UPDATE: The Manifesto for Democracy and Sustainability was launched on 20th March 2013.
With the launch of the Manifesto, there’s also a brand new website for people who want to get democracy to work better for sustainability. So if you’re curious and want to know more, or if you’d like to get involved in implementing the Manifesto, please visit the Democracy and Sustainability Platform to read the Manifesto for Democracy and Sustainability, sign up to get involved, and read and hear why people around the world are signing up.
We’d love to see you there.
We have kept the original text below explaining the journey leading to the manifesto.
Help us create the ripple effect…
Why we’re doing it
One of the main obstacles to any sort of major change is often a belief that ‘it can’t be done, in the time and on the scale required’. We often hear that kind of sentiment in our work.
The alternative to doing nothing is an outcome that’s worth actively avoiding: accelerating environmental pressures that in turn trigger huge social challenges around the world; with erosion in democracy and democratic institutions one possible outcome.
Democracy matters, and it needs to be cherished if it is to thrive and adapt to the pressures that climate change, resource scarcity and population growth will create.
These are big reasons to invest time and effort in creating a manifesto for change: a positive manifesto for action on democracy and sustainable development.
The kinds of things that could be addressed
There are some democracy challenges that are particularly tricky when it comes to the ability of democracy to deliver sustainable development.
There are plenty of different definitions of sustainable development; but one way of understanding it is to think of it as reflecting a combination of social justice and economic development linked to environmental protection and respect for the earth’s natural boundaries. Fairness between people alive today as well as fairness to future generations are also crucially important parts of the mix.
Once you start to think about democracy as a way to achieve these outcomes, we think we can offer some basic starting points, or principles, for a manifesto for democracy and sustainable development based on our work.
- Getting beyond the money: At a time of global recession and economic re-alignment between North and South, democratic systems need to get beyond money, by breaking what often seems to be an unbreakable bond between democracy and mainstream economic growth.In Europe some countries have recently seen the appointment of temporary ‘technocratic governments’. The ongoing financial and sovereign debt crises have shown how badly things can go wrong for democracy when economic and fiscal models are allowed to prioritise short-term financial benefit and political self-preservation without regard to longer-term social costs. In turn, these crises have made it more difficult for cash-strapped democracies to prioritise climate change or environmental protection. Democracy needs sustainable development as much as sustainable development needs democracy.
- Balancing expertise and participation: by finding ways to nurture an active commitment to vibrant democracy at the same time as allowing expertise, and science, to offer insights and inform policy. Democratic decision-making on climate change needs to allow room for the latest and best scientific evidence; but the evidence needs to be communicated in ways that allow people to deliberate and make fully informed decisions. To put it another way: experts should be on tap, but not on top.
- Working on the joins: so that democratic decision-making is properly set up to balance sustainable development at local, national and global levels. This would help to tackle situations where sustainable development at local level is achieved by passing the burden of unsustainable development onto neighbouring communities, or where aggregate national sustainable development is achieved by passing environmental burdens to other countries. To give an example of one area where democracy can be stretched at the joins: a policy of constructing wind farms might form part of a nation’s sustainable energy choices at national level, but for people faced with the prospect of living next to such projects, windfarms often feel very far from environmentally or socially benign. The architecture for making choices about the joins between local, national and global need to be explicit.
- Tackling short-termism:finding ways to make sure that the practice of democracy takes proper account of the long-term, and of the needs of future generations. Hungary has a Deputy Ombudsman for Future Generations for example. The Finnish Parliament has a Committee for the Future, and other ideas include Guardians for Future Generations or the appointment of a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations.This is related closely to the difficulty that democracy has in accounting for the interests and needs of people without a vote, so we also hope that the manifesto can point to practical tools for:
- Making sure that people without a vote count: by finding ways to ensure that democracy doesn’t only serve people who already have a vote, but everyone in society, including children. Children’s Parliaments or Youth Mayors at the local level offer one approach to this challenge; but if they are understood principally as citizenship education initiatives and aren’t linked to existing formal democratic process, they can fail to make a difference. Making sure that people without a vote count is also linked to the challenge of bringing concern for people in developing countries, or middle and low income countries, into decision-making in the democracies of the richer countries. In the UK, the Give Your Vote campaign for ‘borderless democracy’ encourages UK voters to vote as proxies for people in other countries. We want to identify other options too.
It’s these kinds of sustainable development-specific points of tension that we want the manifesto for democracy and sustainable development to zero in on.
The new initiative isn’t an exercise in promoting or spreading democracy. It’s about working to build a manifesto for change so that in democracies, this most promising of political systems is properly equipped to adapt and evolve so that it can deliver sustainable development on the ground.
How it will work
Up until the end of November 2012, we’re asking for feedback or new ideas on an initial set of the principles and substantive areas for action that need to be reflected in the manifesto. Importantly, we’ll be asking for concrete suggestions on practical tools: or institutions, policies or practices that can point the way to democratic decision-making tailored to the imperative of sustainable development.
The manifesto process will start in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, and we’ll have consultation stalls at a number of side events associated with the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. We’ll be posting regular News updates so that you can find out where you can find us next.
We’re happy to make our consultation materials available to others – so if you’d like to host a consultation session at your event or conference (or if you’d like us to do so), or if you’d like to make sure that you or any groups that you’re involved in contribute, just let us know. We want the manifesto process to involve as many people as possible.
We’ll take the ideas that come out of the consultation process into one or two smaller workshops later in 2012. We’ll ask participants in these workshops to focus on refining the shape and content of the manifesto. It’ll have to cover the key areas and work as an inspiring, coherent and practical agenda for change. We’ll post news updates on this stage of the process later in 2012 as it evolves.
We plan to launch the manifesto in early 2013, and we’ll then be looking for champions to help ensure that it generates the ripple effect we want to see. Can you help? Do you think you might like to champion the manifesto’s principles or agenda for change in your organisation? If so, we’d love to hear from you.
You can contact us via email at manifesto at fdsd dot org