working regime and break the current trend, when it took 58 years to create the trade regime and 41 years to form the European Union.

Mr. Friberg concluded that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Following the talk, one participant asked how an individual can reduce personal carbon usage. Mr. Friberg replied that there are many tools to do this available on the web. Major companies are also aiming to become carbon neutral, or offer the possibility to offset carbon emissions. Local government can sometimes help to calculate the offset. In response to another comment about the prevention of war as a way to reduce pollution, he noted that, if we do not put a climate regime in place, we are likely to see an increase in wars because of limited resources.

Saturday 16 September
After some live music and reflections with beautiful pictures prepared by Judith Fienieg, the second day of the conference provided a variety of perspectives on climate change.

Gender aspects of climate change

Minu Hemmati, Germany (consultant)

Dr Minu Hemmati, a psychologist, noted that gender and climate are not normally put together. In the multilateral environmental agreements on climate change, women are only mentioned as part of the 'workforce'. In looking at causing, mitigating, and adapting to climate change, she asked if it makes a difference if you are a woman or a man.

Gender refers to the social dimension of sex differences, such as expectations and identities. Gender makes a difference in relation to many aspects of climate change in different parts of the world. Taking gender into account helps us to determine the full set of causes and potential effects of climate change, and it helps us to protect our climate and adapt to climate change more effectively.

For example, in looking at mitigation, who is causing emissions and for what purposes? There are differences in energy use between women and men in terms of purposes (caring work, income generating work, leisure) and amounts. Men drive cars, and bigger ones, further and for more selfish reasons. Transport systems are presently designed with a view to middle-aged full-time working men. Their routing and timing neglects women's higher dependency on public transport and their specific needs when they look after children and the elderly, such as dropping kids at school and then going to work.

In terms of risk perception, women are more risk sensitive and averse than men. They feel more strongly about the risks of climate change, and believe that action at present is not sufficient. When considering mitigation policies, women are less likely to believe in technological fixes for climate change, but more in a change of consciousness. However very few women are in decision-making positions in energy and climate related fields. In the energy sector, there are 6% women in technological positions and only 1% in top management. It would be good if they were more involved, but there has been little success in getting women to work in these sectors.

Communication and campaigns have to be designed with a view to gender differences. A different language needs to be used for women. An advertisement of women in bikinis in front of solar panels is targeting men. How can we help women to change their actions?

Natural disasters can illustrate gender differences. In the flooding in 1999 in Bangladesh, many more women than men died. The warning information was given by men to men in public places, but not passed on to the families. Women do not learn how to swim. Women are not allowed to leave home without a male, so they waited at home with the children instead of seeking safety. On the other hand, in Hurricane Mitch in Central America, men showed more risky behaviour trying to save people's lives and died themselves.

Vulnerability and adaptation are largely social issues. The gender aspects include the feminization of poverty: the poor will be most affected, and 60 - 75% of people considered poor in the world are women. The environmental impacts of climate change will include drought and deforestation. Women will have to walk further and further to get water and firewood. Gender inequalities also show in education: girls will drop out of school to help the family and not boys, and this has long term effects. The girls will therefore not be able to do anything else to create income - no money for clothes, medication and school fees.

There is a gendered division of labour. Women are more involved in caring for children, the sick and elderly than men. Since climate change will have health effects, women will spend more time looking after the sick in the family. There is gender injustice in power and decision-making. Women are often not included in planning and community development. There will be increasing conflict over natural resources, and women play crucial roles in preventing and resolving conflict, as often seen in indigenous and traditional cultures.

What recommendations can be made on the basis of this gender analysis? What do climate protection policies mean for women and men? Are there differences? And how can they be addressed to ensure gender and climate justice? In what ways are women and men vulnerable to climate change? But also: What are the strengths and skills of women and men that policies need to build on?

We should try to tell policy makers to take this into account. There are special opportunities if we take gender issues into account with climate change. We should look at women's and men's vulnerability. We should build on the strengths and skills of women and men in developing policies. Each one should look within your communities back home, see the roles that women and men play, and question why we do the things we do. Climate change is something that affects all people, so we must consider all people.

We need to address climate change with the utmost urgency -- in solidarity, and doing justice to all people: young and old, South and North, East and West, women and men, girls and boys. We can only achieve this bold goal if we come together as a community with mutual respect, joint responsibility, consultation and collaboration.

In the discussion that followed, Dr. Hemmati provided the address of a relevant site in Germany:

In reply to the question: Why does it take us such a long time to change? Dr. Hemmati said we have to consider that the best way to teach solutions is to be an example. We are people of habit and have to learn how to change. We must manage the effort we put in to making a change. How do we enlarge the dialogue and awareness? Awareness is growing. There should be labels on packaging informing people where the food has come from. Choose to eat local food. Dialogue begins within the community, by enlarging the circle. We now have the means to be in contact with people in nearly every country in the world. The issues of sustainable development are being discussed in certain networks. Women are organising the debates but men are the ones who are speaking. Women should speak up more, and share other perspectives. Sweden's process has been led almost solely by women; Germany has a female prime minister; the UK has a female foreign minister.

The international community's response to climate change

Halldor Thorgeirsson, Germany (Deputy Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat)

Halldor Thorgeirsson opened by referring to a question Stephen Hawking asked on the Internet: In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years? Hawking later admitted that he does not know the answer and stated that the threat of climate change - the only one we can do something about - had now joined the two key threats to human survival of asteroid collision and nuclear war.

The issue is now beyond science. A statement of the G8 and three national science academies to the 2005 Gleneagles Summit stated "The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action."

How can we as individuals respond? Sir John Houghton has identified three types of responses to the challenge of climate change:
1. Denial - often the initial reaction
2. Despair and doom - just as unhelpful, because it paralyses us
3. Determination to do.
There is no point in just scaring people. We should tell them things they can do.

How much time is available? To stabilize CO2 in the atmosphere at 450 ppm, global emissions would have to peak by 2015; for a level of 550 ppm, emissions would have to peak by 2020-2030. Stabilizing the climate will ultimately require a 60-80% reduction in emissions. There is time but it is limited.

What is the scale of challenge? It is one of the greatest challenges of our times, but also the greatest opportunity. It will test the ability of mankind to solve a collective challenge - a truly global challenge. The process of addressing this challenge has the potential to fundamentally change the way governments cooperate.

The ultimate objective, as stated in Article 2 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is:
"stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."

But what is dangerous, and for whom?

There are two dimensions of the response:
 Mitigation (preventing the problem)
        Reducing emission of greenhouse gases
        Removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
Adaptation (living with the problem)
        Reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts

The Kyoto Protocol has had a negative press, but it was only meant to be a first step towards controlling greenhouse gas emissions. It was agreed in 1997 but not ratified until 2005. It establishes targets and timetables for developed countries (2008 - 2012). It does not look at how we can reduce emissions, only the result of our actions. Its only goal is to make people accountable. It has led to innovative market mechanisms, with the generation of a new commodity (ton of carbon dioxide emissions avoided) and the creation of a carbon market. It has established a compliance regime. The Carbon Expo in Bonn showing off new technologies has attracted 60,000 people.

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is a project-based Kyoto mechanism, which allows certified emission reductions in developing countries (CER) to be credited against emission reduction commitments of developed countries. It has transformed the political dynamics of the climate process, with an exponential evolution since May 2005. It shows that a negotiated outcome is not necessarily the most effective. The aim is for countries to reduce emissions and then trade what they cannot reduce. India is a key country in the CDM.

We are now in the process of shaping the future regime. The Conference of the Parties in Montreal in 2005, which attracted 10,000 participants, launched two future processes:
 A Kyoto track on further commitments of industrialized countries (annex I).
 Convention dialogue on long-term cooperative action to address climate change. This is non-committal, and allows the governments to discuss the possible areas of agreement. It will be a 2-year process. The challenge is to bring the two processes together in a coherent regime.

The international community isn't great at making decisions, hence the value of informality. Informal settings for exchange among ministers have played a key role in moving the process forward. Ministers talk about a common experience off the record. There are differences between the positions and concerns of governments. It is important for them to talk about their concerns.
Consensus decision making has its limits. It is vulnerable to special interests, and it tends to produce lowest common denominator outcomes.

There are four key challenges:
 Finding ways to combine the continuation of the rule-based quantitative approach (Kyoto) with more "softer" actions by developing countries.
The USA and Australia. It is important to understand where the USA is coming from in order to get them involved. It is not just about individuals but rather about the whole governmental system.
Differences in the stage of economic development among developing countries, such as between South Korea and small island developing states.

There is an alignment of interests. Avoided deforestation aligns with payments for ecosystem services. Making fossil fuels compatible with climate protection will require carbon capture and storage. Then there is the energy investment challenge; it is expected that US$ 17 trillion will be required. Reducing vulnerability to climate variability and change requires attention to the core development challenge.

Several actors have important roles to play:
The UNFCCC is responsible for rulemaking, regulation, and negotiations;
The broader UN (and the World Bank) need to integrate these issues into development;
Business holds the key to the solution. It is 10/15 years ahead of government;
Research and development will provide the foundation for action, mitigation and adaptation solutions;
Civil society has an important role in public awareness, cultivating political will and showing the way forward.

The President of the World Bank, in a note to the Development Committee meeting in Singapore on 18 September 2006, stated: "A long-term stable global regulatory framework, with differentiated responsibilities, is needed to stimulate private investments and provide predictability for a viable carbon market."

It is very important to be optimistic about the future.

After the talk, Dr. Thorgiersson answered a number of questions. With respect to deals under the clean development mechanism, he said there were about 1000 projects such as collecting methane in landfills, changing to renewable energy, and a few projects planting trees. These projects both reduce emissions and contribute to sustainable development. Concerning the position of Saudi Arabia, they considered Kyoto as a major threat to their oil industry. They said they export the energy but do not burn the oil. Rather than oil importing countries buying less oil, they should make plans to use the oil more effectively. Asked what shape the second phase of Kyoto beyond 2012 might take, he cited Joseph Stiglitz, who included a chapter on climate change in his recent book, and advises a tax-based system to tackle problems of climate change. There are no plans for the Kyoto Protocol to end in 2012; it is an issue of accountability. Asked if it is possible to ensure that China has access to technology to access coal reserves without damaging the environment, he said that China is focussing a lot on intellectual property rights, and is interested in the development of this technology. It has its own renewable energy development section. On influencing the World Bank, he noted the need to make the investment framework more green. The carbon market has a role. The World Bank is participating in innovative ideas for responding to climate change.

The need for North-South climate community

Peter Luff, UK (Action for a Global Climate Community)

Talking to people living on the edge of global warming gives a whole new image of life. They are fully aware that global warming is happening. People in igloos see their houses moving as the ice melts, but when they build wooden houses, they also move from melting permafrost. People in Kenya see the spread of diseases as the world gets hotter. They are extremely worried about water wars. This growing recognition of global warming by local people is being repeated throughout the world.

India has a massive opportunity for economic growth, tempered by a growing recognition that environmental issues could devastate the economy. The question then emerges: How do we deal with developing countries facing global warming problems when we also need to provide electricity and technology so that children may get the same opportunities as people in the West? How do we deal with development and environmental change and find the balance?

First, what is meant by development? Does Africa really want to follow the same pattern as the West in pursuing extreme growth? Yes and no. Yes because economically they want to advance, but no because they see the huge environmental and social costs involved in such growth.

What is clear is that we need a huge breakthrough. Negotiations alone will not create this breakthrough.

The state of the world is in collective madness! While we are on the brink of environmental disaster we are having wars, quarrels, and criticize the UN. Actually we need to pose the following question: how do we use the imperative of the environment to develop a North-South community? We need to find what links us: we all need air to breath; we all should have equal entitlement to that air, and we should all have equity in emissions.

We should set a clear scientific target for greenhouse gas levels and from the sum allot to countries a share of global emissions. For parts of Africa that would mean an enormous input in development assistance. The poorest countries would have an injection of technology and financial inputs to help them leapfrog the carbon economy towards a new type of development. Contraction and conversion have entered the environmental dialogue.

How can we persuade some countries in the North and South to take the lead with this? Europe understands collective action, operates its own carbon trading scheme, etc. The question is, can Europe link up to countries in the South? India is a good possibility. Why India? It is a fast-developing country with enormous developmental problems. It is a democracy, which gives it a relationship to European ways of doing things. 30 million people will be threatened by drowning in Bangladesh, and where will these environmental refugees go? India. We are pursuing this as a basis for a North-South Climate Community.

The UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol are harnessing leaders for change and pioneering the process, as we have a window of 10-15 years to get on with radical change.

In the discussion, Mr.Luff was asked what contribution the Baha'is could make towards this process. He said that our lifestyle changes allow governments to make changes, and affect people in other parts of then world. We can let politicians know that they can be courageous. Concerning contraction and convergence, he said that costly measures will force people to save their carbon. With respect to the pressures that could be brought to make the US come down to European average emissions, and the role of democracy in affecting environmental changes, he replied that democracy is a big threat to environmental change. We will see a breakdown in economic factors, like free markets. The cost of hurricanes could be vast to the insurance industry which cannot pick up the bill any more. Democracies need to work together. People will see the logic for change when catastrophes like Katrina bring them to their senses.

Energy for better or worse: local-global links between energy use and climate change

Markku Lehtonen, UK (University of Sussex)
Sylvia Karlsson, Finland (Turku School of Economics)

Energy for better...

Energy is the only universal currency. "All natural processes and all human actions involve transformation of energy.... Civilization's advances can be seen as a quest for higher energy use converted into increased food harvests and greater mobilisations of materials" (Smil, 2001). Starting with human muscles and fire, draft animals were used 10,000 years ago on some continents, and water wheels and windmills were introduced about 500-1000 AD. We have gone from fire to stoves to furnaces (and gunpowder), and from candles to light bulbs.

There is energy for some... Today most energy humans use comes from combustion engines or electricity generators. Our per capita modern energy use totals 1.65 tonnes of oil equivalent with a total sales value of US$2 trillion or 6% of world GDP. We use much more energy and much more efficiently.

... and not for others. Energy poverty is illustrated by the 2.4 billion people who lack access to modern cooking fuels (half of all households and 90% of rural households), and the 1.6 billion (one quarter of the world population) who lack access to electricity. The consequences are: poverty, poor health, labour demands on women and children, lack of education, lack of telecommunications, and driving people to move to the cities (urbanisation).

North America consumes twice as much energy per capita as Europe, and five to ten times as much as the developing world.

Energy for worse for some...

Energy use has health impacts: indoor air pollution from cooking kills 1 million children under 5 and 700,000 adults each year, and outdoor air pollution kills 26,000 children and 750,000 adults each year. Its environmental impacts include acid rain (now becoming a huge problem in Asia) and habitat destruction/biodiversity loss. It also causes social and economic impacts such as human displacement, while lifestyles are not necessarily improved by too much energy use.

Energy for worse for all...

Energy (mostly fossil fuels) is the key driver behind human contributions to climate change (two thirds of greenhouse gases come from energy). Global CO2 emissions will increase 50% by 2030 if current policies continue. Most of the future increase is expected in the developing world.

Will renewables come to the rescue? Renewables are the third largest contributor to global electricity production: 18% of production in 2003, compared to coal 40%, natural gas 19%, nuclear 16% and oil 7%. Biomass is much used in the developing world, whereas OECD countries account for the majority of the "new" renewables (especially wind and solar). Wind accounts for 90% of the total renewable electricity production.

The International Energy Agency reference scenario for 2030 based on current and planned policies suggests that non-hydro renewables in electricity generation will triple, from 2% in 2003 to 6% in 2030, while wind power will see the biggest increase in market share, biomass used for electricity generation will triple, geothermal power will grow at the same rate as biomass, and solar, tidal and wave energy will make more substantial contributions towards the end of the projection period. The largest increases in renewables will be in OECD Europe, driven by strong government policies.

Little has been done for global energy governance. Energy was traditionally framed as a national security issue. Nuclear energy is the only energy that has a home in the UN because of the threat to world security. Energy aid has been low or high, but often in the 'wrong' direction. Energy has become visible in global discussions since 2001, for instance at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the 9th and 14th sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development. Recent energy discussions have led to the recognition of energy as a prerequisite for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) such as on poverty and health. Energy efficiency is then obvious win-win solution. Renewable energy sources (decentralised) are now high on the agenda because of concerns about energy security and oil prices. Cleaner fossil fuels (+nuclear) are coming, but oil will still dominate in the coming decades, with the call for carbon sequestration and other control measures. With the lack of implementation in developing countries, there has been a call for investments, aid, technology transfer, capacity-building, South-South cooperation, and public-private partnerships.

The United Kingdom is only responsible for 2% of carbon emissions. UK energy policies show that with political commitment big changes are possible. Strong leadership can achieve things. The UK 2003 White Paper on Energy put the UK on a path to cut CO2 emissions by 60% by around 2050, with real progress (20%) by 2020, and has promoted competitiveness to ensure this. In 2006 the government decided it was timely to provide an energy review despite the white paper delivered in 2003. The situation had changed because of the oil price increase, the 'energy gap', and the urgency of climate change. The two challenges were the climate and security of supply. The UK is too dependent on imported fuels.

Criticism against the energy review approach is that it just focuses on electricity. Yet transport accounts for 30% of the total UK energy use, with CO2 emissions growing from 19% in 1990 to 27% in 2010 and 29% in 2020. It is the only sector where CO2 emissions in 2020 are expected to be greater than 1990. Housing is responsible for more than 25% of CO2 emissions, due in part to the old housing stock. Other outstanding issues are liberalization versus the need for strong governance or steering, whether decentralization and bottom-up solutions can be initiated from the top, urgency versus institutional inertia, and demand side management and behavioural change . The UK role in the world requires it to take action and be an example on equity, climate, the nuclear option and technology.

If we want to bring about behavioural change, then why don't we act as responsible citizens. Four reasons are usually stated: inadequate institutional structures and infrastructure (public transport); social expectations, cultural norms, habits and routines; economic incentives (alternatives are more expensive); and "I will, if you will".

There are two ways to look at individual behaviour and to enhance responsibility. From the consumer perspective and consumer choices, the individual's relation to the market needs to be steered through the price mechanism, while addressing the problem of free riders. From the citizen's perspective, the individual's relation to government, politics and the community needs to be developed, with the formation and practice of the rights and responsibilities that people have in the community. Two dimensions of low-level politics are engagement in community level action against climate change, and putting pressure on the government (watchdogs).

The UK has identified four key areas of work on individual behaviour: housing, food, everyday transport, and holiday travel.

Some big global changes are needed: changing the economics; changing the politics and institutions; and changing the knowledge. Many, many small changes are also needed.

"Modern civilization has engineered a veritable explosion of energy use and has extended human control over inanimate energies to previously unthinkable levels. These gains made it fabulously liberating and admirably constructive - but also uncomfortably constraining and horribly destructive" (Smil 2001).

Our challenge: "Nothing short of a fundamental shift in the material structures of political culture of the world-system itself would be required to attain an equitably distributed allotment of energy consumption rights" (Podobnik, 2002).

A question was asked concerning reduction versus promotion of alternatives. Reductions are called for but alternatives are not promoted in an environment where more housing estates are being built. The response was that green solutions need to be encouraged by a carbon tax. The problem is that the US and Australia are free-riding and we are paying for it.

After lunch, Tom Richards presented a calculation of the carbon footprint of the conference so that everyone could be sensitized to their individual contributions to global warming. Everyone then participated in a carbon quiz prepared by Ineke Gijsbers testing their environmental knowledge.

What economic systems and policies are compatible with protection of the environment?

Augusto Lopez-Claros, Switzerland (Chief Economist, World Economic Forum)

Dr. Augusto Lopez-Claros gave a clear and well-documented view of the interconnections between economics and the environment based on his work at the World Economic Forum. He demonstrated that policies matter a great deal, as show by national trends in GDP per capita over the last 30 years.

The evolution of GDP per capita, while it is often used as an analysis of well being, is not a very accurate because it is a faulty measure. The paradigm: "I consume therefore I am" is supported by the GDP system. Countries are aware of the limitations of GDP, so their whole policy framework cannot be judged by GDP. However, for country comparisons using UN data, it is still enlightening. The higher the GDP, the less constrained a country is in its choices. Nigeria has a very low per capita GDP despite enormous oil revenues; all of its income is exported and it still asks for debt relief. In the late 1950s, Ghana had a higher GDP than Korea. Ghana had just gained its independence and, as a country rich in resources, was full of optimism about the future. Korea has no resources but, contrary to Ghana, has really taken off due to its strong discipline and focus.

Many different factors influence the differences in GDP. The indicators depend on the stage of development of the country, and the many factors themselves change over time. Education is important, as is the quality of infrastructure and the extent to which the country is using its technologies. Inflation used to be an important factor but is no longer quite so significant.

What about global prosperity? The annual increase in per capita GDP is between 1 and 4% over the last half century, averaging 2.1%, a huge change. Between 1960 and 2000, Argentina increased by 1% per year, so over 40 years the cumulative income rose by 48%.

The implications for global welfare are obvious. 2.1% growth has more than halved infant mortality, increased life expectancy by 17 years, and reduced illiteracy from 53% to 28%. There has been a huge reduction in poverty in the world of 832 million people worldwide, mostly explained by 2 countries: China and India. Poverty declined everywhere to 1980, but has increased again in the Middle East, Latin America, and especially Africa.

What policies are conducive to development? The Global Competitiveness Index has 9 pillars, each made up of a series of indicators. The Public Institutions Pillar includes property rights, ethics and corruption, diversion of public funds, public trust of politicians, undue influence, judicial independence, government favouratism, government inefficiency and wastefulness, the burden of government regulation, and various dimensions of crime and security. The Health and Primary Education Pillar looks at malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS prevalence and business impact, infant mortality, life expectancy and primary school enrolment. For example, there is a huge focus on education in Korea, with high competition. Market Efficiency includes measures of the obstacles to starting a new business.

As they go through their stages of development, countries first have to meet the basic requirements for institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic management, and health and primary education. As they become efficiency-driven economies, they must focus on higher education and training; goods, labour and financial market efficiency; and technological readiness. At the highest level of innovation-driven economies they require business sophistication and innovation.

For example, under Public Institutions, the best countries for property rights are 1) Germany, 2) USA, 3) Iceland, 4) Switzerland, 5) Denmark, 6) Singapore, while Italy ranks 41st and Venezuela is last at 117th. Do people feel they can trust the people who are leading them or do they feel they are crooks? The Italian minister stated that the World Economic Forum's survey of the situation of public institutions was just personal opinion and therefore just subjective. This was not the case, as it was a careful survey of experienced businessmen. The reason that Korea is not in the top 10 is because they lack the transparency that exists in the West.

India and China are still technologically-backward societies that have significant development issues. While they will become increasingly important economically, this is not the Asian century.

Using the Global Competitiveness Index, it is useful to explore the degree of correlation between the competitive economy and various economic and policy factors. There is little correlation between the macroeconomic environment and competitiveness. However there is a high correlation with investment in higher education and training, and with investment in ICT.

The work of Arthur Dahl for the World Economic Forum on national competitiveness and environmental responsibility showed that the policy framework for the environment is extremely important. This looked at government action such as environmental regulations and their enforcement, standards and reporting requirements, subsidies, government-business cooperation and compliance with international environmental agreements. It also reviewed business attitudes toward environmental issues, such as environmental management systems and reporting, environmental marketing and labelling, cleaner production and waste reduction, energy efficiency and long-term planning. It included measures of corporate social responsibility, including corporate codes of conduct, socially and environmentally responsible investing, company encouragement of voluntary social activities by employees, and country-wide efforts at poverty reduction. A high positive correlation was found between commitment to environmental measures and competitiveness.

Dr. Lopez-Claros' talk was followed by a lively discussion period. Asked if the indicators for education distinguished between genders, he replied no, that would require a separate investigation. The countries that are most successful at combating gender inequalities are also the most successful in the world e.g. Finland and Sweden. Concerning the role of the indicators in the functioning of society, he said that once a year the Global Competitiveness Report is published with a profile for each individual country. The profile is the background for the debate. For example, Chile is one of the most successful development stories in the last 16 years. Since democracy was established in 1990, it has seriously addressed the problem of poverty. The domestic indicators developed were very useful. Their greatest weakness was education. They then studied why this was, and found that there was no assessment of the standard of the teachers. They now have a system for assessing teachers including firing those that are incompetent. Chile is now ranked around 8th in the indicator - very high. By 2020, they want to have the same standard of English comprehension as Finland. Another question concerned Overseas Development Assistance and Foreign Direct Investment, and the effect of corruption in both countries and companies on the indicator. He referred to "The White Man's Burden" and the bad effect the West has had on Africa, where aid has not helped. If we really want to help Africa, we must open up our markets to their products. This is a lot better than just giving them aid.

Roundtable discussion: Spiritual dimensions of climate change

Chair: Wendi Momen

The Saturday session concluded with a round table discussion including Arthur Dahl, Minu Hemmati, Sylvia Karlsson, Augusto Lopez-Claros and Halldor Thorgiersson. Each started with the single most important point they wanted to contribute to the discussion. Arthur raised the issue of individual versus social transformation, and Sylvia the poor of the future. Halldor referred to the need for action and the importance of both individual and government action. Minu said that the future of sustainability will largely rely on the way we interact and the way we communicate. Augusto noted that the Baha's have been the only ones that have come up with an understanding of religion and its reconciling role in human affairs.

QUESTION: What is the incentive for business to off-set their emissions with a company in India?

Arthur: Within the west there are narrow incentives for working towards corporate social responsibility. Corporate leaders are not rewarded for this. The economic incentives are all wrong. The first thing that must change is the economic framework within which businesses work if appropriate changes towards environmental sustainability are to occur. Finding the win-win situations is difficult within the current framework but we must be open to the windows where we can make a difference.

Halldor: The issue is too urgent, and so we need to change the rules of the game. The framework has to change, so that we can marry the interests of businesses in varying countries.

Minu: We need rules, but not an overall rule. There needs to be space for creativity. On an individual level, values are not the only thing that will change us, so we need to create an environment for change and social acceptance.

QUESTION: What are the global ethical implications for countries developing nuclear power? On the one hand the UK is negotiating with Iran to use alternatives, but they are not using them themselves.

Halldor: From a climate perspective nuclear makes sense.

Arthur: The Baha'i writings say we should be developing all available sources of energy on the surface of the planet. However, due to the accidents that have happened we should be careful of nuclear energy. If even the most advanced countries cannot avoid accidents, should everyone have access to the technology? The consequences of an accident, as Chernobyl showed, can be so great. There is also the ethical problem of high level waste storage, which will be a cost imposed on many future generations.

Minu: The UK cannot say no to others developing nuclear power if it is. This is not just.

QUESTION: Why is such emphasis placed on climate change and not just general environmental problems?

Halldor: There is not enough emphasis on climate change. This will be the biggest driver for biodiversity loss. Everything is related. But with the accelerated evidence of climate change happening now, the priorities have shifted and this issue seems to take precedence at the moment. If we build better cooperation among governments on this issue, it will give us the infrastructure to work on other environmental problems later on.

QUESTION: What are the indicators required or how do you envisage the process of reducing climate change in eliminating poverty?

Augusto: There is strong empirical evidence that shows that, through better policies, countries will increasingly succeed in bringing more people out of poverty. The problem is when we look at China, growth and poverty reduction have been in contradiction to the environment.

Minu: Economic growth is one answer to addressing poverty, the other is redistribution. What we have seen during the past decades is a widening of the gap both between and within countries between extremes of rich and poor.

Halldor: What do we need to know to see if we are making progress on things? Vulnerability is key indicator.

Arthur: By raising the levels of development for the poor we are reducing the vulnerability of poor people to environmental disasters. Much of growth in the past has been energy subsidised, but that is being taken away. The challenge is to become sustainable and therefore we will be moving back to the rural areas where renewable energy is more accessible, rather than increasing urbanisation.

QUESTION: Given the complexity of the issues involved in combating global warming, how does the panel perceive current global governmental institutions in combating this?

Sylvia: Disunity has an enormous impact on moving forward. Disunity often comes from different interests at national level and at present there is little ground to move towards unity.

Halldor: Perhaps solving climate change will fundamentally resolve how governments work together. Governments will eventually see it within their interests to work within a regime of unity rather than disunity.

Arthur: If business comes out and says we need stronger international governance and puts pressure on governments and forces them to come to the negotiating table, it may be a way to leap forward.

QUESTION: The Agenda 21 initiatives demonstrated the weaknesses of local governments. What can the Baha'i model of governance, participation and democracy offer the world?

Minu: Consultation is an efficient way to bring about decisions and the way decisions are brought out.

Arthur: Agenda 21 was not based on spiritual principles. Without such a foundation it is no wonder it had so little success. Democratic debate is competitive. Baha'i consultation is cooperative and inclusive.

QUESTION: If there was one thing that each individual could do to make a difference. What would it be?

Augusto: We all have to re-examine our lifestyles and habits and how our values are embedded in our lives or not.

Minu: Get rid of everything you don't need. Be free!

Arthur: Bring ourselves to account each day.

Saturday evening all the participants gathered for a delicious (vegetarian) conference dinner at Vaults and Gardens in the basement of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin

Sunday 17 September

The Sunday programme began again with a string duo followed by Music and Reflections prepared by Judith Fienieg. Short presentations on action at the community level were interspersed with smaller group discussions.

Climate Change, what Oxford City Council and County Council are doing

Laura Thompson, UK (Oxford City Council)

Laura Thompson of the Oxford City Council provided a local government perspective on climate change. In 1995 the UK Government introduced the Home Energy Conservation Act requiring local authorities to reduce domestic energy consumption by 30% by 2010. Carbon dioxide emissions were to be reduced by 12.5% from 1990 levels by 2010 (20% for all greenhouse gases). The County Council must meet a target of 38% recycling and composting, with biodegradable waste sent to landfill reduced by 65% by 2020.

For domestic energy reduction, meeting the targets requires providing grants for energy efficient measures like insulation; working with schools, ethnic minorities, faith and community groups; providing free Energy Champion training and phone advice; and sharing information and working with partners like the police and fire service. For waste reduction, to deal with the 1.2 million tonnes of rubbish produced in Oxfordshire each year, kerbside recycling was introduced in 1998, with 33% of waste now recycled and a target of 45% by 2008. Composting is also encouraged. To reduce transport, Oxford was the first city in England to introduce Park and Ride to reduce traffic in the city centre. The County Council has travel plans to take 4000 cars out of the school run by 2011. For more sustainable urban development, all new developments of a certain size need to source 10% of energy from renewable sources and have good public transport, and efforts are being made to improve the current housing stock. An assessment is underway on how Oxford and its surrounding area will change due to climate change and how to adapt to the warmer climate. For example, during the recent summer heat wave the tarmac on many county roads started to melt. Overall, local government is taking a multi-organization approach, with multi-departmental climate change meetings and action plan, aiming both to combat climate change and to adapt to the rising temperature.

Three parallel subgroups were then formed, on sustainable living, sustainable business, and sustainable transport, each introduced by two short presentations followed by discussion. Each subgroup produced action lists that were then the subject of smaller group discussions later in the morning. The subgroup on business heard a presentation on A Strategy to Promote Sustainable Practice by Philip Koomen (see conference programme for the presentation). The conference reassembled for two further talks.

Educating our community

George Marshall, UK (Climate Outreach Information Network)

George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network (UK) highlighted the lack of public awareness of the climate change problem and the seriousness and urgency of it. A recent survey showed that 95% of people recognise that the climate is changing, but only 60% thought that this was caused by human activity. When asked what was the cause of climate change, 68% thought that it was the hole in the ozone layer and 10% mobile phones, showing that erroneous ideas are very widespread. The UK Department of the Environment (DEFRA) has undertaken research into how to raise public awareness of climate change, and student groups have launched campaigns across North America (

Three fundamental solutions required to meet the communications challenge are:
1) Thinking outside the environment box - people think that they aren't "environmentalists."
2) Peer to peer - talking to people like themselves - not scientists talking in scientific terms. What does work is a local person talking to their community from their common perspective (gardeners to gardeners, workers to workers).
3) Being highly innovative in finding ways of reaching the community, not just newsletters and reports, but using the web and mobile phones instead.

The weakness of any public information scheme is that attitudinal change only has complex and indirect connections with behavioural change. People are intelligent and can therefore easily figure out ways we can change. However we disconnect the information we see when it challenges us. If something is inconvenient and not fun, we disconnect ourselves and therefore do not change our behaviour. It's not that people don't know. Flying has doubled since the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. The key process of denial is called Cognitive Dissonance. Information is separated from action; therefore there is no point giving them more information. In fact more information could lead to people actually doing less because they are in complete denial.

Urgency without agency is pointless. All engagement with climate change must be linked up with practical steps people can take. People can change their behaviour even with little awareness of the threats. Get people to start taking action. Then they can tune in to the reasons for it. Encourage behavioural change such as recycling.

There are pioneers, the people who lead the change. Others are prospectors, driven by a sense of status, who want to be in on something new, and want validation and status for what they do. We need to appeal to these people, and show that action is sexy. Then there are the settlers, who are basically seeking security.

In summary, there is an urgent need to act; lots is already going on; peer to peer approaches are best, and we should work for behavioural change ahead of attitudinal change, selling it in a different way rather than because it's the end of the planet.

For further information on COIN, see:

Community empowerment

Poppy Villiers-Stuart, UK

We spent this year exploring how we can speak the language of sustainable living to different audiences. Every sector I have worked in shows that businesses are willing to change, but if individuals don't make a change there is not a niche for businesses to change.

This experience made me realise the importance of my Baha'i background. Faith-based communities have massive potential in making a change. Baha'is have a network of grass-roots activities right across the planet, where we have participative democracy. We hope to be a model community for the future on how we embody spiritual ideals practically in our life at the individual and community level.

Having this opportunity to discuss things as a community is an important part of empowerment. It is not just changing attitudes and behaviour. What inspired me most about this conference was that everyone could go back home and make changes locally, that we could go back to our 19-day feasts  (Baha'i community meetings) and discuss this. There are so many better reasons to live sustainability rather than focusing on fear.

Empowerment is a desire for change out of love, not fear. There is a part for information to play, but the motive should be love. The pivot of the Baha'i teachings is oneness, of the earth, of people, everything. If we have this sense of oneness with the earth then we understand. From this we can develop virtues like humility to the earth because we understand our interconnectedness. If we could explore the teachings of our faith to value to the role of the earth in our spiritual development, this will naturally make us want to love and be connected to it, which will help sustainable development. Mainstream society is very much away from the earth. In the city we think food comes from supermarkets rather than the earth.

An example of the practical things Baha'is could do is the junior youth animators course. The course reveals what an untapped power junior youth are. This is the time where they are most idealistic and have energy to make change. It is the young people that will be able to embody these ideals. Ecology camps are also built into these courses. Animator programmes are such a tool to build change, so that young people can bring these ideals into the conversational currency into our communities and into community meetings.

In the discussion, a number of sources of information on sustainable living in the United Kingdom were proposed:

Actions for Sustainable Living (pledge sheet)

Great tips for sustainable living

Basingstoke Sustainable Living section (monthly tips for sustainable living)

Global Action Plan (EcoTeams) (project ideas like what we developed)

Six smaller group discussions were then organized on: What can I and my community do? These allowed each participant to consider the practical steps she or he could take in the local community. Some quite specific projects were designed that participants intended to implement upon returning home.


A message was received from the Education for Sustainable Development Seminar taking place the same weekend at Green Acre, Maine, USA, organized by IEF board member Peter Adriance. After hearing the calculation of the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the conference, participants contributed to a carbon-offset fund to compensate for the greenhouse gases generated by their travel to the conference.

The President of the International Environment Forum thanked the co-sponsors from BASED-UK, the conference organizing team, the speakers and workshop leaders, and all those who had contributed to a beautifully-organized and stimulating conference. The participants departed with a determination to re-examine their lifestyles and to live more sustainably by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

The conference was followed by the 10th Annual General Assembly of the International Environment Forum.

Includes links to audio recordings and presentations


Bahá'í World News Service article on the conference:

* The conference was organised jointly by the International Environment Forum (IEF), a Bahá'í-inspired scientific NGO addressing environment and sustainable development, and the Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development (BASED-UK), a UK charity ( This was the 10th Annual Conference of the IEF.

For those who could not attend the conference in Oxford, or who preferred not to add to global warming through their travel, an electronic version of the conference was organized as usual at the same time, allowing participation at a distance by e-mail, with summaries of the sessions sent to all participants, and audio recordings and presentations made rapidly available on the IEF web site.


Last updated 19 March 2007