IEF 16th Annual Conference - Rio+20

Submitted by admin on 15. September 2017 - 2:58
2012 June 11-23
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Report on Rio+20

Activities comprising the
16th International Conference of the International Environment Forum
and other events relevant to IEF interests
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 11-23 June 2012


The 16th Annual Conference of the International Environment Forum (IEF) consisted of its contributions to and participation in Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 11-22 June 2012. As an organization accredited to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, IEF was accredited to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in the Science and Technology Major Group and had 12 members in Rio. IEF members attending Rio included Peter Adriance (USA), Irma Allen (Swaziland), Arthur Dahl (Switzerland), Javier Gonzales Iwanciw (Bolivia), Duncan Hanks (Canada), Sylvia Karlsson Vinkhuyzen (Netherlands), Fabiana Mendez Raya (Bolivia), Wendi Momen (UK), Tahirih Smith (USA), Victoria Thoresen (Norway), Andreas Vatsellas (Greece), Erasmus Vinkhuyzen and Onno Vinkhuyzen (Netherlands). The 16th IEF General Assembly was held on 18 June 2012. The following report summarizes some of the events in which IEF members have participated and others of interest to IEF, particularly on the scientific and ethical aspects of sustainable Development.

Before the conference, IEF submitted proposals for the zero draft of the conference outcome document.

The IEF issued five statements on themes relevant to the conference:
- Preparing for Environmental Migration
- Principles and Indicators for a Green Economy
- Ethical Support to Policy-making
- Science and Technology for Community Empowerment
- Youth Need Reasons to Hope from Rio+20

The IEF was a partner in the Global Research Forum on Sustainable Consumption and Production, with four IEF members giving papers; IEF organized an event at the Peoples' Summit on "Changing mentalities and motivations: values for the sustainability transition" and co-organized another event with EBBF.

Our partner organization the European Baha'i Business Forum (EBBF) also issued a statement for Rio+20 on " Ethical Standards in Green Economics", as well as "Dynamic coherence for a sustainable future - ebbf manifesto for Rio+20". It was also accredited to UNCSD and organized an event at the Peoples' Summit.

The Baha'i International Community sent a strong delegation to Rio, organized a side event on "Elimination of Extremes of Wealth and Poverty in a Green Economy Context" in which IEF and EBBF were co-organizers, partnered in another side event at which IEF President Arthur Dahl spoke, and released a statement to UNCSD on "Sustaining Societies: Towards a New 'We'."

Baha'i delegations . Baha'i delegations
IEF, EBBF and Baha'i delegations to UNCSD


The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) was the biggest UN conference ever, with over 45,000 participants in Rio+20 activities, delegations from 188 countries, over 100 heads of state and government, 12,000 delegates, nearly 10,000 from NGOs and Major groups, and 4,000 journalists occupying 95% of all the hotel beds in Rio (and many private residences), all struggling to get to and from the different activity sites scattered around the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area (1-2 hour travel times were common.).

RioCentro RioCentro

The 12 International Environment Forum members participating worked closely with the official Baha'i International Community delegation of 13, the European Baha'i Business Forum, and many local Baha'is who were very active with a booth and various events organized by civil society.

The governmental negotiators met in their third Preparatory Committee meeting for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development on 13-15 June, but negotiations were very slow, and by the end only a third of the draft outcome document had been agreed. The host country, Brazil, decided to take over the negotiating process, and with heroic efforts in informal sessions succeeded in producing a consensus document shortly before the opening of the high level conference for heads of state and government on 20-22 June. Many good ideas and concrete commitments were lost in this process, but the complete failure of the conference was avoided. As the Secretary-General of the conference put it, their sign of success was that everyone was equally dissatisfied with the result. The final outcome document of UNCSD, "The Future We Want", is available at

RioCentro . RioCentro
RioCentro entrance pavilion

RioCentro . RioCentro . RioCentro
Additional meeting space in giant tents: programme signs; the central courtyard was a good place to meet

RioCentro . RioCentro
Rio Centro

Dialogue in plenary hall . plenary hall
Sustainable Development dialogue in the plenary hall

Ban KiMoon . Heads of agencies
Meeting of heads of UN agencies: Juan Somavia (ILO), Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Alicia Barcena (ECLAC), Helen Clark (UNDP), Sha Zukang (Secretary-General of UNCSD)

Civil society organizations, organized into the nine major groups defined in Agenda 21 at the Earth Summit in 1992, actively contributed to the process, as they had throughout starting with submissions to the Bureau for the zero draft in October 2011, with over 400 of the 600 submissions coming from civil society organizations (including IEF). On 16-19 June, in a unique innovation, the Brazilian government organized a series of thematic Sustainable Development Dialogues, first over the internet where everyone could make propositions which were then voted on, then in 2 ½ hour sessions in the plenary hall, where a panel of experts discussed the ten top proposals, and the whole audience voted for their preference, while the panel also selected one. The three top proposals from the internet vote, the dialogue vote and the panel vote were submitted to the conference plenary for inclusion in the final report of the conference.

Meanwhile, there were over 500 side events organized at the main conference sites by government and civil society organizations. The Peoples' Summit across the city in Flamengo Park held hundreds of activities in tents, where unnumbered participants shouted, marched, demonstrated and otherwise expressed their concerns about the intergovernmental process. Scientific forums were held at universities in the city. A business forum with 800 top executives was held in a luxury hotel, while the indigenous peoples' forum shared cultural experiences and prepared its own declaration in a more traditional setting.


In Rio, the IEF delegation was actively spread over the many events at the official conference site at RioCentro, as well as the Peoples' Summit at Flamengo Park and other sites at universities in the city centre. The logistics were difficult, with an hour or more of travel between each site.

Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation

ICSU Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation

One of the first activities of the two weeks was the five-day Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation on 11-15 June, organized by the International Council for Science (ICSU). See

A session on the first day was on "Sustainable Consumption and Production" organized by Philip Vergragt and Ashok Khosla, with speakers including Lewis Akenji, Sylvia Lorek, Janis Brizga, Harn Wei Kua, and IEF board member Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen. Ashok Khosla, President of the Club of Rome and co-chair of UNEP's International Resource Panel, discussed the need for behavior change and more positive views of the necessary transition, applying principles of biomimicry to the design of new economic systems. He said values were essential to good science, for example that values are what we are, not what we have, that we should treat others as we would want to be treated, and that we should care for our grandchildren and future generations.

Philip Vergragt and Lewis Ajenji
Philip Vergragt and Lewis Akenji

Lewis Akenji of the Institute of Global Environmental Strategies in Japan (and a former student of Arthur Dahl in environmental diplomacy) looked beyond green consumerism. He said we needed a systems perspective and values in society, replacing the target of growth with that of well-being.

Sylvia Korek said that too much emphasis on technological optimization and eco-efficient products was still pushing consumption in the wrong direction, when the need was to stay within planetary limits, and look for the good life other than in products and markets. In the absence of government responsibility, we should look to social innovation.

Janis Brizga of Latvia said there was still too much focus on increasing GDP, when we needed to move to an integrated governance approach aiming for sufficiency, with changes in the political system, the economy, and social norms and values.

Harn Wei Kua of Singapore applied an industrial ecology approach to household energy conservation to explore the most effective ways to change consumer behavior.

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen
Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen of Wageningen University in the Netherlands looked at the role of values in bridging the knowledge-action gap, as discussed in the session she organized at the Planet Under Pressure Conference last March. We can take responsibility if we are to blame, if we are capable of taking action, or if we are concerned about the welfare of humanity. Spiritual principles like caring for the larger community and the planet can motivate action to change. Such value change can be nurtured through social and cultural interaction, but this takes time. These are areas that require more attention from the research community. The video recording of this session is available at….

The second day of the Science Forum included panels and discussions on food security and water security.

Wednesday 13 June was a big day for IEF, with involvement in two side events at the main RioCentro Conference Centre as part of the official programme.

Faith values and education for sustainable development

The first was a side event at RioCentro on "Exploring synergies between faith values and education for sustainable development", co-sponsored by seven partners including Earth Charter International, UNESCO ESD and the Baha'i International Community (BIC). It was based on the recently published book with the same title " Exploring Synergies between Faith Values and Education for Sustainable Development". Four panelists were invited to share perspectives on how stakeholders must draw on the spiritual values from all sources that help define a new vision for humanity, and which can motivate people to bring about that future. See

Arthur Dahl, who authored a chapter of the book with a Bahá'í perspective, presented several thoughts on behalf of the BIC. Highlighting the commonalities of religious and cultural traditions, Dr. Dahl noted that stewardship of the natural environment is a responsibility of all humanity, one of the key points in the BIC statement prepared for the Rio+20 conference. He also contrasted the ideal of a future society that we want against what we know and what is, saying that “human experience is really about love, justice, reason, sacrifice, service and fulfilling a spiritual purpose, and not about greed, ego, apathy, violence, competition and consumerism.”

Rick Clugston of Earth Charter International spoke of the increasing importance and need for faith and value based organizations to engage in policy discussions, saying that part of the role is “to build the civil will to demand the political will to ensure a flourishing earth community.” The emerging discourse on sustainable development unfolding in Rio+20 includes new ideas and concepts for global sustainable development governance to safeguard the planet, an ombudsperson for future generations, and a different index for measuring human progress other than GDP. The panelists explored how these innovations create ample space for faith and value based communities to engage in meaningful participation to help define shared understanding of these new instruments, and how they must be firmly rooted in shared values.

In a parallel process to the negotiations at the UN conference, civil society has been engaged in a collective process to articulate thirteen Peoples' Sustainability Treaties, one of which focuses on Ethical and Spiritual Values for Sustainable Development. The BIC has been accompanying this process.

Nobuyuki Asai of Soko Gakkai International shared a Buddhist perspective. He referred to the importance of values of solidarity in the response to the great east Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Herman Greene, from the Centre for Ecozoic Societies, addressed the notion that, while many if not most people believe in the importance of spiritual and ethical principles and foundations, the true challenge in going beyond just words. Citing the lack of political will due to short-term horizons, Greene mentioned that the current situation we are all experiencing is like “fluid in a bottle passing through the bottleneck” suggesting that we are almost through and are “entering into something new.” The role of faith and value based organizations is to participate actively in this time of renewal, to re-invent and to transform what we have, calling for transformative leadership by all stakeholders, that is based on shared values, and not limited to government decision-makers.

One practical application of making values explicit was noted by Dr. Dahl, who spoke of the European Union funded research project on Values Based Indicators for Education for Sustainable Development. “Making the invisible, visible is essential to help organizations become conscious of the values that shape their work and how integral they are to meeting their objectives,” said Dr. Dahl.

In closing, Mirian Viela, Executive Director of the ECI Secretariat, drew the audience's attention to two key commonalities expressed by all seventeen contributors to the publication, the first being the idea of interconnectedness, where clear ideas about relationships between individuals, of individuals to the community, the community to earth and the earth to the cosmos were all inherent in the diverse faith and other traditions. And she spoke of the golden rule as being omnipresent in all.

Elimination of Extremes of Wealth and Poverty

BIC side event

The second side event was on "Elimination of Extremes of Wealth and Poverty in a Green Economy Context", organized together with Stakeholder Forum, International Environment Forum, and European Baha'i Business Forum. Dr Steven Stone of UNEP, Farooq Ullah of Stakeholder Forum, Daniella Hiche of the Brazilian Bahá’í Community and Professor Michael Dorsey of Dartmouth College each give informative and impassioned perspectives on this pressing issue.

Daniella Hische
Panel with Daniella Hische

Daniella Hiche noted the tendency to treat poverty and wealth separately, when inequity is a single issue. We use an outdated nomenclature of rich/poor, central/peripheral, developed/developing/least developed, that ignores cultural differences. She described the Brazilian situation with its widening gap between rich and poor and an outdated concept of economic development. Brazilians are seen as consumers, not citizens, and nature is commodified as ecosystem services in a commercial relationship, not as family and home.

audience . audience

Farooq Ullah said we are hitting environmental limits, with an inequality gap where 1% are leaving the other 99% behind. We needed fairness intergenerationally and to nature. Inclusive growth was needed to reduce the inequality gap, delivering social mobility and justice, in a rights-based approach to sustainable development. The concept of trusteeship implied that common rights should not be traded off to the private sector, to respect our responsibility for future generations.

Steven Stone
Steven Stone

Steven Stone described the UNEP approach to a green economy, and the role of human rights and ethics in shaping our future. Dr Stone asked “what is economic progress?” – a question that must be answered if the negotiations are to produce a visionary Outcome Document. The economy is not working, producing no jobs, no benefits, while destroying nature. We need to rethink the model. When markets are more powerful than the communities that govern them, they are not well managed. There are $65-70 trillion per year in transactions, of which only 18-20% are invested in human capital and industry, shaping our world for 20-30 years. One percent could be directed into the green economy, perhaps by ending the $400 billion in fossil fuel subsidies or the $350 billion in agricultural subsidies. The green economy is an equity issue. We need direct governance of markets to eliminate the increasing inequity of recent decades. Some countries like Ecuador, Bolivia and Bhutan are reframing economic prosperity, but this is not yet reflected at the international level. Communities of faith have a role in ethics, and NGOs are the conscience of the system. We should not demonize the markets, but use them to pursue other goals.

Michael Dorsey
Michael Dorsey

Michael Dorsey said we needed to control the greed economy to eliminate extremes and achieve frameworks of justice for all. In the present system, social harms are socialized while gains are privatized. Those that have nothing can never get access to resources, while the rich can always. FAO estimates it would cost $30-40 billion to end world hunger, so the $17 trillion it cost to bail out the banks could have eliminated hunger for 400 years. There are some hopeful signs like the zero hunger program in Brazil, which remains the most inequitable country in the region. To get beyond these extremes, we need to give more resources to those most harmed, adopt a multi-species framework, and control the greed economy through capital controls (rules for bankers), finance controls (transactions tax) and subsidy controls (wrong solution).

Question from the audience

Ideas were shared regarding the purpose of development, the importance of individual initiative, and inter-generational fairness. Each panelist addressed a fundamental reality: ultimately, it is not solely wealth generation that improves our well-being. The nature of the relationships between individuals, communities, and institutions are of primary importance in securing and shaping our collective life. The purpose of the green economy, or any economy, then, must be to facilitate human well-being without sacrificing that of future generations. Societal progress requires the development and implementation of economic models which reflect the central role that relationships play in human life.

The 15 June issue of Outlook from Stakeholder Forum included an article on the BIC side event on Extremes of Wealth and Poverty. The link is….

The Baha'i International Community also distributed its statement for Rio+20 entitled "Sustaining Societies: Towards a New 'We'."

Victoria Thoresen also spoke at an ANPED/SPREAD side event on sustainable lifestyles on Tuesday 14 June at the Prepcom in RioCentro. See

Erasmus in O Globo

The youngest IEF member and part of the IEF delegation to Rio+20 hit the headlines on 15 June in a major Rio newspaper and in a video on their web site. Erasmus Vinkhuyzen, at 7 1/2 months officially registered at the conference, was featured in the first page of the second section of O Globo, the leading newspaper in Rio, as the representative of future generations. The video link of the interview with Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen is at…. There is also a report at….

Global Research Forum on Sustainable Consumption and Production, 13-15 June

GRF poster

IEF is a partner in the Global Research Forum on Sustainable Consumption and Production, which met at an educational institution in downtown Rio de Janeiro on 13-15 June 2012. About 80 researchers from around the world discussed progress and research needs in the field of sustainable consumption and production. It aimed to review achievements, identify challenges, and encourage a dialogue among researchers and practitioners.

Global Research Forum

Among the messages from keynote speakers, Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, said they were working on new indicators of human and social capital to measure things that do not have monetary value, following the example of Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness. The big question is what replaces consumption as the driver of the economy. In a session on "Green economy or de-growth?", Tim Jackson, author of "Prosperity without Growth", said we were too tied to existing economic principles and needed to change the rules of the game. He presented new research modeling the interactions of the financial system, the economy and planetary limits, to see if a transition to a sustainable economy without collapse was possible. The preliminary results were not encouraging.

Tim Jackson . descending spiral
Tim Jackson and his descending spiral

IEF members were active throughout the forum. Peter Adriance was a discussant in a breakout session on culture, Arthur Dahl and Victoria Thoresen gave papers in a session on education, and Onno Vinkhuyzen and Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen presented a paper in the closing session on mapping knowledge, practice and leadership.

Forum discussion

Arthur's presentation on "Values education for SCP: from knowledge to action" noted the poor correlation between scientific understanding and changing behavior, and that an emotional commitment was also necessary. Beliefs, superstitions, and ideologies can override objective evidence. The individual operates on a spectrum of values from egotistical to altruistic, infantile to mature, base impulses to cooperative. In society this is expressed as power-hungry, seeking status and social dominance, versus conscientious, egalitarian, and communitarian. The latter generally contribute to greater social good and higher integration. Moral values state what is good and of primary importance to human civilization, and are often articulated as ideals, defining right and wrong. Ethical principles are the operational expression of moral values that provide guidance for decision-making and action. He described his own experience teaching about values in advances studies courses on sustainable development and environmental diplomacy, and gave some case studies from the values-based indicators project ( Future research was needed on assessing the educational methods most effective in imparting sustainability values, and on how to combine scientific information and values to empower individuals to adopt their own sustainability values. We needed to show how sustainable consumption patterns contributed to increased human well-being and happiness, recognizing that there were multiple definitions happiness and well-being.

Victoria Thoresen
Victoria Thoresen

Victoria discussed "Developing value-based, holistic education for sustainable living". She presented case studies on the social learning process in Indonesia, Chile and Tanzania with both top-down and bottom-up implementation strategies. She said that we do not know what sustainable consumption is, and needed a dialogue including indigenous peoples and the elderly. Present environmental education was too shallow, and only aimed for behavior change at a superficial level.

Global Research Forum

Onno and Sylvia reviewed "the role of moral leadership for sustainable consumption and production", saying that the aim of leadership was to become a source of social good. Leadership meant building unity in the group, accomplishing the group's purpose, and developing the potentials in each group member. To get away from old styles of leadership based on domination, we need to change our mental models, and become a moral person and social actor. Leadership was not a position, but a function in a group.

Panel with Sylvia and Onno . Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen
Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen and Onno Vinkhuyzen

The forum discussed how values fit into education for sustainable consumption and production, and the growing interest in measures of human well-being and happiness as a research topic.

Sustainable Development Dialogues 16-19 June 2012

Even before the Conference, the host country Brazil organized innovative Sustainable Development Dialogues on the Internet around ten major themes, to which everyone could contribute on line. The four days between the third Preparatory Committee meeting 13-15 June, and the conference on 20-22 June, was devoted to dialogues by accredited conference participants on each of these themes. The aim was to select actions proposed by civil society to be presented at the high-level conference and included in the final report.


Work and Migration

One theme was "Unemployment, Decent Work and Migration". IEF proposed one element of its submission to the UCSD Bureau concerning environmental migration, which was summarized as: "Establish a mechanism under the United Nations, similar in function to the World Trade Organization, to negotiate a lowering of barriers to immigration and to allocate environmental migrants equitably among countries able to receive them." This was selected by the moderators as one of ten propositions for public voting on the internet.

On the internet, 63,000 people voted for different proposals, with over 1.2 million individual votes. The top proposal in each category was selected. Then a SDdialogue event at Rio+20 assembled a thousand or so civil society representatives, who also voted on their preferred proposal, as did a panel of experts, to select three proposals for presentation to governments at the high-level summit. In the final voting, it was clear that employment issues were higher priority than migration, so our proposal received only 9.7% of the votes and was not selected as such. However the migration issue was incorporated into another proposal. We succeeded in flagging the importance of migration as an emerging issue, and it was frequently mentioned in the discussion.

In the panel debate, one of the most radical statements was from the oldest panel member, Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of both the Stockholm Conference in 1972 and the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. He said that, in an information society, it would not be possible to give everyone work as we know it, but that everyone had the right to participate in the wealth of nations, through a citizen's basic income and the sharing of resources.


Economics, sustainable production and consumption

Another SDdialogue was on the topic :"The economics of sustainable development including sustainable patterns of production and consumption".

As in each dialogue, ten points had been selected from the thousands of proposal, and the public had been invited to vote for their preferences over the internet. The dialogues had reached 3 million people.

The first action selected by public was to phase out harmful subsidies and develop green tax schemes. The vote at the end of the dialogue selected: include environmental damage in GNP and complement it with measures of social development. The panel of ten, including Gro Harlem Brundtand, Ignacy Sachs, Rubens Recupero, and Mathis Wackernagel, selected "promote sustainable public procurement worldwide as a catalyst for sustainable patterns" because it was specific and immediately actionable.

Other interesting points in the discussion included the need to educate future generations before they learn bad consumption practices; and the need for a new economic model based on well-being, not consumption, with a dematerialized lifestyle in a more generous world with fairer distribution. The market by itself is short-sighted and socially insensitive, and needs a framework of government planning democratically determined with social goals and environmental prudence. We only manage what we measure, but we need new measures other than GDP such as accounting for natural capital and the rise of people out of poverty. Gro Harlem Brundtland said the most important change is the empowerment of women.

There was also a more traditional economist from USA for whom the market would solve everything by raising prices and increasing productivity if only governments would stop regulating, and solutions were only local and not global.

screen shot
Video screen view of the main conference hall


On Saturday 17 June, the city of Rio de Janeiro and the United Nations held a ceremony to rededicate the Peace Monument erected by the Baha'is in a main square in downtown Rio to commemorate the Earth Summit of 1992. The monument contains soil gathered from almost all the countries of the world, and is engraved with the quotation from Baha'u'llah "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens". The Mayor of Rio de Janeiro and the Secretary-General of UNCSD Sha Zukang participated in the ceremony, along with IEF board member Peter Adriance, who was at the original dedication in 1992, representing the Baha'i International Community.


Peace Monument
Rededication of the Peace Monument with Mayor of Rio, Peter Adriance and UNCSD Secretary-General Sha Zukang


One side event on 21 June of interest to IEF was organized by the Czech government and the Environment Center at Charles University (CUEC) in Prague on "Measuring a Green Economy: Insights into 'Beyond GDP' Indicators". CUEC was a partner in the values-based indicators project featured at the 14th IEF Conference in 2010, and the side event was chaired by Prof. Bedrich Moldan of Charles University (former Czech Minister for the Environment and Chair of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development), who has spoken at three IEF conferences. Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, described their new work on indicators for a green economy combining measures of ecosystem resilience, economy and human well-being, including a full set of accounts on human capital.

Kyle Gracey, research scientist at the Global Footprint Network, said that the Ecological Footprint was a scientific measure of competitiveness in a resource-constrained world, but that policy decisions also needed to be based partly on values.

Nathalie Girouard of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, talked about the need to measure human well-being, and the new OECD Better Life Initiative on what matters most in peoples' lives. Their Your Better Life Index looked at outcomes, inequalities, and objective and subjective well-being, drawing from existing data to produce 22 headline and 35 secondary indicators.


On 21 June, an article by the heads of the BIC delegation, Daniel Perell and May Akale, "Was history truly made in Rio this week?", was published on the first page of OUTREACH, the Stakeholder Forum magazine for the conference, see



Some of the common themes of interest to IEF that were repeated by many speakers included:


We cannot manage what we do not measure. Economic indicators like GDP are inadequate. We need a broader set of indicators that measure all forms of capital, dimensions of development, and human an environmental well-being, following the example of Bhutan and its gross national happiness. Some side events were devoted to this topic, and several governments and intergovernmental bodies are developing their own indicators of well-being or happiness. The new sustainable development goals and their indicators will be an important contribution.


The present economy is not delivering. We need a fundamental transition to a new economic paradigm, but we do not know how such an economy would work and how to get there. How do we replace consumption and growth as economic drivers? How do we stay between the social floor and the environmental ceiling?

Wealth and poverty

Income inequality has been increasing rather than decreasing with economic growth in most countries. Social sustainability requires better mechanisms for wealth distribution, so that no one is left in absolute need. Since resources are limited, this will mean a reduction in resource consumption by the better off.


Fragmented approaches are everywhere in our society, from government and the United Nations to academia to the private sector. They are even reflected in the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, which too often become silos of separate action rather than aspects of a single system. Sustainability requires an integrated approach to the long-term dynamics of the whole human and natural system. Integration is also needed from local action at the community level up to global governance.

Science and policy

There was wide acknowledgement of the disconnect between science and policy. The science shows massive human impact on the natural environment and planetary systems, overshooting several planetary limits with a risk of tipping points for rapid and irreversible changes. For scientists, a fundamental change in direction must be in place before 2020. Yet politicians and economist cannot see beyond the short term, and prefer denial to corrective action. Governments, corporations and individuals give priority to self-interest, and cannot agree on collective action, delaying any meaningful policy changes.


Education is at the heart of the changes we need to achieve sustainability. We need to educate children in new values and behaviors. Education of girls is particularly important. Sustainable development education should include science, environmental problems, social processes, integration, systems thinking, and human values and their diversity around the world. Education should empower youth and teach them to be global citizens.


On 18 June the IEF held its annual General Assembly, and since a majority of our Governing Board was present in Rio, we also had a rare face-to-face board meeting.
IEF Governing Board
IEF Governing Board members Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, Peter Adriance, Arthur Dahl, Victoria Thoresen and Duncan Hanks (Emily Firth and Dimity Podger were not in Rio)


The Peoples' Summit accepted two activities, one proposed by IEF, the second co-sponsored by IEF. They were:

18 June 2012 at the Peoples' Forum, Flamengo Park

Green not Greed: The Role of Business in Reducing Poverty and Sustainable Development

The European Baha'i Business Forum organized this event at the Peoples' Summit in Flamengo Park, in a tent with a sea view amid the thousands from around the world who had gathered to consider civil society views of the future we all want. EBBF Secretary-General Dr. Wendi Momen chaired the event, and EBBF board member and IEF President Prof. Arthur Dahl was the principal speaker, as transportation problems prevented the other panelists from attending. The theme was that business has a social responsibility as well as an economic mission. Poverty alleviation, reducing the gap between the very rich and the very poor, creating wealth by providing meaningful work and decent pay: these are among the goals that businesses large and small can achieve by changing their focus from only maximizing profit for investors to implementing socially-sensitive and sustainable business practices.

EBBF tent . EBBF
The site of the EBBF event at the Peoples' Summit

Dr. Dahl first considered business within the broader economic system, noting that we are trying to manage a globalized economy with national management mechanisms. The financial crisis was caused by greed, herd behaviour, and the lack of a systems view. The problem was more with the values underlying the present economic system rather than the mechanisms. The levels of borrowing to keep the materialistic consumer society growing have become unmanageable, and now rising energy costs and resource limits make it impossible to repay all the accumulated debt. The transition to sustainability will require new values for the economy aiming for a just and equitable society, emphasizing altruism and cooperation, creating meaningful employment, and reducing poverty. We need to address the extremes of wealth and poverty, as discussed in the Baha'i International Community in its statement to Rio+20. In the following discussion, various examples of social enterprise and of ethics in business improving business operations and even profitability.


21 June 2012 at Viva Rio

Changing mentalities and motivations: values for the sustainability transition

IEF event . Charles and Wendi

The International Environment Forum, in collaboration with UN Women UK and the European Baha'i Business Forum, organized this event as part of the Peoples' Summit in the Viva Rio conference room near Flamengo Park, with Dr. Wendi Momen chairing and Charles Howard providing Portuguese translation. Widespread popular support will be necessary to implement new economic systems and institutional arrangements for sustainability, requiring a change in mentalities and motivations. Such support will only come for policies and actions that are seen as just and equitable. A panel including Arthur Dahl (Switzerland), Andreas Vatsellas (Greece) and Onno Vinkhuyzen (Netherlands) discussed values-based economic and social paradigms for the transition to sustainability, and their implementation through education and community action.

IEF event . IEF event

In his introductory presentation, Dr. Dahl noted that the consumer culture rooted in materialistic values was in crisis, as consumption funded by increasing debt was unsustainable. It was necessary to rethink human purpose and to propose a positive alternative to the consumer society that was sufficiently attractive to overcome resistance and habit, worth sacrificing the superficial for what is deeper and more fundamentally rewarding, and combines individual transformation with social action. The effort would be comparable to religious conversion.

He described some elements of a higher human purpose, including a vision of future society with a new economic model and institutions of world governance, an understanding of the importance of social relationships, a redefinition of the purpose of work and its benefits for society and individual development, an extension of science to everyone as the basis for innovation at the local level, and the encouragement of arts, cultural expression, and reconnection with nature. To fulfill our higher human purpose, we need to refine our character, recognizing that there is no limit to growth in the cultural, moral and spiritual dimensions of life. The result will be a culture of change in communities, and at the individual level.

Arthur Dahl . Arthur Dahl Arthur Dahl

Andreas Vatsellas, a Greek graduate student in environment in Italy, related values for the transition to the role of business.

Andreas Vatsellas . Andreas and audience Andreas Vatsellas

Onno Vinkhuyzen described the transformation in mentality necessary to change leadership styles from authoritative, paternalistic, know-it-all or manipulative to a moral leadership that helps an individual to become a source of social good. He described how humanity as a whole is the moral community we should analyze, and that only a systemic view is sustainable. Human beings have an innate ability to rise above the self-interest model of behaviour that underpins much of current economic and political analysis and to express altruism. The objectives of values-based leadership should be to conserve and strengthen the unity of the group, to carry out the tasks for which the group was created, and to develop the potentialities of the members of the group. Some of the characteristics of the moral leadership model include questioning mental models, constructing conceptual frameworks, training in capabilities, and the utilization of participatory techniques.

Onno Vinkhuyzen  Onno Vinkhuyzen

After the presentations, the animated discussion continued in small groups.

discussion . discussion . discussion

discussion . discussion


For the organizations of civil society, a Peoples' Summit was held at Flamengo Park on the Rio waterfront, with tents and other meeting spaces for the 500 events contributing to the summit. Everything was organized at the last minute, and we only learned after our arrival in Rio that an EBBF event and one of two IEF events had been accepted for the summit. The audience was almost entirely Portuguese speaking, as most international events were held at RioCentro, except for business events in a luxury hotel and scientific events at universities in the city.

Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit

Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit

Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit

Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit

Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit . Peoples' Summit

The Baha'i community of Brazil organized a booth that was always crowded. They had to hold additional events at the Peoples' Summit to respond to the demand. They also helped to publicize the IEF event and came to support it.

Baha'i stand Peoples Forum . Baha'i stand Peoples Forum . Baha'i stand Peoples Forum
Baha'i community stand at the Peoples' Forum



The Baha'i Community of Brazil did much to facilitate the IEF participation in Rio+20. With heavy traffic, inadequate shuttle bus service, and widely scattered locations around the city, logistics were a problem. Fortunately the Baha'is had organized a big house with bed and breakfast within a short walk of RioCentro. It was only when we had to go into the city for scientific forums or the Peoples' Summit in Flamengo Park on the beach that we had expensive taxi rides until the Baha'is organized two shuttle vans.


Pousada Mansao RioCentro . Baha'is at the pousada . Charles and Peter
Our bed and breakfast; some of the Baha'i delegates; Charles Howard and Peter Adriance in the garden


After the conference, we had lunch together.
Baha'is at lunch . Baha'is at lunch

Baha'is at lunch . Baha'is at lunch

Last updated 27 October 2012