23rd Annual Conference of the
International Environment Forum
Planetary Health and Sustainable Development
Auckland and Rotorua, Aotearoa New Zealand
5-14 April 2019
The IEF 23rd Annual Conference in New Zealand included five interrelated events around the general theme of Planetary Health and Sustainable Development. These were a seminar at the Auckland University of Technology; co-sponsoring a Sub-plenary at the World Conference on Health Promotion in Rotorua, and another presentation at the conference; a lecture-workshop at the Browns Bay Baha'i Hall in north Auckland; and a seminar at the Auckland Baha'i Centre. IEF President Arthur Dahl was also interviewed on Radio New Zealand. The IEF General Assembly was held during the conference. A number of IEF members and associates in New Zealand contributed to the conference organization, including Sylvia Aston, Lesley Bradley-Vine, Marjolein Lips-Wiersma, Nizar Mohamed and Dennis Worley, and their collaboration was greatly appreciated.
Seminar at Auckland University of Technology, 5 April 2019
Theme: Inner Climate Change: The Transformative Power of Spiritual Worldviews for Sustainability
This afternoon seminar was organised by IEF member Marjo Lips-Wiersma, Professor of Ethics and Sustainability Leadership at the Auckland University of Technology, with more than 40 registered participants, and consisted of short talks and group consultation.
In the opening presentation on Linking spirituality to the Sustainable Development Goals, IEF President Arthur Dahl introduced IEF, and then summarized the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015. The Agenda calls for a fundamental transformation in society and the economy, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defining a paradigm shift for people and planet that is inclusive and people-centred, leaving no one behind. The SDGs integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions in a spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability with the participation of governments and all stakeholders.
He quoted the 2015 Summit Declaration Transforming Our World: "We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind." "It is “We the Peoples” who are embarking today on the road to 2030. Our journey will involve Governments as well as Parliaments, the UN system and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, business and the private sector, the scientific and academic community – and all people.... It is an Agenda of the people, by the people, and for the people – and this, we believe, will ensure its success." The difficulty, of course, is implementing such high aspirations, which is where ethics and spirituality are so important.
Arthur introduced the SDGs, which include goals that place humans at the centre, where environmental challenges represent threats to human health and well-being, and where environmental solutions can reinforce human progress. There are goals for environmental resources, processes and boundaries defining planetary health on which human well-being and development depend, as well as goals about transitioning to a green economy that builds rather than undermines planetary sustainability.
Sustainability requires staying within the inner and outer boundaries that determine the safe and just space for humanity. We presently face outer environmental crises, with greenhouse gas emissions and climate change both accelerating, and only one decade to change course. Planetary biodiversity is collapsing, with the loss of 80% of insects in Europe and 60% of vertebrates worldwide. We have overshot the boundaries for global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, are inundated with plastic pollution, toxic chemicals and nuclear waste, and see air pollution as the highest cause of mortality.
We are also not respecting the inner social boundaries, with half of world population struggling to meet basic needs, many workers and the lower middle class left behind as present globalization benefits the rich and powerful one percent, and a general failure to redistribute the wealth generated by the modern economy. The result is a rejection of elites, the rise of populism and rebellion.
This has resulted in powerful forces of disintegration. The present fragmentation and polarization threaten the global human system. Vested interests block the response to environmental threats. The economic system concentrates wealth while building a fragile bubble of debt-driven consumption. The marginalized majority is susceptible to populist, nativist political manipulation, with the rise of authoritarian and despotic governments in defence of the rich and powerful.
So how do we build countervailing forces for integration? We need ethics, values, goals and visions of a better future, with which we can build new worldviews and narratives for justice and equity, able to motivate positive action by each of us. We need to ask if spiritual worldviews can open us to change our lifestyles, using the Sustainable Development Goals as a common framework.
Arthur then provided an ethical view of the SDGs, which are ambitious even if everyone supports them. He asked what do we do with the major part of humanity that could not care less, because they are greedy, corrupt, violent and selfish? An ethical approach to the SDGs can help us to understand the transformation required. For example, the Baha’i worldview is centred on the unity in diversity of all humanity, a vision shared with the SDGs. He then gave some quotes that give a Baha’i perspective on the SDGs, selected from a compilation on the IEF web site.
He concluded on a note of hope. The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals are motivated by justice “to leave no one behind”. This is coherent with spiritual worldviews of the oneness of humankind and a higher human purpose. Such worldviews can motivate us to implement the SDGs in our lives and communities. Setting positive goals can be inspiring, and with unity of purpose we can help to build unity in the whole community.
The second presentation was on Working with Different Spiritual Worldviews in Co-hosting the World Conference on Health Promotion in NZ by Sione Tu’itahi, Executive Director of the Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand and Vice President, South West Pacific Region, International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE). Sione, originally from Tonga, described our disintegrating global village that needs balance and unity to be well and sustainable. He described the interdependence that is at the heart of indigenous knowledge systems, with physical and spiritual realities connected in the web of life. Spirituality complements scientific reality, with ethical principles to balance physical well-being and spiritual prosperity. Seeking planetary well-being is like navigating by the stars in Polynesian times. We need principles for governing our global village so that we can work together as one at the local, national and planetary levels for both health promotion and sustainability.
The next presentation provided a Maori perspective from the indigenous people of New Zealand, with Amber Nicholson of the Auckland University of Technology speaking on Kaitiakitanga: More than Sustainability. She said the place I am from is part of me. Her strong connection to place through her mother acknowledges that everything has life-forces and interconnections, with terms in Maori for both the physical body and the life-force. One's power or potentiality (Tapu), its actualization (Manu) and spiritual power or reciprocity (Hau), the wind, breath or spirit of life, do not die with the body. The Io is a spiritual realm, entity or highest knowledge that can be compared to God.
The Hau underpins Maori sustainability, the conduit between the spiritual and material realms, the ever-moving sustenance of life. There is an ethic of reciprocity, a vitality or aura that is more than health and well-being, aspiring to goodness. Each place has its own Hau, a sense of calm and place, to be left there as a legacy. There is a collective Hau in a group, a relational force that cannot be separated. Sustainability is protecting the life-force, the Hau of the environment. There is an intergenerational obligation to protect the spiritual and material well-being of resources handed down by the ancestors and to be passed on to future generations.
The final presentation by Shaun Bowler, Principal Sustainability Adviser of Enviro-mark, was on Sustainability and Mindfulness, how to get in touch with our body and integrate with the land that sustains us. Mindfulness means exploring the inner climate, the inner space for the new frontier, developing self-compassion as a foundation for compassion for the earth, for each other. The small self is an illusion, the big Self is consciousness. Separation of self is an artifact of our minds and is at the root of our problems, with dissociation, depersonalization, affective disregulation, disconnecting from one's thoughts, feelings, memories, sense of identity, that can lead to denial of climate change. Indigenous knowledge is at the frontier of sustainability. The undivided self is connected to the land, the sea, the mountains, to avoid injuring yourself. Does the climate affect our health? Our health is affecting the climate. We are not aware of our Hau; we need more connection to ourselves and each other. Obesity, malnutrition and climate change are the same issue. Health and well-being are at the centre of the SDGs, and mindfulness is the missing link, connecting to the higher motivation to take climate action. Metacognition is the ability to see all the connections with empathy and compassion, taking account of other people in our common humanity, aware of our choices and forming sustainable habits.
International Environment Forum Annual General Assembly
The 23rd General Assembly of IEF was held on Friday evening 5 April in Auckland, New Zealand, and over the Internet (see the separate report).
23rd IUHPE World Conference on Health Promotion
7-11 April 2019, Rotorua, Aotearoa New Zealand
The International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) organizes a world conference every three years, this year with 1,200 participants from 73 countries. The theme was Waiora: Promoting Planetary Health and Sustainable Development for All, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) providing the framework for the sub-themes of the conference (http://www.iuhpe2019.com/en-gb/iuhpe-home). The conference was remarkable for its broad perspective integrating human health with the health of the planet, sustainability, indigenous perspectives, social justice, and economic inequality, with the poor suffering the most from poor health.
One conference highlight was the remarkable series of plenary speakers. Sir Michael Marmot discussed social justice and health, noting that social injustice in the US and UK was killing on a grand scale, with poverty rising by 10 percent. People need to live lives of purpose, balance and meaning, with evidence-based policy in a spirit of social justice. Dr. Stanley Vollant, the first indigenous surgeon in Quebec, described the damage done to indigenous peoples by colonization and the uprooting of their cultures. Health determinants are more important than health care. Dr. Anne Bunde-Birouste works on sport for social change, avoiding the dangers of sports competition as big business, but using sport for youth empowerment and capacity-building for refugee and disadvantaged children. Dr. Trevor Hancock emphasized the ecological determinants of health, with the Anthropocene the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century, and the need to reduce the ecological footprint by 80% in wealthy countries. Dr. Priya Balasubramaniam reviewed the urban paradox, with mass migration to cities for a better life but ending up in slums with an urban health penalty. Dr. Colin Tukitonga, Director-General of the Pacific Community (SPC), described the ecological disaster of climate change in the Pacific Islands and its psychosocial impacts. The island countries are at great risk, with food and water resources declining, diseases rising and the world's highest rates of obesity and diabetes. Climate change is a threat multiplier. Tomati Kruger, leader of the Maori Tuhoe people, described indigenous Maori values and their destruction during colonization. They have negotiated compensation, and the Te Urewera National Park has been returned to Maori ownership and management, but much still must be done for a people in recovery. Dame Anne Salmond referred to the outpouring of love after the recent massacre in the Christchurch mosques, and the need to build effective, accountable governance for human rights. The country is presently out of balance, with biosystems collapsing, violence, insecurity and no reciprocity. This is far from the Maori kinship with nature, generosity and respect for children. She contrasted the broad vision of scientists of Captain Cook's time with the modern categorization, separation, and quantification of reductionist science justifying colonization and white supremacy, with everything privatized to make a profit. She called for a return to truth, justice and Maori values and ways of being.
Wellbeing for everyone in a challenging world: community and spiritual health promotion perspectives
IEF was a co-sponsor of the Sub-plenary on Well-being for everyone in a challenging world: community and spiritual health promotion perspectives along with the Planetary Well-being Network (PWN) and the Spiritual Health Promotion Group (SHP). It was held on Wednesday afternoon, 10 April 2019, with over a hundred people attending.
The opening speaker was Prof. John Raeburn, Auckland University of Technology and founding member of the Planetary Well-being Network of NZ. He defined well-being as how we feel about our life, the opposite of stress, trauma, suffering and depression. Mental health is today the number one health problem. Planetary health addresses the connectedness of each of us to each other, similar to the Maori putting people first. It works for inclusion, diversity, equity, respect, compassion, and empowerment, addressing community, culture and ecology with a positive approach to building strength. It supports community houses as well-being centres with local participation and control, building connectedness for the well-being of the planet, community by community.
Dr. Tess Liew, PWN People Project Advisor and Board Member, and Community Development Strategic Broker for the Auckland Council, a Malaysian Chinese long resident in NZ, shared community health promotion principles, building resilience through resourceful individuals who earn trust in a supportive environment, listening to and engaging people with the mind, ears, eyes and heart.
Sione Tu’itahi, Executive Director, Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand and originally from Tonga, focussed on the spiritual dimension, saying that the island of humanity is suffering, as he learned from his grandmother to leave enough for the future up to the 10th generation. We should bring together the science-based and indigenous or spiritual knowledge systems. We are global citizens from one village. We should identify our global values and principles. Science and spirituality are two frameworks to restore balance and well-being. We should be planetary health promoters. We must live together, or we shall die together, because the Earth is one country and mankind its citizens. We must balance our excessive materialism, and eliminate extremes of wealth and poverty.
Dr. Arthur Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum spoke on Faith, Ethics and Values in Health Promotion. He started by describing some of the spiritual and ethical failures that have become sources of stress with its negative health impacts. These include modern lifestyles and the materialist value system of competition with winners and losers; fear for the future from such things as social fragmentation and climate change; poverty in a society of wealth; marginalization, discrimination and exclusion; isolation, loneliness and lack of community or social relations, including among the elderly; an inability to pay for basic hygiene, health care or more nutritious diets; and most fundamentally the loss of any meaning in life, direction or higher human purpose.
Faith and spirituality can contribute to address these problems. A supportive faith community can provide social support. Belief in prayer and divine assistance counters stress. Positive feelings support the immune system. A higher purpose contributes to the will to live. When work is seen as a form of worship, one wants to be of service to society. As a Baha'i writing has put it: “We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”
Contact with nature also contributes to good health. Defining the environment as separate from humanity is a recent phenomenon in Western materialist culture. Indigenous beliefs are strongly in harmony with nature, tied to the ancestors or Mother Earth. Studies show that urban inhabitants closer to parks and green spaces are healthier than those without access to greenery. Hospital patients with a view of a tree get well faster than those whose window does not overlook a tree. It is so easy to feel inspiration and upliftment from the beauty and wonder of nature. There is a deep spiritual dimension to our relationship with nature.
Beyond spirituality, strong ethics and values also support human well-being. They can provide the motivation to sacrifice superficial pleasures for higher values. One can desire to be healthy in order to serve better. A sense of solidarity with others can inspire working for poverty alleviation and economic transformation, and against growing inequality. The qualities of generosity and voluntary giving are another expression of this. Reacting to the excesses of the consumer society can inspire moderation, being content with little and meeting one's needs but not to excess. Sustainable lifestyles tend to be healthier, preferring fresh local food, little or no meat, and physical exercise with more sustainable forms of transport.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also provide a framework for action that is ethically motivated. Meeting these goals will reduce many economic, social and environmental causes of bad health, while leaving no one behind.
As the Bahá'í International Community has put it "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." What better way to health promotion?
(Bahá'í International Community, Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism, 2010)
Dr. Richard Egan, Senior Lecturer in Health Promotion at the University of Otago Medical School, NZ, a specialist on spirituality and health promotion as it relates to the dying, described recent research on the importance of spirituality to good health, with bio-psycho-social-spiritual models. As people approach death, their beliefs and values, meaning and purpose, become more important. Spirituality is a public health issue linked to other health outcomes, and needs to be included explicitly in public health planning and well-being indicators.
The discussion raised the issue of the damage religion has done, particularly to women's health and well-being, and the need to distinguish the true spirituality at the heart of all religions from the superstitions that often remained today, just as science based on reason that accepts a higher human purpose needs to be separated from materialism's narrow view of human reality. There was also the concern that medical treatment concentrating on a physical illness often forgot the soul of the patient needing the love, respect and empathy of the doctor. Spirituality should be included in clinical practice. With the diversity of approaches to spirituality, it was important not to impose a particular viewpoint from outside, but to accompany a person to reflect on and crystalize their own values. The Maori in particular had been taken away from their own teachings, creating major mental health issues, and the need to revive their spirituality and to bring the balance back.
New Approaches to Governance for the Sustainable Development Goals
Arthur Dahl also presented a paper at the conference on New approaches to governance for the Sustainable Development Goals in a Parallel Session on Multisectoral governance at different scales on Tuesday, 9 April, in the main auditorium.
The UN 2030 Agenda including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) called for a fundamental transformation in society and the economy with a paradigm shift for people and the planet that is inclusive and people-centred, integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions, representing great challenges for governance as now practiced. The goals are to be achieved by 2030, but we are already far behind. Since the SDGs are integrated and indivisible, breaking down silos, they call for integrated forms of governance, beyond sectoral ministries, using systems approaches.
The SDGs provide an integrated framework to relate the health challenges of the 21st century to the larger issues of building a more sustainable society. Health is a precondition for or a consequence of many of the targets under the SDGs. Many risks to health must be tackled at least in part at the global level, including poverty, food security, climate change, pollution and conflict. Implementing them will require a fundamental transformation in society, including in its approaches to global governance.
This calls for new thinking about sustainable global governance. With two colleagues, Augusto Lopez-Claros and Maja Grof, we have developed proposals for Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century, with a book now in press at Cambridge University Press, for which we won the New Shape Prize of the Global Challenges Foundation in May 2018.
We propose comprehensive reforms to the United Nations to adapt it to the needs of the 21st century. These include Charter revisions to give the UN legislative, judicial and enforcement capacities in the areas of peace and security, human rights, and the global environment. We also suggest immediate reforms including a World Parliamentary Assembly, stronger scientific input and technology assessment, and an advisory role for civil society and other stakeholders. We also explore transitional steps towards implementation. The aim is to strengthen the capacity of the international system to take preventive action against many health risks, and to facilitate the response to global health emergencies, among others.
Effective governance requires legislative, executive and judicial functions at the global level, just as we naturally expect at the national level. Nations will only give up right to make war in exchange for effective mechanisms of collective security and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Such fundamental change will require the gradual development of relevant international institutions and processes, building confidence in their effectiveness in reducing national insecurity. There will need to be carefully coordinated disarmament, while building trust that justice will be done. This also means that States also have to become more trustworthy, with a collective sense of moral responsibility.
Since the Sustainable Development Goals are motivated by justice “to leave no one behind”, they need such a global governance framework with multilevel governance, both subsidiarity and global governance for global dimension of sustainability. Such governance should be participatory, inclusive, with no marginalization or exclusion. It should create a system that provides meaningful employment for everyone, eliminates poverty, achieves gender balance, reduces inequalities, and provides for the health needs of all. It should be values-based, altruistic and cooperative, emphasizing social justice, equity, solidarity and generosity.
Radio New Zealand interview 12 April 2019
Radio New Zealand interviewed IEF President Arthur Dahl about the serious state of the coral reefs of the world, suffering from climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and over-fishing. One concern was the impact of chemicals in sunscreens which have been shown to damage young corals in very low concentrations. Arthur referred to the work of IEF member Austin Bowden-Kerby in Fiji replanting corals to restore damaged reefs, and his own long-term monitoring of the decline in coral reefs. You can listen to the interview at https://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=2018692173.
Global Governance, Climate Change and Solutions
Lecture-workshop at Browns Bay Bahá'í Hall, 12 April 2019
About 30 people gathered at the Browns Bay Baha'i Hall in north Auckland for a lecture by Arthur Dahl on Global Governance, Climate Change and Solutions. Arthur summarized the latest science on climate change and the efforts needed to keep global warming below 1.5°C. While there is much individuals and local communities can do to reduce their carbon footprint, there is also a need for binding legislation at the global level since the present voluntary commitments are insufficient to avoid catastrophic climate change. He then outlined the recent proposals he has contributed to on Global Governance for the 21st Century which would address this. A video recording of the lecture will be made available later.
This was followed by workshop discussions on the efforts each person could make to take action on climate change in their own lifestyle and community. For example, local IEF members have been early adopters of electric vehicles.
One World, One People, One Health
Seminar at Auckland Bahá'í Centre, Glen Innes, 14 April 2019
On Sunday afternoon, the Auckland Bahá'í Centre hosted a seminar on planetary health and sustainable development entitled One World, One People, One Health. The well-being of the planet is one of the most significant issues for humanity today. The seminar featured Baha’is who work in the field of health promotion and sustainable development. They had previously spoken in a sub-plenary at the 23rd World Conference on Health Promotion, reported on above. Mr Tu’itahi was the co-chair of the world conference held for the first time in New Zealand.
Sione Tu’itahi, Executive Director, Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand, shared his experience through Learnings from co-hosting a world conference on planetary well-being and sustainable development. It took three years to organize the conference, during which he learned the ethical and spiritual virtues necessary for such an effort, including purity of motive, humility, patience, moderation, focus, courage, love and compassion. You do this for the well-being of humanity, not for self-promotion. Sione came from a small village on an island of 500 inhabitants in Tonga, and was destined to follow in his grandfather's footsteps as a Methodist minister, but his vision was world-embracing and he became a Baha'i instead.
The conference focussed on the most pressing issue, climate change, which in the islands is considered a climate crisis with their ecosystems devastated. The usual scientific approach of western knowledge needed the spiritual dimension to connect the inner and outer realities, for which he organized a sub-plenary on spirituality (described above). A number of Baha'is were involved in the conference, including in the artistic performance at the opening. The conference was the first to give an equal place to indigenous knowledge and spirituality, with Maori one of four official languages and an important Maori presence in the plenaries. The conference issued both a general statement on the state of health promotion, and an indigenous statement. The feedback from participants was highly positive, so this should be continued in future conferences.
The second speaker was Dr Arthur Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum, on the topic: Guidance for Socially- and Environmentally-coherent Action. The presentation consisted of excerpts from recent messages from the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith, containing practical advice concerning the economic, social and environmental issues facing the world at the present time. These help to put current problems into context, warn of challenges that must be faced, and explain the practical application of spiritual principles to live a life that is coherent with Baha'i spiritual and social teachings. They diagnosed the forces of disintegration and integration at work in the world, described how to rethink the economic system for justice and sustainability, called for unity of vision in responding to climate change, and gave a positive perspective on the world that can emerge when the unity of humanity is finally accepted. The compilation of texts is available on the IEF web site at https://iefworld.org/cmpsocenv.
Video Contribution to the Conference
IEF member Dr. Mojgan Sami from the University of California prepared an excellent short video clip on planetary health promotion as a contribution to our conference. The link is https://drive.google.com/file/d/1UI9ncd5pjoqzfVuLhZ4yCweTMgsVmNj8/view.
IEF member Prof. Rafael Amaral Shayani from the Universidade de Brasília highlights the importance of spirituality for the health of the global environment in his video "The role of spirituality in creating new social and environmental sustainability mindsets: The need of a new energy paradigm": https://youtu.be/GQmEQFyycCY
Last updated 9 May 2019