International Environment Forum 27th General Assembly,
21 October 2023
The 27th General Assembly of the International Environment Forum was held over the Internet on the Zoom platform on 21 October 2023.
The meeting was held twice to accommodate members and associates from different time zones.
Participants at the first meeting: Todd Chirko (China), Arthur Dahl (Switzerland), Emily Firth (Australia), Arhwin Kalai Chelvan (Malaysia), Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen (Netherlands), F.U. Rehman (Pakistan), Gary Reusche (Ukraine), Michael Richards (U.K.), Rafael Shayani (Brazil), Yifan Singharaja (Belgium), Firuz Sobhani (Corsica, France), Victoria Thoresen (Norway), Daniel Truran (Spain)
Participants at the second meeting: Cedric Åkermark (Sweden), Khela Baskett (USA), Carol Curtis (USA) Arthur Dahl (Switzerland), Elsa Deshmuk (Puerto Rico), Cynthia Diessner (USA), Kiara Ehsani (USA), Tuana Inhan (The Netherlands), Mark Griffin (USA), Tahirih Matthee (South Africa), Desta Mesbah (The Netherlands), Laurent Mesbah (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Christine Muller (USA), J. Thomas Pawlowski (USA), Gabriel Porch (USA), Michael Semple (Switzerland).
Altogether, there were 28 participants from 18 countries.
1. Opening of the General Assembly by the IEF President
The IEF President, Arthur Dahl, opened the General Assembly and welcomed the participants to the IEF 27th General Assembly.
2. Introduction of members present
All members introduced themselves. At the second meeting, the presence of many young people was encouraging.
3. Approval of the agenda
The agenda was approved as presented.
4. Results of the election of the Governing Board
Members voted by email on 8 – 20 October. Michael Richards (UK), the teller, presented the election results in person at the first meeting, and IEF President Arthur Dahl conveyed the teller’s report at the second meeting. The teller’s report was approved by IEF members at both meetings.
27 members voted with no spoiled votes. This is a good turnout compared to last year when 19 members participated in the election.
The Governing Board for the coming year consists of Arthur Dahl (Switzerland), Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen (Netherlands), Christine Muller (USA), Laurent Mesbah (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Victoria Thoresen (Norway), Wendi Momen (UK), and Halldór Thorgeirsson (Iceland), the same as last year.
5. Presentation of the Annual Report
IEF President Arthur Dahl presented the main points of the IEF Annual Report 2022-2023 with slides, and the Report was approved by the members in both meetings. The full Annual Report was already shared with all the members and is available here: https://www.iefworld.org/report2023
Here is a brief summary of the consultation in the two meetings.
The first meeting started with Victoria Thoresen raising an important question: In light of the enormous divisions in the geopolitical landscape with the Ukrainian war and the war in Israel, how can we suggest some way of encouraging a greater focus on the themes that the Summit for the Future are trying to look at, because I have a suspicion that the immediate catastrophes or the immediate disasters that are occurring are stealing the energy and the enthusiasm that have been building up for years. How can we get the focus, the energy back into these items, which are constructive, rather than focusing on the increased division and conflict that are going on?
Arthur Dahl responded that the guidance we get from the Bahá'í World Center, is to focus on the positive, on constructive ways of going forward. And it may well be that IEF in its own area, environmental sustainability, can try to pick out these themes that are positive ways forward, both in our public discourse and in our encouragement of member activities.
He said: Perhaps in our outreach to young people, we can do even more to try to build those positive messages of ways of steering the natural stress and anxiety that comes from the reality of the world outside, but in a constructive direction rather than a destructive direction, using it to create energy for doing something useful.
Later in the consultation, Arthur said: “I think that's partly one of the messages we have to be trying to communicate as we go forward, is not to deny the reality of the crises we're facing in the environment and sustainability and climate change and so on, but say, how in fact do you not let this drag you down?”
Emily Firth emphasized the importance of a greater focus within children's classes on our interconnectedness with the environment and suggests hosting some gatherings that are actually based in environmental settings.
Emily also contributed that we can integrate artistic activities and creativity in our experience in nature, an integrated approach of nature art.
Arthur reported that the IEF has been wanting to create materials for children, a section of the website of things that could be used for children in building that connection with nature.
In this context, Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen mentioned walking devotionals out in nature which are much appreciated.
Firouz Sobhani mentioned how helpful practical examples can be, and Arthur informed him that the IEF has actively been looking for case studies and posting them on the IEF website here, and that there is also a collection of case studies on the BIC website here.
Arwhin Kalai Chelvan suggested that we pay attention to have more coherence between public discourse and social action.
Daniel Truran shared “I think that the most frequently asked question you get is, what can I do? What can I do next? And we're blessed with a myriad of opportunities, and then we are cursed with a myriad of opportunities. So, I think one very important thing that IEF could offer is, these are three things you can start from, as opposed to 2 million that we've found out are most useful. And of course, I would think that the first one of them is that you should consult locally on what you should do next.”
Gary Reusche pointed out the importance of rural communities and Firouz Sobhani suggested giving priority to agriculture and natural resources at the local level, because “the bottom line is the relationship of people together when they manage resources at local level, how this can be done in a sustainable way.”
At the second meeting, the major topic was youth engagement. Tahirih Matthee pointed out that, in general, youth representation is increasingly recognized as important, but that it is often more tokenism than sincere inclusion. Youth must be included in the structure of governments and organizations. Arthur Dahl then explained that the IEF has a youth team, and it was fortunate that all its four members were present: Cedric Åkermark, Elsa Deshmukh, Desta Mesbah, and Tuana Inhan. The youth team then invited the other two young people at the meeting to join them. With Kiara Ehsani and Gabriel Porch, they are now a very strong group!
The youth shared their interests and views: Kiara sees much capacity in the IEF to bring faith and science together and she thinks that her engagement with IEF has been a good learning experience. She would welcome networking among IEF members. Gabriel also thinks that a space to share and consult is important. Cedric suggested Instagram and more direct personal communications. The IEF website could also provide a forum for sharing and consulting in specific areas. The youth team will consult about the various options and find a way for more communication over long distances.
Elsa suggested that the youth team could explore contributing in some way to the Global Youth Biodiversity Network.
On other topics, IEF water monitor Mark Griffin shared his view that all the different UN conferences share the same framework - he especially followed the water conferences over the past decades. They should not be looked at in isolation. The 2023 Water Conference, for example, is under the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Summit of the Future.
Thomas Pawlowski pointed out the problem of narrow national interests and the importance of transcending them with a global perspective. Arthur Dahl responded that this has been one of IEF’s most central themes in public discourse and that this topic will continue to be highly relevant.
Carol Curtis asked the question how IEF’s spiritual approach is received by others. Arthur Dahl responded that, although some people will remain “allergic” to religious approaches, increasingly discourses include the spiritual dimension. One large opening in that direction was the statement by the IPBES on the Values of Nature.
At the end of the meeting, Christine Muller shared some aspects to consider when volunteering for IEF: What brings you joy? What are your capacities, skills, available time? What are the needs of IEF and opportunities to serve? There is also much potential in learning new things and building capacity when engaged in service.