Submissions by IEF members to UN post2015 consultation

Submitted by admin on 29. December 2012 - 0:44

Submissions by IEF members to UN post2015 consultation
on environmental sustainability

The United Nations, as part of The World We Want 2015 process, invited contributions of 1,500 word discussion papers on what should be included in development and sustainability action after 2015. The International Environment Forum and some of its members submitted the following four papers by the 28 December 2012 deadline.

New Indicators of Human Well-being

Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum
Geneva, Switzerland


The ultimate purpose of sustainable development should be to increase human well-being, now and it the future, while respecting the planet's environmental constraints and potentials. Yet present indicators of development remain narrow and focused largely in economic and materialistic terms, when we know that development includes important psychological, social, cultural and spiritual dimensions. New indicators of human well-being at the individual level could be linked to sustainable development goals and would integrate all the dimensions of sustainable development, guiding action towards a more sustainable future.


The UNDP Human Development Report and Index ( looks at national averages, often hiding disparities within countries. The debate on indicators of development beyond GDP (Stiglitz 2009) has now been acknowledged by governments at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012 (UN 2012, para. 38).

The recognition of the inadequacy of purely economic indicators has led to a number of initiatives to measure human values, well-being and happiness. These are now producing methodologies that make it possible to consider indicators of these higher dimensions of human well-being.

Bhutan was the first country to assess its development in a culturally-relevant way through Gross National Happiness (Ura et al. 2012a, 2012b, Other countries and international organizations are also working on standard measures of well-being and happiness. The first World Happiness Report (Helliwell et al. 2012) used global surveys to assess subjective well-being or happiness. A recent European research project on values-based indicators of education for sustainable development (Harder et al. in press; has demonstrated the practicality of indicators of values at the individual level (Dahl 2012b). For a more complete discussion of individual human well-being, see Dahl (2012c).

This work now makes it possible to consider indicators of development at the level of each human being, and the post-2015 process would be a logical place to take this work forward.


It is first necessary to agree on a much broader definition of human development at the personal level. The ultimate purpose of development should be to improve the prosperity and well-being of each individual on this planet. What is lacking is a set of indicators to operationalize this concept (Dahl 2012a). Ideally, the best measure of successful development would be that it enables every human being to fulfil his or her potential in life both in cultivating individual qualities, personality and capacities and in contributing to the advancement of society.

Addressing the concept of well-being requires an exploration at the deepest levels of human nature and purpose. This can range from a materialist view of us as social animals with only physical and social needs, through a humanist addition of an ethical dimension of responsibility for our fellow humans and the environment, to the view that human experience is rooted in an inner spiritual reality that we all share in common. Each of these emphasizes different levels of prosperity and well-being. A multicultural perspective should cover all these levels in an inclusive hierarchy to be relevant to all states.

To achieve environmental sustainability, we must overcome the intractable conflict between endless individual consumption and humanity's collective need for equitable access to resources. It can be argued that well-being for everyone necessitates a more just and sustainable social order replacing current patterns of unsustainable consumption and production, in which the well-being of a few is attained at the expense of the many (BIC 2010). The economic development context within which an individual is born and lives will condition many aspects of both the possibilities for and results of individual development and well-being. How well-being is achieved and perceived will be very different at each level of national development.

There are many different ways to look at human development and well-being, from the viewpoints of various academic disciplines (psychology, sociology, education, anthropology, philosophy), or as defined in the many cultures and religious/spiritual traditions of the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN 1948) and other UN documents provide another source. The Millennium Development Goals (UN 2010) also identify dimensions of basic needs that are requirements for well-being. Every life lost to poverty or disease is a complete failure to achieve well-being.

Psychological research has identified what Maslow (1943) termed a hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. A similar perspective comes from recognizing four fundamental characteristics of a human being: a biological organism, a social organism, a thinking and reasoning being; and with a spiritual dimension as the highest realization of human purpose.

Well-being is not a static concept, but is expressed at multiple levels and in different ways throughout a lifetime. It is also relative both in comparison with others and in relation to previous experience. Identifying the multiple dimensions of well-being and developing indicators to measure them can provide the basis for more comprehensive measures of individual human development and allow states to assess their performance with respect to each individual citizen.


Combining all these approaches and extracting a synthesis has produced the following dimensions of human well-being in a more-or-less hierarchical arrangement from physical and environmental through economic and social to the more intangible.

Physical growth/health
Including food security, living standards, health care; access to energy, shelter, a clean and unpolluted environment; rest and recreation; assistance with disabilities and handicaps, care for the elderly.

Security and safety
Assuring life, liberty and security of person, home and family; protection from slavery, torture, arbitrary detention, domestic violence; safety from disasters, unsafe conditions; freedom from crime, corruption; security from military action, violent repression, terrorism.

Providing literacy, access to knowledge; formal, informal and continuing education; access to and participation in science and technology; access to information and communications technologies.

Including right to work, employment, entrepreneurship; just and favorable remuneration, ability to meet own needs and provide for family; favorable work conditions and hours, protection against unemployment; access to extension services, technical, legal and business management advice; effective process for litigation, dispute settlement.

Financial security
Protecting real value of income, savings, capital and pensions from inflation; access to financial services: payments, savings, credit and insurance; reliable money supply, means of exchange, convertibility; protection from banking failures, fraud, undisclosed risks; security from theft, identity theft, unlawful dispossession, kidnapping, piracy, extortion.

Justice and fairness
Including recognition before the law, equal protection, effective legal remedy, fair and public hearing, presumption of innocence; low level of income inequality, fair distribution of wealth; fair taxation, equitable share of responsibility.

Human rights and freedoms
Protecting personal freedom and initiative, equality in dignity and rights; freedom of speech, right to hold and express opinions, to receive and impart information and ideas through all media regardless of frontiers; right to peaceful assembly and association; freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to change religion/belief; right to privacy of person, family, home, correspondence; protection of reputation; right to own property; free movement and choice of place of residence; right to a nationality, and to change nationality; protection from all sorts of discrimination; equal access to public services, right to social security; right to take part in government, to vote, to participate in political life.

Place in the community
Assuring personal status and dignity, social networks; marriage and family, procreation and raising children, united family circle, protection of family, divorce; a community respecting public order and morality, community trust, reciprocity, resilience, participation and empowerment; mobility, public transport, access to markets; security during incapacity, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other unavoidable lack of livelihood.

Cultural and spiritual identity
Providing the right to a cultural identity, heritage and cultural diversity; having a value system, beliefs, ethics and morals, a vision and purpose in life, hope for a better life, a better world; ability to develop the potential in human consciousness; participation in culture and the arts; access to beauty, to nature, overall evaluative well-being or life satisfaction.


When sustainable development is considered in the wider context of human purpose and well-being, its economic, social and environmental dimensions are fully integrated. This emphasis on the social, cultural, ethical and spiritual aspects of well-being can also motivate changes in human behaviour and drive a bottom-up transformation in human society. The focus on the individual makes sustainable development immediately relevant. While global environmental problems and failures in economic and political systems may seem remote from individual concerns and possibilities of action, everyone can start to act to bring improvements in their relations with others within their local community and work-place, and to experience the self-reinforcing effect of visible results in improved well-being.


The following questions could provide the basis for an on-line discussion in phase 2.

What would be a universally-accepted definition of human purpose?
What are the multiple dimensions of human well-being that should be included in defining the purpose of sustainable development?
How can measuring development and well-being at the individual level help to redirect society in the years ahead?
How can indicators help to operationalize the concept of individual well-being?


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.

Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 2012a. Achievements and gaps in indicators for sustainability. Ecological Indicators, vol. 17, p. 14-19. June 2012.

Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 2012b. Ethical sustainability footprint for individual motivation. Presented at the Planet Under Pressure 2012 Conference, London, UK, 26-29 March 2012.

Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 2012c. Human development: a vision of well-being. International Environment Forum.

Harder, Marie K, Gemma Burford, et al. (in press). Can values be measured? Significant contributions from a small civil society organisation through action research. Action Research Journal.

Helliwell, John, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs. 2012. World Happiness Report. Earth Institute, Columbia University.

Maslow, A.H. 1943. A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review 50: 370-396.

Stiglitz, Joseph E., Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi. (2009). Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.

United Nations. 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

United Nations. 2010. The Millennium Development Goals Report 2010. New York: United Nations.

United Nations. 2012. The future we want. A/RES/66/288.

Ura, Karma, Sabina Alkire, Tshoki Zangmo and Karma Wangdi. 2012a. A Short Guide to Gross National Happiness Index. Thimphu, Bhutan: Centre for Bhutan Studies. 96 p. Available from Bhutan Gross National Happiness Commission.

Ura, Karma, Sabina Alkire, Tshoki Zangmo and Karma Wangdi. 2012b. An Extensive Analysis of GNH Index. May 2012. Thimphu, Bhutan: Centre for Bhutan Studies. 213 p. Available from Bhutan Gross National Happiness Commission.

Attachments: Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 2012. Human Development: A Vision of Well-being:

Tags: Indicators, Sustainability, Well-being

Let’s collaborate for a global sustainable energy system

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen

A discussion note from the International Environment Forum

Outline and rationale

Few would question the need for universal multilateral agreements and global cooperation in general on climate change mitigation and adaptation as an essential part of addressing environmental sustainability. The UNFCCC is the primary forum where this is discussed and many would probably be reluctant to set specific climate goals as part of the environmental SDGs for this reason. This does not mean that the future SDGs do not provide plentiful opportunities to address climate change in a sustainable development context. These opportunities lie in addressing some of the underlying causes of the problem. Such causes we can find in our unsustainable consumption and production patterns, our institutional framework and our value and education systems that support these.

This discussion note proposes that the deliberations on the post2015 goals and strategies on environmental sustainability includes the topic of energy and how we go about this issue as an international community of states and as one human family.

We propose that a crucial challenge is the transforming our system of producing and consuming energy from one that is largely based on a few non-renewable resources that contribute to climate change and that is not reaching many of the poor of society, into a sustainable system with low or no-carbon intensity and that at the same time ensure availability of affordable energy sources for those currently deprived of modern energy services and for future generations.

We also propose that an important way to address this challenge is a change in the mindset and approach of states (in particular) and other actors towards energy. The change in mindset is one of moving from one of looking at energy as a national security issue for which countries are in competition with each other to one of looking at a global sustainable energy system as a global public good. This change in mindset would in turn enable a change in approach towards global collaboration for sustainable energy.

Presentation of exisiting findings

Public goods are resources that are non-rival and non-excludable. This means that there can be no exclusion of those who refuse to pay for the good or service to enjoy the benefits, and that its use by one person does not impact on another’s use. Because of their character, public goods – and particularly global public goods – risk being under-provided. The example of a stable global climate system, which is clearly a global public good, is in extreme underprovision as we all know.

In a recently published paper in ‘Ecological Economics’ Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen et al (2012) argued that that there are good reasons, both normative and analytical, to view the sustainability of the global energy system as a global public good. For the individual consumer, energy is of course both excludable and rival. They could therefore only argue this by taking a global systems perspective. A parallel for this can be found in the stability of the global financial system. Once financial stability has been achieved, everyone benefits from it and no one can be excluded. The same goes for a global energy system that is efficient and has low or no carbon intensity. Once it is established it would be a global public good for at least two reasons. Firstly, it would give the non-excludable and non-rival benefits of a less dangerous degree of climate change and reduced air pollution. Secondly, such an energy system would mean that more people would have access to modern energy services in the future, when current energy sources become scarcer and more expensive. Access to modern energy services is a pre-requisite for economic and social development.

The possibilities for multilateral win-win cooperation around energy have been neglected for decades. An illustration of this is the fragmented and ad hoc approach to develop both norms and action around energy for sustainable development, especially within the UN System (Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen 2010). For example, the Rio+20 Outcome Document has five paragraphs dedicated to energy using the most general and non-committal language, including: “We…recognise the importance of promoting incentives in favour of, and removing disincentives to, energy efficiency and the diversification of the energy mix, including promoting research and development in all countries, including developing countries.” (para 128). This language is even weaker than the soft goal of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development where countries agreed with “a sense of urgency, [to] substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources with the objective of increasing its contribution to total energy supply…” (para 20).

It is society’s choice to change the mind-set from looking at energy as – for example, a national security issue where countries consider each other as competitors – to looking at the sustainability of the global energy system as a global public good. If we did so, then the issue of global collaboration on energy would become less sensitive and more open to discussion about the types of global collaboration on sustainable energy that would make sense. Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen suggest, based on the subsidiarity principle, that multilateral collaboration sustainable energy becomes desirable when it is effective and necessary. For example, this can be achieved by strengthening the capacity and motivation of countries to take action, addressing barriers in the international system and targetting the global public good properties of global sustainable energy collaboration, including knowledge creation and diffusion, and international standards and targets.

Questions for discussion

- What is the role of global collaboration for creating a sustainable energy system?
- What particular areas of collaboration could bring most benefit in the short term (considering the haste to reduce greenhouse gas emissions)?
- How can civil society become more engaged in the energy policy making at different levels (considering the technical character of the sector etc.)
- What type of SDGs could be adopted and serve a transition to a sustainable energy system (considering either numerical targets in energy efficiency, renewable energy etc. or targets in global knowledge sharing, regulation etc.)


Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, S.I., Jollands, N., Staudt, L., 2012. Global governance for sustainable energy: The contribution of a global public goods approach. Ecological Economics 83, pp.11-18.

Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, S.I., 2010. The United Nations and global energy governance: past challenges, future choices. Global Change, Peace and Security 22, 175–195.

Tags: Environment, Sustainability

Creating Moral Agents of Change - A neglected generation

Husseim Stuck

Imagine for a moment that there were individuals amongst us with a keen sense of altruism, an acute sense of justice, eagerness to learn about the universe and a desire to contribute to the construction of a better world, but that their entire generation remained neglected and deprived of their true identity because of tags like problematic, lost in the throes of tumultuous physical and emotional change, unresponsive and self-consumed. "In the young people of the world, then, lies a reservoir of capacity to transform society waiting to be tapped." A program needs to be instilled in for the youth which permits the individual to partake of his twofold moral purpose, namely to develop their inherent potentialities and to contribute to the transformation of society and thus to the development of a sustainable future. In order to act effectively, individuals need to be imbued with a strong sense of purpose that impels them both to transform their own selves and to contribute to society. On a personal level, this purpose is directed towards the development of one’s vast potentialities, comprising both those virtues and qualities that should adorn every human being and those talents and characteristics that are the individual’s unique endowments. On a social level, it is expressed through dedication to the promotion of the welfare of the human race. These aspects are twofold and fundamentally inseparable. Thus individuals' behaviour shapes their environment and they are in same way shaped by their environment. Unless the transformation of both individual character and environment are addressed simultaneously, the full potential of humanity cannot be realized. In this context one cannot develop virtues and talents in isolation, but only through effort and activity for the benefit of others. If the focus is only on one’s sense of purpose, on developing one’s own potential, objectivity and perspective are lost. On the other hand, with no outside interactions and social goals, one has no standard by which to judge personal progress and no concrete result by which to measure one’s own development. A person forgetful of the social dimension of moral purpose is prone to subtle forms of ego - combinations of guilt, self-righteousness, and self-satisfaction. In this thread of thought, a program needs to be created for youth that includes the strengthening of a culture in which learning is the mode of operation, a mode that fosters the informed participation of more and more people in a united effort to apply their whole energies in this twofold process of working in themselves as well as contributing to the betterment of society including the millennium goals, thus training them as moral agents of change towards sustainability. The program should invite all to assume a posture of humility, a condition in which one becomes forgetful of self, and in such a state labour together ceaselessly, delighting not so much in their own accomplishments but in the progress and services of others. In such a way, may these moral agents of change gain their true identity which has been denied to them and allow them to naturally work shoulder to shoulder to bring into the midst of reality a sustainable future and honour their call that "youth can move the world".

Tags: #participation; youth, Voice, participation, change, Sustainable, society, Environment, Education, population, Sustainability, Ethics, Virtue, Morality, Philosophy of education, Religion Belief

Topics: Ethics

Values and education for responsible, sustainable living

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen

A discussion note from the International Environment Forum (IEF) and The Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL)

Sustainable lifestyles are central to overcoming poverty and conserving and protecting the natural resource base for all. Sustainable methods of production are also needed; use of resources needs to be minimized; and pollution and waste reduced. To achieve sustainable lifestyles and environmentally friendly production in the current state of multiple global crisis, it is necessary to foster a harmonious dynamic between the material and non-material (or moral) aspects of production and consumption. Such a dynamic must be based on a reexamination of our concepts of human nature, development and the nature of progress and prosperity. It must be founded on rational scientific enquiry while retaining respect for the values underlying cultures around the world. Thus, by focusing on the values and ethical principles motivating choices and by stimulating innovation in education, people will be better able to understand the problems they are currently facing, and to react differently. A process of value-based social learning needs to become more firmly embedded in communities in order to give rise to solutions to the many complex and constantly evolving challenges of the present and the future.


Education, and particularly education that includes value-based learning about our dependence on ecosystem services in all their diverse forms, is one of the key cross-cutting isues for environmental sustainability. This is a prerequisiet for our ability to generate well-educated, creative societies that can overcome the integrated sustainability challenges we face. Thus, education is inextricably linked to well-balanced development that takes into consideration the ethical, social, environmental and economic dimensions of an improved quality of life for present and future generations.

The global financial and economic crisis together with other crises linked to climate change, food and energy, have demonstrated the need for viable, long-term solutions. A system of production and consumption imposing significantly lower pressures on natural resource stocks and the environment while improving the quality of life and social well-being for all, is now widely recognised as necessary in order to move to sustainable development. This has given new relevance to debates on how education should respond to changing realities and contribute to a better future.

Education should not be understood in a narrow sense so that it simply means learning to consume and produce less or different (more sustainably). Instead, such education should serve to empower consumers by making them aware of the principles guiding their choices, their rights and responsibilities as well as the needs of individuals throughout the world. It should equip them with critical thinking skills to be conscious consumers and active, compassionate citizens. Education for sustainable development should train people to support business practices and government policies that are ethically sound, seek eco-efficiency, provide a wide range of choices and alternatives, and supply reliable information to consumers. Changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production requires changes in attitudes and behaviours on a massive scale. Such education needs to be based on multi-stakeholder partnerships, research and activities which support sustainable lifestyles innovation in both developed and developing countries.

Regulations, new technology and material incentives alone cannot bring about significant attitude and behavior changes. Education cannot do this alone either. Together, education, regulations and material incentives/new technology can provide the necessary knowledge, frameworks and motivation for constructive change to sustainable living. Together they can provide the foundations for the transitions needed to achieve a more equitable and sustainable economy.

Present findings:

There exist much research and discourse on the issues of values and sustainable development as well as on education and sustainable development. Below is just a small selection of references:

- World Happiness Report; (2012). ed. John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs.

- Prosperity without Growth? (2009) Tim Jackson, University of Surrey.

- The Empathic Civilization; (2009) Jeremy Rifkin; publ:The Penguin Group.

- Rethinking Prosperity; (2011) Baha’i International Community.

- Creating Our Common Future, Educating for Unity in Diversity; (2001) ed. Jack Campbell, UNESCO publ.

- The Eco Principle: Ecology and Economics in Symbiosis; (1996) Arthur Lyon Dahl; George Ronald Publ.

- Education and Climate Change, Living and Learning in Interesting Times; (2010) ed. Fumiyo Kagawa and David Selby.

-What’s Mine is Yours; (2010) Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers; Collins publ.

Relevant questions:

- How can countries and communities be encouraged to include a comprehensive program of value-based, holistic, interdisciplinary and practical education for sustainable living in their curricula, teacher training, school activities and informal education?
- What should a 10-year framework of programs on sustainable consumption and production contain to support the development of education for sustainable living in formal and informal educational systems in all countries as well as dissemination of good practices, learning kits, guidelines and material?
- How can such a framework of programs build upon the work of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development?
- How can we ensure focus on life skills and creative social learning processes?
- Where can the resources for carrying out the above-mentioned programs be acquired?
- How can broader partnerships for this kind of education be stimulated, partnerships that go beyond the formal educational institutions and that include governmental agencies, private actors (in marketing etc.) and academic actors?

Links: and

Last updated 29 December 2012