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Leaves 14(2) February 2012

 

LEAVES
Newsletter of the
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
Volume 14, Number 2    15 February 2012

                                       

 

Website: iefworld.org
Article submission: newsletter@iefworld.org Deadline next issue 13 March 2012
Secretariat Email: ief@iefworld.org General Secretary Emily Firth
Postal address: 12B Chemin de Maisonneuve, CH-1219 Chatelaine, Geneva, Switzerland

From the Editor

This newsletter is an opportunity for IEF members to share their experiences, activities, and initiatives that are taking place at the community level on climate change action. All members are welcome to contribute information about related activities, upcoming conferences, news from like-minded organizations, recommended websites, book reviews, etc. Please send information to newsletter@ief.org.

Please share the Leaves newsletter and IEF membership information with family, friends and associates, and encourage interested persons to consider becoming a member of the IEF.


 

Internet Learning Course on
Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind

The Wilmette Institute, an educational agency of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, has offered Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind four times: 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2011, and will probably offer it again in the fall of 2013. To date, there have been 192 learners in the course. Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind has been the most popular course for people outside the US that the Wilmette Institute has offered. Of the 192 who have taken the course, at least 74 lived in 24 countries outside the US. Australia provided 13 learners, Canada 12, the U.K. 11, New Zealand and Costa Rica 7 each, and India 5. Other countries with one or two learners include: Belgium, Brazil, Cambodia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Qatar, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Timor Leste, and Zambia.

Arthur Lyon Dahl, designer of the course, has been lead faculty for each of the four offerings and has steadily improved the course content and organization each time based on experience. Arthur’s book Ecoprinciple has been a principal text, but the course also uses many United Nations documents plus some websites (such as a website that helps you calculate your “ecological footprint”). The faculty has stayed largely the same throughout.

The course was inaugurated on the suggestion of Peter Adriance and represented a collaboration of Wilmette Institute, the Office of External Affairs, and the International Environmental Forum to contribute to the U.N. International Decade for Sustainable Development. The 2005 course was co-sponsored by IEF, and the Wilmette Institute has continued the course since then.

All Wilmette Institute courses are open to anyone in the world, and scholarships are available for tuition. Classes are generally either 13 or 7 weeks, and the movement is toward the 7 week period. It appears the faculty will collaborate on a new course on Climate Change, possibly available this fall for the first time — any interest???

 

The Wilmette Institute is always interested in proposals for new courses
The proposals should include: a course title, course summary (2-4 sentences), name of the lead faculty and suggestions for support faculty, length of course (moving toward 7-week courses), names of the various units, and the learning objectives (usually 3 or 4). The proposal need only be 1-2 pages in length. If the Institute accepts the proposal, the process of creating the course and publicizing it rarely takes less than six months. More information can be found at http://www.wilmetteinstitute.org. Proposals should be sent to wi@usbnc.org.

 

Inequality between rich and poor highlighted by UN panel

Bahá'í World News Service http://news.bahai.org/story/886

Ming Hwee Chong

Ming Hwee Chong, pictured center, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, addresses a panel discussion held at the UN as part of this year's session of the Commission for Social Development. Pictured far left is Jomo Kwame Sundaram, UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development.

Ambassador Valerio

Among the top-level UN diplomats brought together for a discussion on Wednesday 1 February was Ambassador Jorge Valero, pictured left, Permanent Representative for Venezuela to the UN and Chair of the Commission for Social Development. Also present were Christine Bockstal, center, Chief of the Technical Cooperation and Country Operations Group for the Social Security Department of the International Labour Organization; and Sara Burke, right, Senior Policy Analyst at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

UNITED NATIONS, 7 February 2011, (BWNS) – While the economic crisis has led many to focus on inequalities at the national level, the extremes between rich and poor internationally have also grown to become a threat to global stability. That was among the themes raised by a panel here, held as part of this year's session of the UN Commission for Social Development, which runs until Friday.

Focusing on the Commission's theme of poverty eradication, the discussion – organized by the Baha'i International Community and co-sponsored by ATD Fourth World – brought together top-level UN diplomats, officials from UN agencies, and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

In his remarks, Ambassador Jorge Valero – Permanent Representative for Venezuela to the UN and Chair of the Commission for Social Development – blamed growing inequality on the excesses of global capitalism. "Inequality and poverty, climate change and the destruction of ecosystems are outstanding issues on the international agenda," said Ambassador Valero. "These calamities can only be effectively addressed by attacking the structural causes that generate them: a consumerist, selfish and predatory global system that is based on the commodification of man and nature." Jomo Kwame Sundaram, UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development, said that while the issue of inequality is often examined from the national viewpoint, two-thirds of global inequality stems from differences between countries. International differences are "very, very stark," he said, noting that such inequalities have increased over the last three decades.

"The big promise of financial globalization was that if you ease restrictions, there will be a free flow of capital, and it will flow from rich to poor. This didn't happen. Capital flowed uphill, from the poor to the rich," said Dr. Sundaram. Other participants in the panel – held on Wednesday 1 February – included: Isabel Ortiz, Associate Director of Policy and Practice at UNICEF; Christine Bockstal, Chief of the Technical Cooperation and Country Operations Group for the Social Security Department of the International Labour Organization; and Sara Burke, a Senior Policy Analyst at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Dr. Ortiz reported that the top 20 percent of the world's population has more than 80 percent of the world's income – but the poorest 20 percent have less than one percent of the global income. "National redistribution is not enough to address inequality," she said. "There is a strong link between high income inequality and social unrest and economic instability."

In his remarks, Ming Hwee Chong of the Baha'i International Community (BIC) drew attention to recent remarks made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about income inequality at all levels increasing over the last 25 years and posing a serious barrier worldwide to poverty eradication and social integration. Mr. Chong said it is time to ask some critical questions regarding the relationship between poverty eradication and the economic extremes that now exist in the world. Introducing a BIC statement prepared for the Commission, Mr. Chong noted that relationships of dominance – one nation over another, one race over another, or one class or gender over another – contribute to inequitable access to resources and knowledge. The statement also expresses concern that a "materialistic worldview, which underpins much of modern economic thinking, reduces concepts of value, human purpose and human interactions to the self-interested pursuit of material wealth." Mr. Chong said that – while much attention has been paid to the political, policy and transactional dimensions of the current crisis – the aim of the discussion was to collaborate on "creating a space to dig deeper in order to bring to the surface some of the underlying assumptions that shape our economic and social reality."

 

Statement submitted by Baha’í International Community
to the Commission for Social Development, Fiftieth session
1-10 February 2012

United Nations E/CN.5/2012/NGO/17

Poverty eradication programmes have generally focused on the creation of material wealth. While these measures have improved living standards in some parts of the world, inequality remains widespread. In its 2005 Report on the World Social Situation, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat highlighted the growing chasm between formal and informal economies, the widening gap between skilled and unskilled workers and the growing disparities in health and education, as well as in opportunities for social, economic and political participation. It has been well documented that the focus on growth and income generation has not necessarily translated into significant social improvements, and that growing inequality has rendered the global community increasingly unstable and insecure.

The Baha’í International Community wishes to contribute to the Commission’s discussion of poverty eradication by considering the related phenomena of the extremes of poverty and wealth. While the goal of poverty eradication is widely endorsed, the notion of eliminating extremes of wealth is challenging to many. Some fear that it could be used to undermine the market economy, to stifle entrepreneurship or to impose income equalization measures. This is not what we mean. To be sure, material wealth is of critical importance to the achievement of individual and collective goals; by the same token, a strong economy is a key component of a vibrant social order. We propose that recognition of the problem of the extremes of poverty and wealth concerns itself, in essence, with the nature of relationships that bind individuals, communities and nations. Today, most of the world’s people live in societies characterized by relationships of dominance — whether of one nation over another, one race by another, one social class by another, one religious or ethnic group by another, or one sex by another. In this context, a discourse on the elimination of the extremes of poverty and wealth presumes that societies cannot flourish in an environment that fuels inequitable access to resources, to knowledge and to meaningful participation in the life of society.

In this contribution, we briefly reflect on the manner in which the following aspects of society contribute to these extremes: a materialistic worldview, assumptions about human nature, the means of generating wealth and access to knowledge. We propose an alternative set of assumptions and consider how these might advance a more equitable economic environment.

The dominant model of development depends on a society of vigorous consumers of material goods. Endlessly rising levels of consumption are cast as indicators of progress and prosperity. This materialistic worldview, which underpins much of modern economic thinking, reduces concepts of value, human purpose and human interactions to the self-interested pursuit of material wealth. The inevitable result, an unfettered cultivation of needs and wants, has led to a system dependent on excessive consumption by the few, while reinforcing exclusion and poverty for the many.

As most people would acknowledge, however, the materialistic worldview does not capture the totality of human experience. This includes expressions of love and self-sacrifice, the quest for knowledge and justice, attraction to beauty and to truth and the search for meaning and purpose, to name but a few. In fact, the progress and vitality of the social order requires a coherent relationship between the material and spiritual dimensions of human life. Within such an order, economic arrangements support the development of just and peaceful human relations and presume that every individual has a contribution to make to the betterment of society.

Consider that, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics, nearly 800 million adults cannot read or write; that two and a half billion people lack basic sanitation; and that nearly half of the world’s children live in poverty. At the other extreme, a mere handful of individuals, approximately 500 billionaires, control 7 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). We have an economic system that generates extreme inequality. Many assume that such inequality, while undesirable, is necessary for the generation of wealth. If the process by which wealth is accumulated is characterized by the oppression and domination of others, how, in such an environment, can we hope to mobilize the material, intellectual and moral resources needed to eradicate poverty?

Many would acknowledge that the legitimacy of wealth depends on how it is acquired and how it is expended. Wealth is commendable to the highest degree if it is acquired through earnest effort and diligent work, if the measures to generate that wealth serve to enrich society as a whole and if the wealth obtained through those measures is expended to promote knowledge, education, industry and, in general, to advance human civilization. The principle of justice can be expressed on different levels related to the process of the acquisition of wealth. Employers and their employees, for example, are bound to the laws and conventions that regulate their work. Each is expected to carry out his or her responsibilities with honesty and integrity. At another level, we can consider whether the measures generating the wealth are serving to enrich society and to promote its well-being. The various approaches to obtaining wealth must enter into the discourse on poverty eradication, so that measures which involve the exploitation of others, the monopolization and manipulation of markets and the production of goods that promote violence and tear at the social fabric can be fully explored and scrutinized by the generality of the people. For example, we can ask: Is the relationship between wages and the cost of living just and equitable? What kind of wealth-generating measures could serve to enrich the generality of people rather than a select few?

Alongside this discourse, the eradication of the extremes of poverty and wealth will require no less than a knowledge revolution. Such a revolution will need to redefine the role of every individual, community and nation in the generation and application of knowledge. It will need to acknowledge both science and religion as two complementary systems of knowledge, which throughout history have made possible the investigation of reality and the advancement of civilization. As these processes unfold, they will help to transform the quality and legitimacy of education, of science and technology, as well as patterns of consumption and production. The masses of the world’s people cannot continue to be regarded only as consumers and end-users of technology originating in industrial countries. Such an orientation suffocates the necessary levels of human enterprise and creativity needed to address today’s pressing challenges. The development of capacity to identify technological need, to innovate and to adapt existing technologies is vital. If successfully developed, such capacity would serve to break the unbalanced flow of knowledge from North to South, from urban to rural and from men to women. It would help to expand the concept of “modern” technology to one characterized by locally defined needs and by priorities that take into account a community’s material and spiritual well-being.

As expressed in the introduction to this statement, the eradication of poverty cannot be conceived in terms of improving the material wealth of the poor alone. It is a larger undertaking rooted in relationships that define the interactions between individuals, communities and nations. We invite other parties actively working to establish a more just and equitable social and economic order to engage with us in dialogue about these underlying issues in order to learn from each other and to collectively advance efforts towards these ends. We conclude with a number of questions for your consideration:

What is the purpose of an economy? What assumptions about human nature underlie our understanding of the purpose of an economy? How do we understand the concept of wealth?

In what ways do the extremes of poverty and wealth stifle development, empowerment and healthy relationships? What kinds of identities are formed with the existence of these two extremes (for example, dependent, self-righteous, consumer, producer and so forth)? How do these identities perpetuate inequality?

What is the role of knowledge — as derived from both science and religion — in transforming our economic structures and processes?

How can we conceptualize the nature and purpose of work, wealth and economic empowerment beyond notions of utility maximization on the part of self-interested individuals?

What are the roles of the individual, the community, the corporate sector and elected leaders vis-à-vis the elimination of the extremes of poverty and wealth? What does this look like in practice?

What are the entry points for making changes in the economy? What motivates individuals, communities, corporations and Governments to reform economic structures and processes? From where do they derive their purpose and commitment?

What widely held conceptions or beliefs hinder our ability to transform the economic systems we have today? How can these be overcome?

 

Rio2012

Rio+20: Making it Happen newsletter

Volume 3, Issue 2, 14 Feb 2012 is now available
200 million people are unemployed during the global economic recession; however 1.3 billion do not earn enough to lift themselves and their dependents out of poverty. As job creation remains a vital part of economic recovery, green and decent jobs can play a critical role in protecting the environment, promoting social inclusion and aiding in a transition to a low-carbon economy. In Volume 3, Issue 2, the Rio+20: Making it Happen newsletter focuses on jobs, one of the seven priority issues that the Conference will address. Also in this issue: approaching deadlines, the launch of the 2011 World Youth Report, an e-Discussion with ECOSOC, news from Major Groups, and upcoming events.

If you do not currently subscribe to this newsletter, you can do so on the site: http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/newsletter.html. You can also download the current issue, as well as all PDF archived issues beginning 1 Dec 2010.

 

Brooking publication

TRADE, CLIMATE CHANGE, AND THE ROLE OF VALUES IN GLOBAL GOVERNANCE

An article with the above title, by IEF member Joachim Monkelbaan, International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development in Geneva, has been included in the Brooking Global Economy & Development publication on Global Governance Audit. Reference is made the Baha’i International Community’s 2005 statement “The Search for Values in an Age of Transition.”

Monkelbaan states that “Tackling increasingly complex and integrated global governance issues, such as trade and climate change, will require support beyond governments. To get civil society more involved in global governance, globalization needs to be more of a 'bottom-up' enterprise and requires electoral support.” He describes four steps in this process and a “new paradigm should take hold — that of the interconnected nature of our challenges and our prosperity” along with the search for shared values.

Download the 44 page PDF report at: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2012/02_global_governan...

 

GSP

High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP) presents its report
to the Secretary-General on 30 January 2012 in Addis Ababa

The 22-member Panel, established by the Secretary-General in August 2010 to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development and low-carbon prosperity, was co-chaired by Finnish President Tarja Halonen and South African President Jacob Zuma. The Panel's final report, "Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing", contains 56 recommendations to put sustainable development into practice and to mainstream it into economic policy as quickly as possible.

The 99 page report and a 25 page overview of it, along with a press release from the launch event, can be found at: http://www.un.org/gsp/report.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's statement from the GSP launch event can be found at: http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=5831

 

UN Human Rights Council

Report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council Analytical study on the relationship between human rights and the environment

The Report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council makes specific proposals this year for a human right to a healthy environment. The IEF has already been involved in this through the interfaith group on human rights and climate change in Geneva.

The report discusses the theoretical issues that arise in the relationship between human rights and the environment; major environmental threats and their impact on human rights; how environmental protection contributes to the realization of human rights; the extent to which national constitutions have incorporated environmental rights and responsibilities; the work of the Charter of the United Nations and human rights treaty bodies regarding the relationship between human rights and the environment; the evolving jurisprudence of regional human rights bodies; and the debate over the extraterritorial dimension of human rights and environment. Lastly, the analytical study also offers conclusions and recommendations.

See document A/HRC/19/34 at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/19session/reports.htm

 


Updated 20 February 2012