From March 30th – April 2nd, more than 50 Councillors, Ambassadors and members of the Supervisory Board will convene at the World Future Forum 2017 “10 Years World Future Council: Best Policies for Future Generations”, which will take place in Bregenz, Austria, with the generous support of the Festival House Bregenz and their partners.
The World Future Council is deeply saddened by the loss of founding member and Honorary Councillor, Sir James R. Mancham, who passed away on January 8, 2017, aged 77. Read more
With the passing of Judge C.G. Weeramantry on 5 January the peace, disarmament and sustainability movements have lost a monumental figure. Judge Weeramantry dedicated his life to strengthening and expanding the rule of international law and demonstrated how the rule of law can be used to address critical global challenges such as the continued threat of nuclear weapons, the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment.
In addition to being one of the brightest legal minds on these issues, he was a tireless activist. Nuclear weapons were always a particular concern of his. As we face a future still marked by the nuclear threat, his wisdom and activism will be sorely missed. Fortunately, in the five decades spanning his career he has produced some of the most pioneering, convincing and eloquent analysis and arguments on the need to eliminate nuclear weapons.
We would do well to revisit some of Judge Weeramantry’s treatises and learn from them as we continue to make the case for a world free of nuclear weapons. These include:
As relevant today as when he wrote it, Judge Weeramantry’s strong dissent from the majority’s decision to leave undetermined the legality of the use of nuclear weapons in self-defence when the survival of the state would be at stake, is one of the most authoritative and comprehensive arguments on the illegality of nuclear weapons “in all circumstances and without reservation.”
See here for a summary.
The World Future Council co-published this informative booklet with the Weeramantry International Centre for Peace Education and Research on the occasions of the 2005 and 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conferences. In concise yet convincing arguments, Judge Weeramantry highlights the uniqueness of the nuclear threat and how our complacency risks the human future: “Never in the history of humanity has such urgency existed in relation to any issue and never were the consequences so devastating to the human future and to all that we hold dear. The danger grows not from year to year or from month to month but from day to day.”
As long as nuclear weapons exist, Judge Weeramantry’s unique insights and arguments remain powerful and pertinent. Using the legacy he has left us to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons would be the greatest tribute we can pay him.
The World Future Council is deeply saddened by the loss of founding member and Honorary Councillor, Judge C.G. Weeramantry who passed away in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 5 January 2017.
Judge Weeramantry was a Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) from 1991 to 2000, serving as its Vice-President from 1997 to 2000 and a Judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka from 1967 to 1972.
During his time as an ICJ judge, Weeramantry contributed to several landmark cases before the Court. These included a case on the illegality of the use and threat to use of nuclear weapons where he shared remarkable and poignant observations, and the case concerning the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros project which contributed to the furtherance of international sustainable development law.
In the course of his professional career of over five decades as lawyer, legal educator, domestic judge, international judge, author and lecturer, Judge Weeramantry played a leading role in several developing areas of the law. These included the illegality of nuclear weapons, sustainable development, rights of future generations, exploring the interface areas between law and religion and promoting cross cultural understanding. He was also a passionate advocate of peace education which he believed should include teaching principles of international law at an early age.
He has written over twenty books, most of them extremely influential and translated into many languages, and lectured extensively on these topics in over forty countries. His book, ‘Nuclear Weapons and Scientific Responsibility’ pioneered the concept of ethics in science, challenged the notion that science is neutral, and introduced the idea of a ‘Hippocratic oath’ for scientists. His book ‘Tread Lightly on the Earth’ offers a pronounced insight and analysis of the concerns of the world’s principal religions with the preservation and nurturing of the natural environment.
After stepping down from the ICJ, Weeramantry took up the position of President of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, and continued advancing the application of international law for the benefit of peace and humanity in his new position. This included drafting, and presenting to the UN Security Council a seminal statement on the illegality of the preventive use of force, endorsed by over 200 prominent judges, legal scholars and lawyers from around the world. As IALANA President he also penned an influential public statement, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, on the application of future justice principles to nuclear energy – in order to highlight its illegality and stupidity.
The Judge was founding Chair of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law’s International Commission, and then, for 16 years, Patron of the Centre, which is based at McGill University in Montreal, Cambridge University, the University of Nairobi, and the University of Chile.
Weeramantry also founded the Weeramantry International Centre for Peace Education and Research which produced a vast corpus of research and writing based on Weeramantry’s legal knowledge and philosophy for humanity.
Judge Weeramantry received a number of prestigious awards including the Sri Lankabhimanya (highest National Honour of Sri Lanka), Right Livelihood Award (‘Alternative Nobel Peace Prize’) and the UNESCO Peace Education Prize, which he received in recognition of his commitment and concrete undertakings in support of the concept and culture of peace through his career.
With this letter our heartfelt condolences go out to his family. Judge C.G. Weeramantry will be missed as a friend as well as a moral authority.
Speech by WFC Founder Jakob von Uexkull
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
From October 1-3, a three-dimensional street painting of a nuclear missile being fired from the ground was unveiled next to the German Parliament. The art project occurred in conjunction with the opening of an international conference Disarm! For a Climate of Peace – Creating an Action Agenda.
As a British national, living in the UK, I am witnessing some of the most turbulent, destructive and unsettling moments of my country’s political history. And not only that, but the wider European region is going through some of the most worrying times.
I first began writing this comment a few weeks back. My draft, within a few a days, was already out of date, surpassed by events and fast moving developments.
I want to deconstruct some common myths, raise some uncomfortable realities, and remind ourselves of some fundamental limits, natural and otherwise which we are already bumping up against.
First off, the myth that there can be a view from Europe. There are many, many views. There are commonalities, of course, but Europe is a patchwork of different stories. Europe comprises over 40 countries. There are 28 countries and 24 official languages in the EU alone. It demonstrates a strong diversity of histories, cultures, identities, political views, realities and priorities. And it doesn’t stop there. Our views and perspectives are also informed by our neighbours: Africa, Russia, the Middle East. What is happening, immediately beyond our borders is perhaps posing the largest tension and conflict for Europe today.
One could argue that the painful and extended efforts to fix the EU project has provided a dangerous distraction. Whether it be saving the Euro or retaining its membership, the EU at least, has neglected or simply failed to respond to critical events around us.
Turning to the UK referendum, the vote divided and split the country on a number of different lines and demographics. By region, by age, by nationality, ethnicity, class even. Based upon certain myths, lies and allegations, the vote has created a fragmented country, threatening to split up the kingdom.
The truth is however that the “Brussels” against which British voters rebelled is a bureaucracy answerable to 28 contentious governments that has never constrained British sovereignty in defense or fiscal policy, or in dealing with refugees from outside the EU. And as the Brits will soon realize to our regret, we benefited handsomely from participating in a large common market.
All that has been amply chronicled, along with the real motives behind the Leave vote: the sense among older, provincial, white voters, the ‘middle Englanders’ that they are somehow being marginalized by globalization; they had been driven by a nostalgia for a simpler and often mythical past.
Certainly, there are valid points about the European Union and about globalization to which politicians should pay heed. But that isn’t why Leave won. It won because demagogic, charlatan politicians like Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, and Boris Johnson, our newly appointed Foreign Secretary had no scruples about playing on base fears that ‘swarms’ of people of different colours and religions were threatening to overwhelm the native way of life. That is also Mr Trump’s refrain and the core message of right-wing demagogues across Europe, from Marine Le Pen in France to Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.
Ironically, after outsourcing our trade powers to Brussels for the last 43 years, the UK is now relying on the expertise of foreign trade negotiators – as Whitehall looks to recruit foreign nationals, experienced in trade negotiations, to help us. So much for ‘taking back control’!
While the UK vote has brought increased support for the EU in other parts of the region, it has also catalysed fragmentation as other EU countries seek to hold their own referendums. The Catalan government has recently intensified its war of words with Spain by vowing to use its democratic mandate to forge a long standing call for a separate Catalan state, with or without the approval of Madrid.
I could write at length about the political turmoil the EU has been plunged into via the Brexit vote, however I want to turn to immigration. An inflammatory issue that stirred up and played on emotions during the referendum and reaches the heart, and indeed the borders of Europe. It also brings into question the relationship that Europe has with the rest of the world.
The movement of people into Europe is happening on an unprecedented level since World War II. Europe has become the 21st-century destination of choice for the war-ravaged, the persecuted, the displaced, the homeless and the penniless from numerous less fortunate and less stable lands.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that over a million migrants arrived by sea in 2015, and almost 35,000 by land. And those figures are only the official records, many more arrive undetected.
Though its suffering is horrendous, Syria is but one of many disaster areas whose collective woes have led some experienced observers to assert that 2016 is already the worst year for humanitarian crises in living memory. Nearly all these crises potentially affect Europe.
Europe’s resources, capacities and attitudes are being tested, as the numbers of people, either moving through, or requesting asylum increase. So far, our response has been pitiful. Last September, Austria’s Chancellor compared Hungary’s treatment of refugees to the ordeal of Jews under the Nazis. Werner Faymann, a Social Democrat, launched a blistering attack on the handling of the migration crisis by Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister. Mr Faymann is reported to have said “Refugees put on trains in the belief they are going somewhere else entirely brings back memories of the darkest period of our continent,”
Racism and xenophobia are on the rise. In the week before and the week after the UK vote, reports to the police of racial hate crime increased by 42%, probably the highest ever recorded. Some had assumed that the Brexit vote had given them a free licence for open racism.
How secular, or mostly Christian Europe will cope with the mass migration, largely from Muslim Africa and the Middle East is now the dominant common factor at the heart of national politics across the region.
Recent horrific attacks in France and Germany also, inevitably give rise to the concern of opening our doors to potential terrorists, and creating our own ‘enemy within’.
Greece has been on the frontline of the mass movement of people. Greece, a country already on its knees economically, socially and politically, barely able to serve its own people. A country on the edge of the EU, quite literally, which has been on the receiving end of such draconian and harsh measures from Brussels, that a referendum resulted in a clear refusal to continue under the EU policies. Yet it was ignored by the governing party. And, despite the widespread suffering of its own, Greece continues to welcome the weak, vulnerable, scared and desperate, escaping some of the worst conflict zones the world has ever seen. These lands of war were, until recently, their home. To leave, with nothing, risking their lives and that of their children’s, not knowing what is ahead, or if they will ever return.
We, the Western world are guilty of the atrocities taking place in these regions. We have all, intentionally or not, assisted in creating the conditions for such dangerously unsettled and unstable parts of the world.
It is certainly grotesque that the UK, a key ally to the US in the Iraq War, and a driver of intervention in the region, now wishes to tightly limit the number refugees arriving, as a result of the conflicts. Meanwhile, Greece was a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq, yet is currently bearing the brunt of its consequences.
Poorly thought through, hawkish actions in Libya, led by French, US and British coalitions has left a country now ‘ungovernable’. To do this anywhere is reckless and foolish. But to do this on Europe’s doorstep denotes such idiocy that one wonders if the conspiracy to break Europe under further stress is so far-fetched. After all, it was not so long ago that David Cameron, as the UK Prime Minister had strenuously called for Turkey’s accession to the EU, hoping to stretch EU capacities even further, something he vehemently denied during the referendum.
There is no doubt that the numbers of people on the move today are nothing, nothing in comparison to what we face as the impacts of climate change really begin to hit.
We are only now beginning to understand how climate change will undermine some of our basic human rights, and we have yet to fully comprehend what this will mean, and the implications for what we all currently take for granted.
The organisation I work for, the World Future Council, identifies policy solutions to these challenges and helps to spread and implement them. Aware that only a rapid shift to renewable energies can address climate change, we are spreading the most effective law to achieve this – ‘feed-in-tariffs’ rewarding solar and wind energy producers, first introduced in Germany, to other countries.
In the UK, this law has increased solar PV production rapidly – although we are not a very sunny country. We are now showing policy-makers that 100% renewables is possible, taking them to places like the Spanish Canary island of El Hierro where it is already the case, and the lights haven’t gone off.
Of course, such changes require ecologically literate people and here, Europe can learn from the US. The Environmental Literacy Standards of the state of Maryland are the best worldwide, as they are a high school graduation requirement, and we are working to introduce them in Europe.
Less than a day into the job, UK Prime Minister May’s shocking decision to shut down DECC, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, brought accusations of downgrading our country’s efforts on climate change, of not taking the issue seriously. Climate has been eaten up by a newly beefed up business department, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Personally, I have never been entirely convinced by the UK government’s leadership on climate change. But in this case, climate appears to have been demoted. The move does little to reassure business, poised to invest in a renewable future, or to the broader, international community of our climate commitments, especially our COP21 pledges.
Ministries and their structures indeed shape the priorities and direction of a government, however, commitment can be demonstrated by more than just a name. Leadership from recently appointed Climate Minister Nick Hurd and the State Secretary Greg Clark can go some way in making sure climate change is elevated and hardwired into the new department. Both their records on climate are good, but it remains to be seen if they will be climate champions in the face of conflicting priorities. It has been assumed that the new department holds more power and influence than DECC, however in the face of the new Government, complete with a large number of prominent climate skeptics, it suggests we will witness a series of tug of wars.
The freeze last week, on the go ahead on the controversial Hinkley nuclear power station, at the eleventh hour, to read the small print, leads one to wonder, perhaps naively, if this presents the shift from outdated, centralised energy to distributed renewables and smart grids.
15,000 nuclear weapons are held in the arsenals of the nine nuclear-armed states. The US and Russia are responsible for 95% of those weapons, 10% of which are on what is called ‘hair-trigger alert’ – a policy left over from the Cold War, which allows these weapons to go flying within minutes of an attack being logged.
Five European states continue to host US ‘tactical nuclear weapons’. Even though every military commander agrees they serve no military purpose and can never be used, the US is about to spend $10 billion to modernise this arsenal.
The British Parliament, recently held a debate on our Trident nuclear programme. It was held thanks to outgoing Prime Minister Cameron, wishing to send a signal to the international community that we remain a player on the world stage, perversely through showcasing our stockpile of nuclear weaponry, and as well, knowing it would split the opposition, the Labour Party further still. During the debate, Prime Minister, Theresa May said she would be willing to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill 100,000 people. To gasps across the chamber, May confirmed she would be prepared to press the nuclear button if necessary as she opened the debate about whether the UK should spend up to £200bn replacing four submarines that carry nuclear warheads. “The whole point of a deterrent is that our enemies need to know that we would be prepared to use it”. These types of adversarial policies stand in the way of the unprecedented cooperation we need to tackle transnational challenges.
The World Future Council recently published a study on the Climate-Nuclear-Nexus, showing the inter-linkages between these two global security threats. Many policy-makers are very worried about this and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, based in Geneva, which brings together almost all parliamentarians in the world, asked the World Future Council to produce a handbook on exemplary nuclear disarmament policies.
Argentina’s National Programme for the Voluntary Surrender of Firearms, paved the way for a highly successful firearms and ammunition buyback and also promotes a culture of non-violence and peaceful conflict resolution. My colleague Rob van Riet brought this policy to Bosnia, a country still suffering from the animosities of the civil war 20 years ago.
The trade in weaponry, from Europe is adding to escalating conflict and wars in neighbouring countries. Since the escalation of the Syrian conflict in 2012, eight countries, including the Czech Republic and Romania have approved €1.2bn of weapons and ammunition exports to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – key arms markets for Syria and Yemen. Eight European countries that fiercely opposed to receive refugees in the EU are the very same ones that are profiting from the war.
Allow me to turn to the obvious and uncomfortable parallels arising between the UK and the US. The UK referendum debate was based upon lies, propaganda and untruths. Tidy, appealing slogans such as ‘taking back control’ used during the referendum are being echoed in the US presidential race.
The Republican convention used the outcome of the UK vote to justify and intensify the patriotic, vitriolic fist pumping hysteria ‘to take back America’. The witch hunt on Clinton generated during those debates sat very uneasily for me. In the UK, we are still mourning the loss of one of our brightest and most inspiring political figures, Jo Cox MP, assassinated in her own constituency for her views. Some Labour MPs, particularly women, also continue to receive death threats, personal attacks and intimidation.
Trump, and many UK politicians leading the Brexit campaign have unleashed, and fuelled an almighty rage and anger based on fear. Regretfully, pandora’s box has been opened.
The fact that these fires are burning in two of the most unequal countries and societies should be no surprise. As human beings, we have deep-seated psychological responses to inequality and social hierarchy. The tendency to equate outward wealth with inner worth means that inequality colours our social perceptions. It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to and treat each other. As well as health and violence, almost all the problems that are more common at the bottom of the social ladder are more common in more unequal societies – including mental illness, drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer wellbeing for children. The effects are not confined to the poor. Inequality is bad for everyone. It eats away at the social fabric of the whole society.
We need to find it in ourselves to think the unthinkable. Both of the negative, as hard and uncomfortable as that may be, of some unimaginable outcomes, but of the good too, of what we can achieve, together, if we are to turn things around.
Among other deficits, our democracy has become a dictatorship of the present, with no-one representing the interests of future generations.
Our ancestors thought differently, the most famous example being the Native American principle that the impact of any decision on the 7th generation to come had to be taken into account.
My work in the World Future Council has focused on reviving this principle, by establishing guardians for future generations. Hungary established a Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations in 2007 and last year, we helped to set up a similar institution in Wales.
We have also worked since Rio 2012 to establish a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations, an initiative now being discussed at the UN High Level Political Forum.
Thanks to the internet we believe we are engaging with the world around us like never before. This could not be more true for the millennials as they feel disconnected from the democratic systems designed to service them. Yet, in reality, our worlds are shrinking into the online bubble we wish to identify ourselves with. We know the platforms we can turn to in order to validate ourselves and affirm our views. Many Britons woke up on the 24 June and did not recognise the country they lived in. The online community they depended on and fed off, served only to feed their own beliefs and value systems.
The pace of change in technology, globalization and climate has started to outrun the ability of our political systems to build the social, educational, community, workplace and political innovations needed for citizens to keep up.
“Political power in the West has been failing its own test of legitimacy and accountability since 2008 — and in its desperation has chosen to erode it further by unforgivably abdicating responsibility through the use of a referendum on the EU,” said Nader Mousavizadeh, who co-leads the London-based global consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners.
After the destruction of World War II, the EU project emerged as a force for peace, prosperity, democracy and freedom in the world. This is one of our great achievements. Rather than let it be destroyed we must use the shock of the Brexit vote to reimagine, reform, and rebuild a new Europe.
We are all, Europe. We are all, America. We are all black. We are all refugees. The challenges we face know no borders. They transcend nationality. They transcend race. They transcend age, ethnicity and they transcend political lines.
Let us think the unthinkable.
Two women, one mission: Our Councillor Pauline Tangiora and our Youth Ambassador Kehkashan Basu are two inspirational women working to make the world a better place. As a Maori elder, Pauline has been a respected advocate for the environment and indigenous issues for decades in her native New Zealand. Kehkashan is an Indian-born, devoted youth activist living in the United Arab Emirates, frequently travelling across the world to mobilise other young people in the movement for a green future.
During our Annual General Meeting in Hamburg, the two women provided us with an insight into their lives, their work and hopes for the WFC and made one thing clear: You don’t need to become a full-time activist travelling the world to make a difference – change starts at home.
What can we do to make the world a better place?
Kehkashan: Everybody can start by practising a sustainable lifestyle in the simplest way possible, just trying to think about the environmental impacts of everyday activities. If people choose to learn more about sustainability and spread awareness, a lot of things can be done. This also means that people need to respect the rights of others and take their views and opinions seriously.
Pauline: People need to respect each other. That is the first thing we need to teach our children: To respect ourselves and those around us. It is also important that children are respected by the adults around them. And your actions will probably depend on the environment you live in. I live in a rural area and we have to catch our water and save it. So, everybody could contribute by putting a tank up by their house to catch the rain water. When children come to my house, they don’t turn taps on just like that because they know that water is the life and power of humanity.
Tell us a little bit about what you do
Kehkashan: In 2012, I started my youth organisation called “Green Hope”, which has the objective to carry forward the legacy of sustainable development and green economy by involving the children and youth of my region and also worldwide. We conduct conferences, workshops and academies to educate young people about what they can do to get involved in the sustainable development agenda and how they can spread awareness in their communities. But we don’t just talk about it. We also run small community projects so they can learn by doing. And we spread awareness through music, art, dance and drama because we feel the message is passed on easier that way.
Pauline: Personally, I wouldn’t even call it work. I walk alongside, especially alongside young people. I enjoy hearing their thoughts and ideas – and they listen to mine. I think in such conversations, young and old people can define the problems in the world very clearly. People from my generation should remember that we don’t have all the wisdom just because we are older. We should talk with young people to learn what they want and what they think the future will bring. If we don’t do that, we lose something.
Do you think that women or men are more concerned about the environment or more sensitive towards sustainability issues?
Pauline: In our community, we work together – male and female. We don’t say men are doing things better than women. We thank everyone in our community. We need to make sure that this remains the essence of who we are. And we have had many, many international calls, even from Germany, asking: ‘What can we do, we have a problem’ and I would say: ‘You need to work together. Men and women.’
Kehkashan: I think it really depends on the person and I don’t think it’s gender-specific. I am talking from personal experience. My group has an equal number of guys and girls who are equally passionate about what we do. So I think it really depends on the person as a whole and not their gender.
The Rights of Children commission is doing a really great job to secure the rights of children through national policies and legislation, for example to increase child participation and environmental literacy.
What are your expectations of or hopes for the WFC?
Kehkashan: The Rights of Children commission is doing a really great job to secure the rights of children through national policies and legislation, for example to increase child participation and environmental literacy. I think continuing this work and involving more young people is going to make a big difference in the world.
Pauline: The WFC has a very important role to play in the world, as it is not just working to change things but to actively make them better. And that is important, as you can’t just say “we have to change something”; you have to make things better through concrete action.
What changes have you seen over the years?
Kehkashan: When I started getting involved in sustainable development I was 8 years old. When I was 12, I started my own organisation and I think that was a huge changing point in my life because I learnt that working with others is so much more enjoyable. We can do so much more together to get our voice heard – much more than when we work alone. Our voices together have a much greater impact on society; it is a better way to spread our message.
I often meet people who think we young people cannot make a change, just because of our age! But now, I think our voices have really been heard and we have been able to convince people that the opposite is true.
Pauline: I am trying to represent the views and the concerns of the indigenous people. I am a lonely voice for them. It’s my belief that many people don’t understand the desperate needs of indigenous people worldwide. We had 500 years of colonisation in the Americas, 250 years of colonisation in Australia and 175 without sovereignty of New Zealand. So, where do we start and where do we finish? The indigenous peoples are not asking for much although they have lost their lands, rivers and forest – which is still happening today, for example in the Amazon. So while colonisation is still continuing in this day and age, where is the public in the world looking at?
But there are some positive developments. We had no fish in our river, we had nothing. Still, the local people made an agreement with the government department of conservation and since then, they have been working together to fence off our fish. Now, even visitors want to walk up there to see it.
Indigenous people still have the knowledge, still have their way of doing things. Many of us grew up with a basic understanding of the water, the sky, the storms and the sunshine. Sometimes I feel very sad that many people don’t understand that, don’t see that. We have a lot to offer.
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…
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!