IEF 22nd Conference at HLPF: Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies

Submitted by admin on 20. July 2018 - 0:33
2018 July 9-18
New York City, USA

Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies

22nd Annual Conference of the International Environment Forum
in support of the
United Nations High Level Political Forum
New York, 9-18 July 2018

The 22nd Annual Conference of the International Environment Forum was a series of activities in support of the UN High Level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF) in New York on 9-18 July 2018. The events were planned primarily to allow participation at a distance, to avoid the cost and environmental impact of many members travelling to New York.

In the preparations for the HLPF, the IEF provided inputs to the official Scientific and Technological Major Group paper for the HLPF.

Organizing the IEF 22nd Conference as a set of supporting activities to a major UN event like the HLPF allowed us to continue our efforts to participate actively in the public discourse around sustainable development, as we did at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 and Rio+20 in 2012, at a time when the urgency of action is greater than ever. Report with more pictures.


To save HLPF participants from the effort of finding a meeting room to hear a panel of experts on the themes of the 2018 HLPF, the International Environment Forum invited its experts to record their short presentations on YouTube, so that HLPF participants could watch them whenever and wherever convenient on their smartphone or tablet. Seven short video presentations were prepared. These were publicized on the Internet distribution lists for Major Groups and Stakeholders at the HLPF. The written texts for most of them were also available on the IEF web site (see below).

Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies

by Arthur Dahl at (8 minutes) FULL TEXT

Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum, and a retired senior official of UN Environment, comments on the overall theme of the 2018 UN High Level Political Forum.

Water, Sanitation and Freshwater Ecosystems: Challenges in Tanzania (SDG 6)

by Mark Griffin at (11:30 minutes) FULL TEXT

Mark Griffin explores the multiple difficulties involved in trying to provide a school in rural Tanzania with a safe and reliable water supply.

The challenges that a renewable energy matrix bring to the academic world (SDG 7)

by Rafael Shayani, Universidade de Brasília, at (8 minutes) FULL TEXT

Prof. Rafael Amaral Shayani, Universidade de Brasília, Departamento de Engenharia Elétrica, Laboratório de Fontes Renováveis de Energia, discusses the need for broader education for energy planners.

Responsible consumption and production (SDG12)

by Arthur Dahl, International Environment Forum, at (10 minutes) FULL TEXT

Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl, International Environment Forum, who has worked for half a century on sustainability issues, explores the deeper meaning of our consumption and production behaviour.

How can we reduce excessive consumption? (SDG12)

by Christine Muller (8 minutes) FULL TEXT

Christine Muller of the International Environment Forum helps us to address the challenge of reducing our excessive consumption.

Sustainable forestry in DR Congo (SDG15)

by John Kendall (13 minutes) INTRODUCTION

Canadian forester John Kendall makes the case that a high level of community transformation is necessary for REDD+ (forest management for carbon sequestration) to deliver on climate change and SDG 15 objectives. He uses his Mai Ndombe REDD+ project in the DRC as a case study in community engagement.

Biodiversity and Sustainable Development (SDG15)

by Laurent Mesbah (16:43 minutes) INTRODUCTION

Professor Laurent Mesbah of the American University in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, explores our scientific and aesthetic ties with nature, and the lessons we learn from the rich biodiversity of the natural world.


The IEF also co-sponsored and contributed to a HLPF side event called "Responsibility Roulette" at Scandinavia House on 12 July that IEF Governing Board member Victoria Thoresen organized through the Partnership for Education and Research About Responsible Living (PERL), in which IEF is an active participant. The aim was to learn how sustainable lifestyles can become more desirable, accessible and normal.

PERL/IEF workshopworkshop participants
Victoria Thoresen leading the PERL workshop; from left: Erik Assadourian, Dorothy Marcic, Vanessa Timmer, Andrea Hvistendahl

Shifting towards more sustainable ways of living requires people individually and collectively to understand how their lifestyles and behaviours influence the global pursuit of sustainable development. The workshop asked whose responsibility it is to change existing unsustainable aspirations and systems into ones that promote sustainable development for all. This is a fundamental challenge for everyone whether we function in governments, business, advertising, civil society, education, or simply as individuals.

workshop participantsLewis Akenji, Erik Assadourian, Arthur Dahl
workshop participants; Lewis Akenji, Erik Assadourian, Arthur Dahl

The workshop was organized as an interactive game in which everyone participated including the panel of invited international experts. Three roulette wheels determined which participant would speak, what issue would be addressed, and how it would relate to one of the SDGs, to demonstrate that they were all integrated and interrelated. The game allowed the whole group to explore what a happier, healthier and more sustainable lifestyle is, and who has what responsibility for making sustainable lifestyles the norm and not the exception.

The game helped everyone to examine essential ingredients of living well: family and community, time as a resource, freedom and discovery, and balancing obligations and wishes. It assisted all the participants in reflecting on relevant strategies for achieving sustainable lifestyles — strategies such as deciphering the systemic nature of lifestyles, taking advantage of life stages and transitions, accommodating diversity in lifestyles, and engaging in collective action.

Erik Assadourian, Lewis Akenji, Victoria ThoresenChristine Muller (centre)
Erik Assadourian, Lewis Akenji, Victoria Thoresen; Christine Muller (centre) and Lewis Akenji

IEF members Victoria Thoresen and Arthur Dahl, along with Lewis Akenji from the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) in Japan, Erik Assadourian of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., Dorothy Marcic, a professor of business, author and playwright of popular off-Broadway shows, and Vanessa Timmer, Executive Director of One Earth, Vancouver, Canada, were the international experts invited to participate in the workshop. Artist Andrea Hvistendahl of Stockholm presented student artworks expressing sustainability and sustainable lifestyles, and there was an exhibition of education for sustainable lifestyle initiatives from around the world. IEF member Christine Muller was one of the participants.

IEF Governing Board member Victoria Thoresen of PERL also contributed to a SDGs Learning, Training and Practice event on 11 July in the UN Building on Leveraging innovative partnerships with higher education institutions towards sustainable and resilient societies organized by the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative.


Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies

by Arthur Dahl at

Arthur Dahl

Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum, and a retired senior official of UN Environment, comments on the overall theme of the 2018 UN High Level Political Forum.

What do we mean by transformation? The Secretary-General, in his synthesis report on the Post-2015 Agenda, said that
- fundamental transformation is needed in society and the economy, with the
- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defining a paradigm shift for people and planet
- inclusive and people-centred, leaving no one behind
- integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions
- in a spirit of solidarity, cooperation, mutual accountability
- with the participation of governments and all stakeholders (UN 2014).

This is clearly not business as usual.

The results of science in various fields are signalling the urgency of the necessary transformation, and the response so far has been too slow. On 13 November 2017, a warning supported by more than 15,000 scientists reviewed the status of the world environment since a first warning 25 years ago, and showed that almost all the trends were negative. They concluded:

"To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world's leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home." (Ripple et al. 2017).

Science can do much to define the directions that the transformation should take, depending on the country situation (O'Neill et al. 2018), and to recommend the speed with which actions should be taken to avoid extreme or irreversible damage to human interests or the environment on which we depend. The warnings are becoming increasingly strident. Transformation cannot be just superficial tinkering at the margins, but rapid and fundamental change. We have no time to lose.

However scientific knowledge by itself rarely changes human behaviour. Knowledge needs to be coupled with an emotional response, and this is often best triggered by a call to ethics, values and faith.

Change at this level must start with our basic assumptions about human nature and purpose. Are we inherently aggressive and self-centred, or should we not rather aspire to justice, solidarity, generosity, altruism and service to the common good? The SDGs are a framework for expressing the oneness of humankind in the expression "leave no one behind". They require both structural transformation in our institutions of governance, and social transformation in how we organize society and the economy, based on a new shared value system. Our actions need to be in coherence with SDG values in our collective search for viable solutions to the world’s problems. Our challenge today, especially at the HLPF, is to rise above partisan concerns and self-interest to strive to achieve unity of thought and action.

Sustainable is another word that we all can agree on without sharing a common definition, which is convenient for diplomats. It is not a goal that we reach but a dynamic balance that we have to maintain over time into the distant future. How can a growing, rapidly developing, and not yet united global population, in a just manner, live in harmony with the planet and its finite natural resources? Endless economic growth is not the answer. Neither are fear of the "others", marginalization and exclusion of other human beings, and disregard for their suffering. Social distress is inherently unsustainable and a source of insecurity.

It is worth also reflecting on the meaning of resilience. It can mean resistance to shocks or the ability to bounce back, implying strong social cohesion. It also means reimagining the economic sphere so that it is socially just, altruistic and cooperative, creating meaningful work for all and eliminating poverty as called for in the SDGs. The result can be collective prosperity through justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance. Today the world still has ample food and economic resources for everyone, but there are problems of access and equitable distribution, with increasing extremes of wealth and persistent poverty. Reducing inequality is also a SDG, not through charity but by finding ways to address the root causes of poverty.

The international governing council of the Bahá'í Faith has recently written:

"The stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one are being felt within international relations as much as in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small. With prevailing modes of thought found to be badly wanting, the world is in desperate need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds." (UHJ 2017)

To end on a positive note from a Bahá'í International Community statement to the UN:

"The pathway to sustainability will be one of empowerment, collaboration and continual processes of questioning, learning and action in all regions of the world. It will be shaped by the experiences of women, men, children, the rich, the poor, the governors and the governed as each one is enabled to play their rightful role in the construction of a new society. As the sweeping tides of consumerism, unfettered consumption, extreme poverty and marginalization recede, they will reveal the human capacities for justice, reciprocity and happiness." (BIC 2010)


Bahá'í International Community. 2010. Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism. Bahá'í International Community's Contribution to the 18th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, 3 May 2010.…

Daniel W. O’Neill, Andrew L. Fanning, William F. Lamb, Julia K. Steinberger. A good life for all within planetary boundaries. Nature Sustainability, 2018,

UN. 2014. The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet Synthesis Report of the Secretary-General On the Post-2015 Agenda, released 4 December 2014

UHJ. 2017. Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá'ís of the World, 1 March 2017. Bahá'í World Centre, Haifa.

William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Mauro Galetti, Mohammed Alamgir, Eileen Crist, Mahmoud I. Mahmoud, and William F. Laurance. World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. BioScience, Volume 67, Issue 12, 1 December 2017, Pages 1026–1028,

Water, Sanitation and Freshwater Ecosystems: Challenges in Tanzania (SDG 6)

by Mark Griffin at (11:30 minutes)

Mark Griffin explores the multiple difficulties involved in trying to provide a school in rural Tanzania with a safe and reliable water supply.

Karibu Sana, this is Mark Griffin of the International Environment Forum (IEF) and I am a facilities engineer and a Water and Sanitation practitioner. To illustrate some examples that apply to Sustainable Development Goal six for Water, Sanitation, and Freshwater Ecosystems, I want to share with you a field trip I made to the Ruaha Secondary School [1] in Tanzania, the site of an SED project aimed at educating girls. I was invited in 1996 to review the water supply situation there, which led to a general survey of the surrounding area, and which provides some examples of SDG-6 water targets.

The first example is one of equitable access: The school and surrounding agricultural areas are located in the village of Kibabwe next to a tributary of the Great Ruaha River. On the other side of the river is “Iringa Town” or the Municipality of Iringa, in the Iringa Region of Tanzania. The village side of the river was rich in drinking water supply because of a natural spring or Artesian Well that supplied ground water of good quality with low bacterial counts. However, the Municipality used this spring as its main water source by capturing it and conveying it to Iringa Town across the river, a practice which is common in water resources management. The school and village people of Kibabwe in turn received water from the municipality through a smaller pipe that crossed the river a second time. Kibabwe’s water supply would often be interrupted for several months each year because the smaller pipe broke during the wet season when the river was high and fast, so the primary reason for my being invited was to find a secondary source of pumped water during these outage months, despite that the best source of water was already present but diverted to the municipality. A second piped supply came by way of a distribution pipe alongside the road, but it was not large enough to supply both the school and Kibabwe, and the water was pumped only intermittently. Additionally the farmers of Kibabwe no longer had irrigation access to the naturally flowing waters of the Artesian wellspring. As the area is water stressed during parts of the year, one would occasionally find holes drilled or burned into the large water pipe which leaked into the gardens as makeshift irrigation, and the pipe would promptly be repaired by the municipality. One would glean that the farmers felt they had a previous right to the water for irrigation.

So far I’ve described a water distribution problem that presumes water quantity is not an issue, but water stress in the Iringa Region has increased since my visit there 20 years ago. Large commercial rice farms, small subsistence farmers, hydropower, and local ecosystems are in competition for water, and for the first time in 1993 the Ruha River had sections with no flow for several months. [2, 3, 4] Note the level of water in these photos of the hydroelectric dam at Mtera. The first one shows the reservoir at or near capacity while the second shows it nearly empty.[5] These examples all concern equitable access to water for people and for the economy, but they also demonstrate the need to leave enough water for ecosystems and wildlife, one of the targets of SDG-6. It also has implications for transboundary coordination and for providing renewable energy, a topic of SDG-7.

The second example is one of water quality: The school facility was equipped with underground septic tanks and leech fields, normally adequate except when the river swelled and the local groundwater and surface water became contaminated. While the wet season provides a seasonal abundance of water quantity, at the same time it exacerbates a fecal contamination problem with shallow latrines and open field defecation. In addition to pathogenic contamination, local industries dumped untreated chemicals into the river. In one case which demonstrates simultaneous biological and chemical contamination, there was open dumping from an upstream prison facility, followed by a pressure treated wood manufacturing process, and followed by raw water draw off for the municipal water system. So in this case the drinking water, even if boiled to kill pathogens, contained carcinogenic contaminants from chromium and arsenic in the process at that time to make pressure treated wood. This illustrates the need for simultaneous transboundary, inter-sector management, also known as Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and one of the SDG-6 targets.

These photos show the location where water supply was drawn from the river, visibly seen as dark and murky with floating organic materials. The suspended clay and floating organic debris is not a problem in itself, except that the water being pumped to the top of the hill in Iringa Town was being treated with a form of chlorine as a disinfectant. The problem here, which serves as an example of technology transfer and education, is that chlorine mixed with organic materials creates precursors to carcinogenic contaminants. The typical industry standard is to first remove the organics with a physical coagulant process, followed by disinfection of pathogens with chlorine or similar. Regardless, disinfection today takes precedence over potential cancer in the future – unfortunately a choice to be made without the necessary coordinated efforts to provide sustained quality of drinking water.

A coordinated effort near the Ruaha Secondary School and Iringa Town is necessary and beneficial on a local level, but the scale of IWRM needs to be much larger. In this case a management plan might address the Great Ruaha River basin that covers the Iringa and Dodoma Regions of Tanzania, and include the Ruaha National Park with its wildlife and ecosystems, the Mtera [6] and Kidatu Hydroelectric Dams, and the controversial commercial rice farms upstream of the Ruaha National Park. These topics are in addition to the usual irrigation, fishing, and WATSAN activities of local residents, and there is currently a struggle to decide which water uses take precedence for the overall good. This is also an opportunity for increased water efficiency, another target of SDG-6.

There were many examples of local cooperation: DANIDA was onsite and assisted with background information about local water use; the Iringa Water Department quality laboratory tested water samples I had taken in the area; the school staff was very helpful and loaned me a small motorcycle for transportation, and a student’s family assisted with materials and manpower in exchange for my assistance in the design of the irrigation system at their farm.

Several important lessons learned during my visit remain. The first regards technology transfer and supply chains. I attempted to design and build a small western-style water treatment plant to produce water suitable for drinking without boiling it. All or most of the required materials were local, but some items would need to be shipped, in particular the coagulating and disinfecting chemicals. Once built, trained operators would need to maintain safe operations and maintenance of the plant. Whereas trained persons and the required supplies could not be guaranteed, I recommended that water continued to be boiled before drinking. However, when I reported this to the school staff they laughed at me because they knew the water had to be boiled – they just didn’t want to carry it! So I had listened to what I thought the needs were and not the request they gave me. I didn’t listen, and this was another lesson learned. Today I might go a step further and attempt a more formal consultation with representatives from area stakeholders, but my purview was somewhat restricted to the school with which there was ample consultation.

Although a modern treatment plant and elevated storage and distribution system was conceivable near the school, it was not practical. Energy was also an issue because electricity was very expensive, so running a treatment plant in that setting would have been cost-prohibitive. Also, I lived in the same quarters as the teachers who burned fuel indoors for cooking. I offered to get them electric cook stoves, but I learned that they couldn’t even afford the electricity to run them – it was more than the capital cost of the equipment. This regards equitable access to energy, SDG-7. When I returned home I began studies of slow sand filtration that uses no chemicals and less energy for pumping, but uses more land area and is labor intensive, nonetheless more appropriate for this setting, again a matter of technology transfer.

As part of a facilities review I collaborated with the students and staff to create potential applications for renewable energy. The two most notable ideas were solar hot water bags placed on roofs, and small windmills that pumped water directly. To my knowledge these were not implemented, but today solar panels would be a likely choice. The students typically cut the grass by hand, so I investigated buying a gasoline driven lawn mower, but the cost, including a hefty tariff, was prohibitive.

My stay in the village of Kibabwe in the suburbs of Iringa lasted a short eight weeks, but I learned many lessons and gained some close friends. Water-borne diseases were the main topic of my visit, but malaria was a harsh reality of living there and the medications available at that time restricted my visit to that duration unless I took other measures for a much longer stay. Just before I arrived the daughter of a couple who became close friends died from malaria, mainly due to a lack of resources. Perhaps mosquito control could be another consideration of Integrated water management, but I am unqualified to assess this adequately. The greatest personal outcome to me was that it demonstrated how we take water for granted in the west and how we consume it apparently without regard to the purification processes and energy requirements involved. This changed my career to focus on the sustainability of water resources from that time onward.

5. Photos Credit:…

The challenges that a renewable energy matrix bring to the academic world (SDG 7)

by Rafael Shayani at

Prof. Rafael Amaral Shayani, Universidade de Brasília, Departamento de Engenharia Elétrica, Laboratório de Fontes Renováveis de Energia, discusses the need for broader education for energy planners.

The energy issue has been a formidable challenge for humanity. The world's energy consumption grows year after year, based on fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). Renewable energy sources (solar, wind, etc.), despite hitting records of growth, still correspond to a very small fraction of the energy matrix. As a result, the energy sector increases its greenhouse gas emissions, contributing more and more to global warming, in contradiction to all global efforts in pursuit of sustainable development.

The energy sector is extremely conservative. There is a deep-rooted idea that energy security is the main point to be pursued, and that only fossil fuels are capable of ensuring this security, since many of the renewable sources are intermittent and therefore unable to provide reliable energy.

The Paris Accord, however, presents a different way of doing energy planning. It recognizes the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches, and also that the fight against climate change must respect, promote and consider the respective human rights obligations, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, people with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations, the right to development, as well as gender equality, women's empowerment and intergenerational equality.

This is a completely different way of doing energy planning! Such a change of approach requires that the Energy theme be treated in an interdisciplinary way. It is no longer sufficient that the matter be treated only from a technical engineering point of view, for example. Human and social issues should be studied by students interested in Energy. The following questions should be discussed in universities, providing important elements for students, who will become future professionals qualified to deal with this complex subject, to take decisions with a broader and more complete view of the subject: What is the relation between Energy and Environment? Energy and Social Justice? Energy and Public Health? Energy and Human Rights? Energy and Poverty Eradication? Energy and World Citizenship? Energy and World Peace? The focus of energy studies must cease to be technologies and become the human being. Students should be able to analyze the technical, social and environmental impacts of certain technologies and their respective costs. We can no longer consider the implications related to the emission of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels as externalities; they should be considered in the costs and influence the decision to adopt them or not!

Another important point is to make students reflect on the energy issue with its global implications. Students should draw inspiration from the words of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892) that "the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens" and "let your vision be world-embracing rather than confined to your own self " by considering energy solutions that promote social justice and direct humanity toward world peace. It is up to teachers to change their teaching method, deepening human and social issues in engineering courses, to train the new professionals of the 21st century with a broader and more comprehensive view than before.

Responsible consumption and production (SDG12)

by Arthur Dahl at

Arthur Dahl

Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl, International Environment Forum, who has worked for half a century on sustainability issues, explores the deeper meaning of our consumption and production behaviour.

The goal to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns touches on both sides of the economic process producing goods and services to support human well-being, both of which are today highly unsustainable, with the rape and pillage of the planet's resources to respond to short-term demands. Driven by the wrong indicators like GDP that simply measure the flow of money through the economy without judging the purpose of those flows or their contribution to human well-being, we have structured the economy around governments dominated by economic thinking and private enterprises driven by the profit motive. The economy has globalized while government regulation remains largely national, and with a natural tendency toward monopoly positions with an increasing concentration of power and wealth, giant multinationals are more influential today than most governments and there is no global institution capable of regulating them in the common interest.

The result is a circular diseconomy with enormous sums spent on advertising to cultivate desires in passive consumers for goods of marginal utility, if not actually damaging to health and well-being, produced with as little labour as possible to expand profit margins. and planned obsolescence to keep consumers coming back for more. The natural and social capital required to produce these goods are treated as externalities and not included in corporate profit and loss statements or national accounts, hiding the fact that we are living far beyond our means, while economic, social and environmental debts accumulate for future generations to bear. Businesses claim that they are simply responding to consumer demand, when in fact they work hard to create that demand and steer it in the most profitable directions.

Among the consequences are our failure to respond adequately to climate change because of the vested interests in the production and consumption of fossil fuels. The alarming recent signs of the collapse of biodiversity and a human caused planetary extinction event are largely due to multinational agroindustries and chemical manufacturers pushing intensive large-scale farming methods dependent on the widespread use of chemical fertilizers and toxic chemicals, all with the primary purpose of increasing corporate profits. There is no global mechanism to regulate damaging production processes or to defend planetary carrying capacity. While there are many responsible producers and innovators showing that sustainable production is possible, they carry little weight in the present unsustainable production system.


Ultimately it is each of us as a consumer that decides what to buy and how to consume it, at least within the choices presented to us, or to decide not to buy at all beyond basic necessities. For the poor, there is often no choice, just consuming whatever is available. Responsible living becomes an ethical challenge, especially when bombarded with messages and surrounded by social pressures, designed with great sophistication to push us into buying. New technologies have only amplified the problem, both with an ever-expanding range of products and with new media connecting us constantly with those aiming to manipulate us in multiple ways.

More research is needed in the social sciences to understand how we so easily fall prey to this psychological manipulation. For example, the impacts of the spread and consumption of IT products and networks need to be studied, both to improve their use to empower the poor and provide everyone with access to knowledge and science, and also to understand the dangers of overconsumption, the cultivation of addictions to social media, impacts of children's use of technology on their education and the development of young minds, and the dangers of their use to manipulate the public in everything from consumption patterns to elections. The extensive research in marketing and product design to increase consumption is not presently balanced with research to reduce excessive consumption. There are behavioural barriers, mindsets, confirmation biases and ideologies that are resistant to fact-based information. Alongside a reorientation to more durable and recyclable products, a major new effort is needed on how to motivate simpler, less material lifestyles, being content with little, and turning in other directions once basic needs are met. Researchers in the social sciences need to partner with those dealing with the ethical, moral and spiritual dimensions of human purpose where some of the answers may be found.

The ephemeral pleasure of the materialistic consumer society, where status is measured by consumption and greed is admired, needs to give way to the satisfaction of leading a virtuous life. Young people can be vaccinated against consumerism if they learn early the pleasure of altruistic acts of service to their community. If each of us learns to be content with little, there will be enough for everyone. As Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, as put it "Take from this world only to the measure of your needs, and forego that which exceedeth them."

On the production side, the necessary fundamental transition will challenge the economic sciences to design alternative economies that are socially just, altruistic and cooperative, create employment, and reduce poverty and inequality, as called for in the Sustainable Development Goals.

While business is a legitimate partner in implementing the SDGs, attention is needed to both the danger and the potential consequences of businesses "taking over" sustainable development, becoming the dominant partners to make it a profit-making enterprise for the very few. "Greening" products is necessary, but is not the core of sustainable development. More fundamental change is often needed in directions that will not be attractive to business. For example, it is important to encourage products and technologies that people and communities can master themselves, and not only those that are profitable in a business context.

Obviously, the economic transition would have to be planned carefully. Major parts of the economy are engaged in production that does not contribute to sustainability or human well-being. Major investments must be written off, capital will need to be reoriented, and new forms of employment created for all those whose jobs will be lost during the transition. Fundamental change is always painful for many, and their needs have to be taken into consideration.

In a larger perspective, as the Bahá'í International Community has put it,
"Sustainable production is not simply about ‘greener’ technology but rather, should involve systems that enable all human beings to contribute to the productive process. In such a system, all are producers, and all have the opportunity to earn (or receive, if unable to earn) enough to meet their needs.

The concept of justice is embodied in the recognition that the interests of the individual and of the wider community are inextricably linked....

Ultimately, the transformation required to shift towards sustainable consumption and production will entail no less than an organic change in the structure of society itself so as to reflect fully the interdependence of the entire social body—as well as the interconnectedness with the natural world that sustains it." (BIC 2010)

How can we reduce excessive consumption? SDG12

by Christine Muller

Christine Muller of the International Environment Forum helps us to address the challenge of reducing our excessive consumption.

SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production, calls for a reduction of our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources. It includes ambitious goal targets to be achieved by 2030. Developed countries will need to take the lead in moving toward sustainable consumption and production. The challenges are formidable: Agricultural methods and industrial production must become more sustainable; waste must be significantly reduced, recycled, and reused. And most important is the cutting back on excessive consumption.

At the same time, too many people today are not even able to meet their basic needs. They need to be supported in sustainable development and should have the right to their fair share of the Earth's resources.

This makes the reduction of consumption by the wealthier people of the world all the more important. With wealthy people I mean most people who are living in developed countries as well as the well-to-do and middle class in the developing world.

The challenge is huge, because present generations have grown up in a culture of consumerism. They have not experienced any other way of life. People take consumer goods for granted and feel entitled to possess them.

Despite their ability to enjoy material goods on a scale and quality that is unprecedented in human history, many people are not happy, and a mental health crisis is in progress with increasing numbers of people afflicted by depression and addictions with some of them becoming prone to suicide and acts of violence. Studies have shown that, once basic needs are met, more material goods don't enhance happiness. Materialism and consumerism do not fulfill the real needs of people and destroy the Earth's life support-systems endangering even human survival.

All the world's religions warn us about greed, for example Taoism teaches “There is no greater calamity than indulging in greed.1 And Islam admonishes “O children of Adam, ... eat and drink, but be not extravagant. Indeed, He likes not those who commit extravagance.2 Now, I don't mean that we should go to the other extreme, to asceticism. We can enjoy the beautiful things this world offers us, even as we significantly reduce our consumption.

All of this means that we need to rethink the purpose of our lives considering that humans are spiritual beings. If we don't nourish our souls, we will stay hungry, even if we fill our lives with material things. The Baha'i teachings say that “the world is but a show, bearing the semblance of reality. Set not your affections upon it....the world is like the vapor in a desert, which the thirsty dreameth to be water and striveth after it with all his might, until when he cometh unto it, he findeth it to be mere illusion.3

Merely asking people to drastically reduce their consumption would likely be useless. Their emptiness must first be filled with the real water of life, with meaning and a sense of belonging. A deeper understanding of their purpose in life will provide the foundation for a substantial reduction in consumption. It will then no longer be needed, and people will be much more open to face the reality of the environmental crisis and to live a more simple life that is environmentally sustainable.

The worship of the golden calf of materialism and of the myth of unlimited economic growth can be replaced with connecting ourselves to our spiritual essence and to our Creator. The word religion comes from the latin word religare – reconnect - and we should not be hung up by its aberrations.

The Torah teaches “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 4 And Jesus said “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.5 The love for God and for all of His creation makes us care about all the people who are exploited in the current economic system, and care for all other creatures of this Earth that are suffering or even become extinct because of habitat loss, pollution, and a changing climate. Such love creates purpose in our life and a sense of belonging.

All people are created as noble beings and deserve equal rights. At the same time, each individual shares some responsibility for the well-being of society. The Baha'i teachings say that people find happiness in the promotion of “the best interests of the peoples .. of the earth.6 Baha'u'llah said “Let your vision be world-embracing, rather than confined to your own self.7 Such an altruistic attitude that comes from deep within an individual is the key to that individual's happiness as well as a prerequisite for the large-scale changes needed toward a sustainable civilization.

Imagine a society that cares about the welfare of each individual, and where individuals are eager to contribute to the common good. Serving together to make the world a better place makes people truly happy. It provides their life with a profound purpose and with a sense of belonging to a meaningful social circle. There are many areas of social needs where we can make a difference instead of wasting our time, minds, and hearts in the pursuit of senseless shopping.

The tricky question is how to get there. Over the past couple of decades, the global Baha'i community has experimented with a model of social transformation that seems to work. Communities empower themselves with study classes that provide spiritual nourishment, ethical values, as well as skills and experience for practical service to the community. This model has been used with adults, youth, and children in almost all the countries of the world. These educational efforts could be expanded and replicated. They have already shown that they work and hold great promise for the future, because they build the foundation for social transformation. People will no longer have the need for excessive consumption, because they are fulfilled with a meaningful life.

1 Tao Teh Ching…
2 Quran, 7:31
3 Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CLIII
4 Deuteronomy 6:5
5 Mark 12:31
6 Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 250
7 Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 94

Sustainable forestry in DR Congo SDG15

by John Kendall (13 minutes)

John Kendall

In this 13 minute video, Canadian forester John Kendall makes the case that a high level of community transformation is necessary for REDD+ (forest management for carbon sequestration) to deliver on climate change and SDG 15 objectives. He uses his Mai Ndombe REDD+ project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a case study in community engagement, with efforts to involve all parts of the community and to create consciousness that communities that are united can take charge of their own destiny. Agroforestry and similar approaches that produce rapid positive results encourage longer term planning to move away from shifting cultivation and achieve sustainability. Similar results with Congolese Baha'i social and economic development activities demonstrate that this strategy is both an essential platform and something that can be successfully facilitated with right approach.

Biodiversity and Sustainable Development (SDG15)

by Laurent Mesbah (16:43 minutes)

Laurent Mesbah

Professor Laurent Mesbah of the American University in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, explores our scientific and aesthetic ties with nature, and the lessons we learn from the rich biodiversity of the natural world. The present paradigm of growth has reached planetary limits and is destroying the biodiversity on which we depend for so many resources. He considers more sustainable uses of resources, with the efforts that are needed at all levels from global to local. Education is an important part of this, using nature to education children and build their capacities and potentials for cooperation. He gives the example of the Bloom School in Sarajevo that involves students at all levels in gardening, work in the forest, and other activities to get close to nature and learn the values from nature that are also needed in human society.

The IEF Annual General Assembly will be held separately over the Internet after the HLPF. An announcement will be sent to all IEF members with instructions on how to participate.

Last updated 19 July 2018