FDSD launches new direction at event featuring Peter Davies, Welsh Commissioner for Sustainable Futures


The National Assembly for Wales will appoint a Future Generations Commissioner as early as December 2015, says Peter Davies, the Welsh Commissioner for Sustainable Futures. The announcement came during his keynote speech at the FDSD relaunch event on 29 June.

Speaking to an audience from the legal, academic and third sectors, Davies outlined the far-reaching Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, passed in April. “The intended effect of the Act is to provide a framework for how the public sector in Wales does business,” he said. “It’s about building in mechanisms that improve our governance for the long-term.”

After hearing from Davies, audience members broke into groups to consider how lessons learned in Wales could be applied elsewhere. We’ll hear from some of them in a later blog post.

The event also launched a new direction for FDSD. John Lotherington, Chair of Trustees, said: ‘We want to make sure that we seed ideas, connect ideas. And also, just as we’re doing here tonight, gather together some of the people who can make those ideas fruitful and start to make the sorts of changes we need to better connect democracy and sustainable development.’

The talk, titled ‘The wellbeing of future generations: how can the Welsh act inspire the UK and beyond?’, was hosted by the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University in London.

A UK-wide Commissioner for Future Generations?

In her new Provocation, Cat Tully argues that there is an opportunity now for the Government to learn from the comprehensive Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and establish an early form of a Future Generations Commissioner for the whole UK by October’s Budget. The danger is that in the forthcoming spending cuts, short-term decisions will be made to the detriment of the long-term and future generations. If we want a political system that is open and engaged with citizens, and is future-focused and strategic, we can learn a lot by looking outside London.

Download full paper in pdf.

Future generations and the UK 2015 election campaign – looking ahead?

John Lotherington audits the election campaign to find how far discussion about future generations and sustainable development could be heard above the electoral din.

Future generations were important in the election if all that mattered was the national debt. The crucial, broader issues of sustainable development were largely side-lined, buried in unread manifestos. Some issues, like support for climate change, were agreed in a cross-party pact, with the perverse effect of removing it from debate and from the vital, participatory, consciousness-raising weeks of an election campaign.

We need to work out how better to represent the long-term and the voices of future generations in our constitutions, our institutions, our democratic practices and our elections. Maybe then they can be heard above the din?

You can read the full text of his Provocation here.

The Conservative Government and Community Energy

offshore windmills

The group 10:10 “is about doing practical stuff that helps solve climate change” and has a particular interest in community energy. In 2013 the group helped set up a renewable energy co-op in Balcombe, refocusing a “fracking village” around solar power. The Back Balcombe campaign inspired many other projects. Community owned and operated energy systems are an interesting and direct way to link sustainability and democracy.

With the insights learned from the Balcombe project, 10:10’s Esther Barlow has taken a look at the new Conservative government from the perspective of community energy (“The Tories and Community Energy”). The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) leadership believe in taking action on climate change, although in a somewhat contradictory fashion, they are heavily pursuing fracking and North Sea oil.

10:10 reports that although wind is popular and a cost effective renewable for the UK, the Conservatives want to cut onshore wind. Although tax relief for the energy co-op seems safe for now, energy co-operatives aren’t able to register as co-ops.

Sustainable Development Goal 16: Governance

women working on wood lathes in India

You’re probably familiar with the United Nation’s (UN)Millenium Development Goals (MDG), adopted in 2000, for improving well being for the world’s poorest. They carried the tagline, “we can end poverty.” It’s estimated that roughly 40% of the eight goals, listed at the bottom, will be met by the deadline of 2015. A new set of seventeen goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are slated for adoption in September 2015 (These goals are also listed below for reference).

From our standpoint here at the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development, Goal 16 is particularly interesting. Commonly referred to as the “governance” goal, it includes 10 proposed targets* ranging across human rights, arms dealing, accountable institutions, and participatory decision-making.

Recently Vinay Bhargava, of Partnership for Transparency Fund, reported on a World Bank panel that explored governance as a sustainable development goal (“5 things you should know about governance as a proposed sustainable development goal”) . He noted an overarching theme: SDG 16 will be challenging in some particular ways. It is controversial, with governments differing on key concepts such as rule of law and accountability. Some governments were opposed because they saw governance as a sovereign issue. Yet the working group for the SDGs reconciled these differences and the Goal will probably continue to require compromises. Further, for the countries that have already been working on some of the governance issues, the Goal is expected to help legitimize what is already being done.

SDG 16 is also challenging because most of the targets are not measurable or time-bound—indicators are harder to develop. Much work will be needed to specify indicators and their monitoring. And this adds another twist. Developing institutions and practices of governance for sustainable development will take time and resources. So far these resources are largely absent from the discussion.

The UN’s upcoming 2017 World Development Report will have as its theme Governance and the Law. The relationship among quality of governance, economic development, and sustainable development is complicated. Bhargava notes that some periods of economic growth have come under conditions of arguably poor quality governance. Further debates, compromises and questions lie ahead.

*Targets for Proposed Sustainable Development Goal 16

16.1 significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere
16.2 end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children
16.3 promote the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensure equal access to justice for all
16.4 by 2030 significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen recovery and return of stolen assets, and combat all forms of organized crime
16.5 substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all its forms
16.6 develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels
16.7 ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels
16.8 broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance
16.9 by 2030 provide legal identity for all including birth registration
16.10 ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements

Proposed Sustainable Development Goals

Goal 1             End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2             End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3             Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4             Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5             Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6             Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7             Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 8             Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9             Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10          Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11          Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12          Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13          Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
Goal 14          Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15          Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16          Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Goal 17          Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development


UN Millenium Development Goals for 2000 to 2015

Goal 1 Eradicate extreme poverty
Goal 2 Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3: Promote Gender equality and empower women
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: improve maternal health
Goal 6: combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Goal 7: ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8: develop a global partnership for development

Citizen Science


One avenue toward democratizing sustainable development is to engage more people in the science of sustainability. An example is The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network, led by Imperial College London. OPAL engages people through science-based activities that can be done in back gardens and local parks.

Currently OPAL is running several nature surveys that community members can contribute to, including:

Tree Health
Bug Count
Biodiversity in hedges
Water in local ponds
Air (through effects on lichen)
Soil and earthworms

Each survey web page explains what to look for and how the information contributes to knowledge about the health of the environment. A short video engages viewers with the actual process of doing the survey. In addition, there are downloads that include everything needed to participate. The final step is submitting your results online.

By helping people connect to nature through participatory science, OPAL and other citizen science initiatives aim to improve people’s appreciation and care of the environment while also advancing our scientific understanding. People become more confident in generating knowledge and seeing how their participation in this and other areas is connected to a health environment.

Read more about OPAL http://www.opalexplorenature.org/opalobjectives

Democracy and a Better Planning System

drawing of an urban plan, aerial view

“There remains a democratic deficit within planning.” –Five Radical Ideas for a Better Planning System

A group at University College London’s Bartlett School of Planning, led by Professor Yvonne Rydin, has proposed five radical ideas for better planning, with two ideas that explicitly address democracy. The five ideas include orienting planning around well being and not just growth, devolving and democratizing planning, and recognizing the value of regulation and land reform.

Idea number two suggests planning powers must be radically devolved with the authors suggesting we need to: recognise the democratic right of cities and regions to shape their future directions; and have regional and urban frameworks for strategic planning matters based on democratic decision-making.

Idea number five centres on democratic decision making for planning. A core concept here is transparency, but also recognition of the skills and time it takes to democratically enagage communities, particularly marginalized ones, in neighborhood and other planning.

Professor Rydin’s group* has produced a short policy briefing as well as a 16-page document explaining the ideas. The document Five Radical Ideas for a Better Planning System emerged from the UCL Bartlett School of Planning in conversation among colleagues and through ongoing discussion and debate. Their collective view is that the planning system is in need of urgent debate, and ultimately, radical change.

* Members of the author group include:
Professor Yvonne Rydin
Dr Yasminah Beebeejaun
Dr Marco Bianconi
Juliana Borowczyk Martins
Dr Ben Clifford
Dr Claire Colomb
Professor Harry Dimitriou
Michael Edwards
Dr Jessica Ferm
Professor Nick Gallent
Dr Robin Hickman
Dr Lucy Natarajan
Dr Tse-Hui Teh
Professor John Tomaney
Dr Catalina Turcu


First ever Environmental Democracy Index

The Access Initiative and the World Resources Institute are launching the first ever Environmental Democracy Index (EDI) on May 20th. EDI is the first index to measure how well countries’ national laws protect environmental democracy rights, namely, the right of the public to:

  1. freely access relevant and timely information,
  2. provide input and scrutiny in decision-making, and
  3. seek justice before an independent and fair legal authority in cases of environmental harm or violation of rights.

The EDI is the first comprehensive index designed specifically to measure procedural rights in an environmental context. EDI uses as an international standard The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Bali Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. National laws can be assessed against this international standard.

With the credible measurement EDI provides, citizens and governments will be able to identify and understand the extent to which environmental democracy rights are being strengthened or weakened around the world.

By establishing a centralized hub of legal analysis on procedural rights, EDI provides a critical tool to help address global environmental problems such as air and water pollution, extractive industry impacts and biodiversity loss. The results will help establish both best practices and areas for improvement.


The State of Europe’s Environment

crab shell on the sand with seaweed on a beachIn March the European Environment Agency  published its State and Outlook Environment Report (SOER) 2015 (available here). The report highlights innovations in governance needed for long term sustainability. In addition, a section of the SOER website highlights global megatrends affecting the European Environment, one of which is Diversifying Approaches to Governance.

Authors suggest key factors in diversifying governance include the rise of more and powerful non-state stakeholders in the process, intergovernmental collaboration and networks, and increasing technological capabilities that affect citizen expectations.

The SOER finds that one implication of more stakeholders entering the process is that authority disperses to numerous actors with diverse interests across public, nonprofit and private sectors; it is “already producing a profound shortage of coordination in governance.” To the extent non-state actors hold special or specific interests the risk increases that links between different policy areas will be missed.

Another implication is that diverse stakeholders often compete, leading to inefficient use of resources and the numerous actors all proposing and adopting regulations, labels, standards and norms can lead to public confusion. This is one of the challenges of balancing inclusion against efficiency.

A third implication is that the rise of business and civil society involvement can have a democratising effect, but as some non-state actors become increasingly powerful, they can undermine government authority. The authors note, “While changing technologies and rules on access to information mean that government choices are increasingly subject to the scrutiny of empowered and interconnected citizens, a shift to non-state governance may reduce the democratic legitimacy, transparency and accountability of decision-making.” Non-state actors are un-elected and therefore unaccountable publicly, and their dealings are not often transparent, the way public agencies must be.


Our foreign pollution from imported goods

How should we account for the fact that a great deal of environmental damage associated with one’s own country actually occurs overseas? For example, Chinese manufacturers making our shoes, electronics and bicycles emit a lot of carbon on our behalf. Are these emissions on our ‘to do’ list in terms of the task of reducing overall global emissions? If so, how can our policies at home take responsibility for the associated overseas carbon emissions, water pollution, and so forth?

That’s a question taken up by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). They call it the ‘external environmental footprint’ and note that to date, both international trade agreements and environmental agreements have not dealt with the issue adequately.

shelves of goods in a retail shop

Whose emissions are those? Imported goods in a retail shop (author photo).

Sweden’s pioneering  national environmental policy, known as the “Generational Goal”, states that: “The overall goal of Swedish environmental policy is to hand over to the next generation a society in which the major environmental problems in Sweden have been solved, without increasing environmental and health problems outside Sweden’s borders”.

To help the Swedish government develop specific policies to address the last part of this goal–the external environmental footprint–SEI recently produced a policy brief. The brief outlines a three-step analytical framework for policy development, including:

  • Mapping the national consumption profile, including the ratio of imported goods  and the main categories of imported products.
  • Identifing policy instruments by looking at ‘hotspots,’ product categories and regions with highest environmental impacts, and analysing existing policy instruments for relevance to imported goods
  • Classifying and prioritising policy options

Read more in the briefing at: