Planning for the future
05 April 2012: Dr Scilla Elworthy, co-founder of Peace Direct, reports from a recent World Future Council meeting in Egypt. The World Future Council is a group of 50 experienced specialists in Climate and Energy, Sustainable Economies, Future Justice, and Peace and Disarmament. Coming from all five continents, together they form a voice for the rights of future generations.
Thirty-five years ago, the land north-east of Cairo was a desert – parched and barren. Today it is transformed; lush fields are nourished by abundant water and shaded by the trees originally planted to secure the sand, now helping turn sand into rich soil. The farm is called SEKEM, founded in 1977 by the Egyptian pharmacologist and social entrepreneur Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish , to try to bring about cultural renewal in Egypt on a sustainable basis.
He’s done it. The SEKEM enterprise now includes successful biodynamic initiatives, trading companies for agricultural produce, phyto-pharmaceuticals, herbal teas and beauty products. But it’s not merely a question of highly successful business; SEKEM takes care of people and society with a medical centre, two schools, a vocational training centre and a vibrant cultural life. They also have trained over 1000 farmers to grow organic vegetables.
SEKEM is living proof that a healthy, balanced, sustainable and beautiful future is possible. So this was perhaps the most apt place in the world for the World Future Council to plan its work over the next five years. The Council consists of 50 experienced specialists in Climate and Energy, Sustainable Economies, Future Justice, and Peace and Disarmament. Coming from all five continents, together they form a voice for the rights of future generations. Their first job is to make politicians worldwide assess every decision they make on the basis of how it will affect the future, and second, to drive legislative change in support of sustainable policies.
For example, the Council instantly recognised and encouraged Germany’s energy policy of Feed-in Tariffs - an advantageous rate paid by the government to homeowners, business and community groups to generate their own electricity through small-scale green energy installations such as solar panels. The Council has helped to spread this legislation globally and to implement it in various countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Another example: the Council is calling for Ombudspersons for Future Generations . That mouthful of words means that guardians are to be appointed at global, national and local levels whose job would be to safeguard environmental and social conditions by speaking up for future generations in all areas of policy-making. This could take the shape of a Parliamentary Commissioner, Guardian or Auditor, depending how it fits best into a nation ’ s governance structure. This person would facilitate coherence between the separate pillars of government to overcome single issue thinking, and hold government departments and private actors accountable if they do not deliver on sustainable development goals.
Such a post already exists in Hungary, filled by the redoubtable Sandor Fulop who has already managed to prevent the building of a large power plant in a world heritage site and, responding to the complaints of community groups, saved thousands of hectares of green lands around large cities.
This policy of the World Future Council will come to a head at the Rio+20 International Summit in June this year . As a result of the Council ’ s work, the Summit’s working draft refers to a High Commissioner or Ombudsperson for Future Generations High Commissioner or Ombudsperson for Future Generations to promote sustainable development. A number of governments and leading UN agencies support this proposal, including UNEP which is calling for a global and national Ombudsman. The Elders have also given their support.
As a way to honour just policies on a global level, the World Future Council makes international awards. The Future Policy Award 2011 was presented to the three most effective policies preserving the world ’ s forests at a ceremony in New York in partnership with the UN Forum on Forests and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. In 2012, the Award will be presented to the world ’ s best ocean policies at the UN Biodiversity Summit in Rio, June 2012.
Since the WFC founded the African Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA) in October 2009, this network has grown steadily, now comprising about 760 members from 70 countries. In order to promote renewable energies in Africa, AREA has co-organized international conferences and meetings on Renewable Energy for Sustainable African Development in South Africa, Ghana, Cape Verde, Nigeria and Morocco.
To address the funding deadlock that handicaps the kind of financing needed for the world to move fast to renewable energy, the Council has put forward a bold idea, proposing Special Drawing Rights of the IMF to develop renewable energy in developing countries. This proposal has buzzed around international think tanks and caused a stir in developing nations, leading to briefings with the IMF and governments of Germany, France and Norway. This is just one example of how the Council conceives brilliant new ideas, develops them in consultation with policy-makers, and enables them to grow big enough to fly – literally around the world.
‘ Regeneration ’ is the latest passion of the World Future Council, who worked with their host city Hamburg to found the international Expert Commission on Cities and Climate Change in 2008. Six expert commission meetings and three published reports later, they have the blueprint for the overarching vision of ‘ regenerative cities ’ . Given their direct advisory mandate for UN Habitat ’ s World Urban Campaign, they authored the lead story in Urban World showing how communities can produce 100% of their energy demand from renewable sources.
To pave the way for a nuclear weapon-free world, with the support of the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, the Council recently launched the Nuclear Abolition Forum – a joint-project of 8 leading organizations in the disarmament field, to examine and critique key nuclear disarmament issues.
Recognizing the widespread disregard of the rights of persons with disabilities , the WFC and the Essl Foundation currently plan a five-year cooperation, under the name Zero Project . The goal is to determine exemplary laws and policies to implement the rights of persons with disabilities .
The media is taking notice of the World Future Council. The number of media articles rises every year, topping 756 in 2011 when it was featured in 41 countries and widely in international media, also increasing its online and social media outreach.
The planning meeting was held at SEKEM because it is a place where the impossible has become possible. A desert has become a paradise for people living in harmony with nature, being educated, earning money in successful enterprises and nourished by culture and care. At the World Future Council, the impossible is also seen as possible – namely that challenges of pollution, violence, resource shortages, climate change and over-population can be met and overcome by the combined efforts of ordinary people and governments.
SEKEM was an inspiration to recognise the urgency of agricultural reform in order to create food security for all, while minimizing the ecological footprint, meaning that the World Future Council needs to have a commission working on agriculture. Such a commission could revolutionise farming methods, and outlaw such practices as the marketing of seeds that cannot re-produce, which has led to the suicides of 200,000 Indian farmers. The commission could be based in the inspiring surroundings of SEKEM, if funding can be found.
At SEKEM, a new five-year plan for the World Future Council was agreed. Based on a paper by Founder Jakob von Uexkull, Councillors and advisers identified 22 civilisation-saving tipping point policies in the fields of environment, economics, governance and education. They agreed strategies for each sector of work, including the mobilization of ‘ bottom-up ’ grassroots power that links ordinary people together and is phenomenally effective. They tackled the perennial challenge of generating funding for an organisation that must remain independent of any particular corporate or government interest – a David in a world of goliaths.
In 2012, the World Future Council is just five years old. If the trajectory of the last five years is anything to go by, the next five years will be exciting. Watch this space: www.worldfuturecouncil.org