Breakthrough: How to claim back our future

Speech by WFC Founder Jakob von Uexkull
at the IPB World Congress 2016

In the early 1990s a former British government adviser called Sir Peregrine Worsthorne reviewed the Cold War period and his own role in it and was horrified. He realised how easily war could have broken out in Europe in the 1980s through a misunderstanding while the Soviet Union was already dis-integrating. As NATO Policy was to respond to a perceived conventional Soviet attack with nuclear weapons, he envisaged a scenario where President Reagan would have consulted his friend PM Thatcher about starting a nuclear war and she would have asked him, as her advisor, and he would have adviced her to go ahead. Read more

The Brexit Chaos

Last weekend the CEO of Nasdaq complained in the Wall Street Journal about ‘The Overblown Brexit Market Panic’. Repeating the absurdity that the vote has created an “independent Britain”, as if the EU is a colonial power, he assured readers that “over the next two years, the timeline for EU withdrawal, Britain has an opportunity to become a trading magnet”.

It is rare to find so many errors and misunderstandings in such a short space. First, there is no panic because there has been no Brexit, only a non-binding referendum. This generated a small pro-Leave majority, which – according to numerous polls since – would not be repeated today.

Britain is a representative democracy with a sovereign parliament which chose to make this referendum non-binding. The Prime Minister who promised to implement it has since resigned. While the House of Commons could find strong reasons to ignore the vote, they will not (yet) dare to do so because of the fanaticism of the Brexiteers. Thus, Dominic Lawson, a columnist in the ‘Sunday Times’ has claimed (July 3rd), that ignoring the vote would cause such anger that “we could see tanks on the streets”.

So what is the most likely outcome? Will the British Parliament pass Brexit legislation, which most of its members do not believe in? The current House of Commons has a large pro-EU majority and it is unlikely that this will change after the next election.

So for now, it is likely that the process of the UK leaving the EU will go ahead, despite the growing opposition. Over 1000 lawyers have called for an independent body to examine the consequences, followed by a parliamentary vote.

Before the referendum, David Cameron said that the UK would trigger the EU exit clause (Article 50) quickly after a Brexit vote. Today this date is receding ever further into the future, with government ministers not wanting it triggered until the end of the year or even next year. Why? Because, having no Brexit plan, they have only now realized the complexities of unravelling 40 years of EU membership. As the Article 50 timetable stipulates that the UK will be outside the EU two years after triggering it, they are panicking that this will leave them without an alternative arrangement and at the mercy of their ex-partners. (Unanimity would be required to extend this two-year period). Experts have calculated that concluding negotiations and passing the required legislation may take seven years. The Austrian Minister of Finance experts Britain to still be an EU member in five years’ time…

As for negotiating new trade agreements, this may take even longer. For decades such agreements have been concluded at the EU level and the UK no longer has the required expertise. Last week, the media reported that New Zealand had offered to help out by lending London some trade negotiators…

While there is yet no panic, the Brexit insecurity is growing: “Sterling falls despite reassurance”, “Banks promise to boost lending to stop Britain falling into recession” (both headlines in the “Daily Telegraph”, July, 6th), and “Brexit vote may be the undoing of Italian Banks” (“City am”, July 6th). One of this paper’s columnists recommends that the UK adopts the cold war UN strategy of Stalin’s Foreign Minister Molotov and turns up at the EU Council of Ministers to “veto every proposal on any subject whatsoever, regardless of its merit”, until the EU agrees to Brexit negotiations before the UK has triggered the Article 50 exit clause.

One can only imagine the animosity and harm this will cause. Already, xenophobic and racist incidents have surged in the UK since the referendum. The vote has also created new inter-generational conflicts. Most young Britons voted to remain in the EU and many are furious with parents and grand-parents for depriving them of their freedom to live and work in other European countries.

So, as a result of holding this referendum at a time of strong anti-government feelings, and resentment against the privileged establishment after years of austerity, and promising to implement a non-binding vote come what may, the UK and EU now face many years of turmoil and disruption. At a time when many urgent issues — climate change, economic instability, terrorism, the refugee crisis, a resurgent Russia etc. — require the attention of European decision-makers, they will be busy unravelling the details of the UK’s EU membership and implementing alternatives. The simplest, guaranteeing continued full UK access to the EU market, would involve joining Norway and Iceland in the European Economic Area (EEA). Yet the UK will soon find that this involves accepting most EU laws and obligations — including free movement – but with no ability to influence them, and at equivalent financial costs for EU membership. The UK may believe it can get a special deal but this is very unlikely as the other members – who would all need to approve the outcome — would not want to create precedents.

So what is the most likely outcome? Will the British Parliament pass Brexit legislation, which most of its members do not believe in? The current House of Commons has a large pro-EU majority and it is unlikely that this will change after the next election.

The more time elapses since the Brexit vote, the more likely it is that MPs will assert their primary duty to act in the best interests of their country. This will particularly be the case if Scotland moves towards independence and the peace in Northern Ireland is threatened by Brexit, which will necessitate border controls between N. Ireland and the Republic.

In such a case it would be very surprising if MPs did not prioritize the peace and integrity of the UK above a non-binding vote taken years ago.

So, while it is likely that Article 50 will be triggered to appease the Brexit fanatics, it is even more likely that it will later be rescinded, i.e. that the UK withdraws its application to leave in a few years time. International treaty law allows this. Of course, this would require reversing the complex legislative process, wasting more years and risking more vetos along the way. David Cameron’s foolishness and arrogance will cost his country and Europe dear.

So what about immigration? Of course problems arise when health and educational facilities face years of under-funding due to austerity policies. But there can be little doubt that media anti-immigrant propaganda played a greater role in the referendum than actual immigration. I live in London which often really feels overcrowded with foreigners. But London voted to remain. On the other hand, areas of Britain which seem “unchanged since the 1950s” (to quote a retired lawyer living in Cheshire) voted to leave, despite very few immigrants. Voters there read the “Sun”, “Daily Mail” or “Daily Telegraph”, which worked hard to convince them that this was their last chance to stop the mass invasion of dreaded foreigners reaching their village…

“Solutions exist, it is up to us to overcome silo thinking”

Excellencies, Members of Parliament, dear Friends, dear Children,

A few years ago I spoke to a young audience in Canada about the global environment, when a teenage boy suddenly stood up and ran out of the room, shouting “Thanks a lot for leaving us a world like that!” So it is not easy to speak the truth about the state of our world to an audience like this.

I call myself a possibilist, for I know that solutions exist. But implementing them will require more allies than General Facebook and Admiral Twitter. Social Media are a great means but change requires power and this means getting engaged in public and political action. There are many examples of children and youths shaming their parents and decision-makers into changing course…

The World Future Council works to establish parliamentary Guardians of Future Generations – and a UN High Commissioner – with the mandate to ensure that our decisions, laws and agreements respect our responsibilities to them. We have developed a Global Policy Action Plan – a first attempt to bring together the key policy changes we need to tackle the major inter-linked challenges we face.

Our Future Policy Award, “the Oscar for best laws”, which we present in close collaboration with the UN and the IPU, last year honoured the best laws protecting the rights of children. The top award went to Zanzibar’s pioneering Children’s Act which includes an innovative programme of community-level child participation and peer-to-peer learning, in line with SDG 16 and 17 on inclusive decision-making. Another award went to the environmental education regulations of Maryland (USA) which mandate that all students must be environmentally literate when graduating, in line with SDG 4 calling for education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles.

Our Youth Ambassador, Kehkasan Basu from the UAE, was honoured by the Voices of Future Generations last year and I am very glad that this project is now attracting exciting stories from young authors in Asia, Africa and Latin America!

The good news is that solutions already exist for the major threats facing us. It is up to us to overcome our compartmentalised silo thinking and start focusing on the “how”, to implement these inter-connected solutions.

The UN SDGs provide an important agreed framework for action. But they contain a basic conflict, as continued economic growth threatens to destroy our natural environment, on which all life depends, long before the poverty abolition goals are reached. We must therefore build societies and economies of sharing and co-operation. There is no alternative, for you cannot negotiate with melting glaciers or spreading deserts.

With sufficient pressure, new paths to a shared, flourishing global future can be opened up quickly. In a crisis big steps are often easier than small steps because they inspire and mobilise.

On this path, you, our children, play a key role for you have not yet been conditioned into silo thinking but retain a sense of wholeness and wonder and (I hope!) a trust that you have the power to change the world!

These powerful books of our child authors provide not just hope that there are different ways but provide practical guides for the challenges ahead. They will help reframe and deepen the debate about our shared future. Thank you very much!

With his speech Jakob von Uexkull adressed UN agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, UNEP, UN SDG child ambassadors and children from local schools at the Houses or Parliament for the event “Children share visions of a just future” in London. The event was jointly hosted by the Voices of Future Generations initiative and the Mary Robinson Foundation at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. The children offered insightful views on issues such as gender equality, climate change, human rights and access to education and emphasised the need for children to know about their rights, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

WFC Councillor receives prestigious award

Dr Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger honoured with 2016 Justitia Regnorum Fundamentum Award

The award, founded by the Ombudsmen of the United Nations Human Rights Commission of Hungary in 2007, is granted for exemplary, outstanding achievement and professional  activities carried out in the field of protection of human rights, including the rights of future generations, and is presented each year on the occasion of the anniversary of the  establishment of the Ombudsman institution.

WFC Councillor Dr. Cordonier Segger received the award for her achievements spanning two decades representing the interests of future generations and environmental protection, climate change, biodiversity, natural resources, and sustainable development, for her contributions as senior legal counsel and member of important global institutions for environmental and social justice, for her tireless efforts in development of treaty law and jurisprudence, and for her commitment to enlightening and mentoring a new global generation of international lawyers through editing and authoring over 80 publications, lecturing in prestigious universities, and founding international neducational institutions and initiatives.

Other award recipients in 2016 included Mr Ferenc Snétberger, a Hungarian guitar artist of Roma origin, one of the worlds most renowned Roma jazz musicians. Besides receiving numerous awards, he is famous for his achievements in supporting, encouraging and mentoring musical talents from disadvantaged background, including the founding of a truly outstanding music school in 2011 by Lake Balaton.

“The Global 100% Renewable Energy Coalition” called upon national governments to commit to 100% renewable energy targets and strategies

Press release – for immediate release

Warsaw, 18th November 2013 – The Global 100% Renewable Energy Coalition today called at the UN climate summit upon national governments to commit to 100% renewable energy targets and strategies. According to a joint statement from the coalition, “communicating and proving the urgency and feasibility of 100% renewable energy is key to breaking the climate deadlock.” Members of the coalition including World Wind Energy Association, World Bioenergy Association and the Fraunhofer ISE Institute criticized “the ongoing stagnancy of the climate negotiations and their struggle to agree upon and implement measures that effectively combat the climate crisis.” The organizations applauded the fact that „local, regional and national governments across the world are leading the way.”

Read more

World Future Forum: 9th Annual meeting of the World Future Council in Hamburg

More than 50 Councillors, Ambassadors and members of the Supervisory Board convened for our Annual General Meeting “Identifying Policy Solutions for a World of Growing Disorder and Inter-linked Crises” in Hamburg, Germany from 5-7 March. Councillors and Youth Ambassador Kehkashan Basu will provide keynote speeches and Councillors from all continents provided their view of the future and ways to achieve a peaceful, sustainable and just future.

Read more

MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen and former UN Special Rapporteur Shuaib Chalklen join influential association of international change-makers

London/Hamburg, 20 January 2015: The World Future Council welcomes two influential personalities in its midst: Sirpa Pietikäinen, Member of the European Parliament and former Finnish Minister for the Environment and Shuaib Chalklen have joined the Council to support its activities to safeguard the rights of future generations. Chalklen served as Special Rapporteur on Disability of the UN Commission for Social Development until December 31, 2014.

Read more

UN Climate Talks: World Future Councillor Dr Ahmed Djoghlaf to co-chair critical negotiations

Lima/London, 15 December 2015 – Dr Ahmed Djoghlaf, Ambassador and Advisor to the cabinet in the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Daniel A Reifsnyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment in the US Department of State have been appointed to lead the crucial round of climate negotiations preparing for the 2015 Paris meeting.

Read more

World Future Council members and RLA laureates denounce limited focus of Nuclear Security Summit

Press release – for immediate release

Stockholm/Hamburg, March 20, 2014 – In a joint statement 38 recipients of the Right Livelihood Award and members of the World Future Council are calling on world leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit to acknowledge that, for nuclear weapons, there are “no right hands”.

Read more

Nuclear power expansion plans condemned

Global coalition of “Alternative Nobel Prize” laureates and members of the World Future Council condemn nuclear power expansion plans

Press release – for immediate release

Hamburg, July 16th 2013: A global coalition of laureates of the Right Livelihood Award and members of the World Future Council warns against an expansion of nuclear power, describing it as “an unbearable inheritance to future generations.” The statement is triggered by recent attempts of developing countries and emerging economies to build new nuclear power plants. The 60 signatories of the statement issued today express their particular concern over countries such as Argentina, Brazil, China, India and South Africa which are either in the process of expanding existing nuclear programmes or intend to initiate such programmes in the near future.

Read more