Local authorities should involve local community groups much more in climate resilience

(CC By 2.0) Herry Lawford / Flickr.com

(CC By 2.0) Herry Lawford / Flickr.com

The Urban Heat project has released its final report highlighting the distinctive and largely untapped potential of the local voluntary and community group sector (VCS) in the developm

ent of local climate resilience and emergency response. On the basis of three local participatory action research case studies, the report provides a range of ideas – at local and national levels – for how the role of VCS groups in local climate resilience and emergency planning can be enhanced.

Focusing on urban heatwaves, and funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Urban Heat project was led by a team led by researchers in the Policy Studies Institute, supported by community-action experts in Age UK (East London), South West London Environment Network and Transition Town Tooting, and by evaluation experts in Resources for Change.

For further information, please visit the Urban Heat website.

Taking account of intergenerational fairness | New IFoA Bulletin launched

IFoA-bulletinThe Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) has launched the first in a series of bulletins on intergenerational fairness. Focussing on the risks to financial stability posed by climate change, it seeks to raise risk awareness among decision makers of not considering long-term implications of societal, environmental and technological changes.
In order “to raise the profile of the debate around what is a fair contract between generations…, so that neither current, nor future generations are unfairly burdened”, the new bulletin takes a financial perspective of longterm roles of discount rates and financial disclosure and the importance of understanding not just the likely possible outcomes, but the worst case scenario when assessing the potential impact of climate change, with a particular focus on the role of long-term institutional investors, such as pension funds and life insurance companies.

IFoA President, Colin Wilson said: “Societies across the world face many complex challenges such as ageing populations, reducing poverty and responding to catastrophic weather events. Intergenerational fairness needs to be considered as a priority for policy makers if we are going to meet today’s needs without putting younger or future generations at a disadvantage.”

Future editions of the Intergenerational Fairness Bulletin will focus on the future of pensions and the funding of health and care services.

The Bulletin can be downloaded here [PDF, 608KB]. For further details, please visit the IFoA website.

Related links

    • Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA)
    • FDSD provocation by Halina Ward: Democracy in the face of climate change: exploring the present, 2050, and beyond
    • When democratic politics become polarized, the rhetoric of politicians often slides towards proclaiming certainties about the future. However, the future is full of uncertainties, it’s all about risk and trade-offs. For the sake of future generations – and our own futures – democratic debate needs to focus on risk and what to do about it, particularly when a possible outcome could be catastrophic down the line.  That’s where ‘the precautionary principle‘ comes in to guide our collective decision making.  It’s beautifully explained in the video below:

Prosperity without Growth – Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow

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A new edition of Prosperity Without Growth – the landmark work by Professor Tim Jackson – was launched on 19 December at the University of Surrey, at an event which also celebrated his appointment as 2016 Hillary Laureate.

The publication of Prosperity without Growth in 2009 marked a critical intervention in the sustainability debate. Tim Jackson openly challenged conventional economics, questioned the most highly-prized goal of politicians and economists alike: the continued pursuit of exponential economic growth. Its findings provoked controversy, inspired debate and led to a new wave of research building on its arguments and conclusions.

This substantially revised and re-written edition updates and expands those arguments. Jackson demonstrates that building a ‘post-growth’ economy is a definable and meaningful task. Starting from clear first principles, he sets out the dimensions of that task: the nature of enterprise; the quality of our working lives; the structure of investment; the role of the money supply. He shows how the economy of tomorrow may be transformed in ways that protect employment, facilitate social investment, reduce inequality and deliver both ecological and financial stability. Prosperity isn’t just about earning more and having more, it is anchored in our ability to participate meaningfully in the life of society.

Related Links

  • For more information about Prosperity without Growth, visit the Routledge website.
  • Find out about the work of the Hillary Institute of International Leadership on the Institute’s website.
  • A video recording of the presentation can be accessed on the CUSP website.

Environmental Audit Committee critical of Treasury’s short-termism

CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 :: Ben Terrett / Flickr

CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 :: Ben Terrett / Flickr

Early in November, the House of Common’s Environmental Audit Committee produced a damning report on the Treasury’s influence on sustainability policy in the UK. The Audit Committee was able to marshal considerable evidence that “the Treasury has ridden roughshod over other departments’ objectives, changing and cancelling long-established environmental policies and projects at short notice with little or no consultation with relevant businesses and industries”.

According to the Committee, the Treasury makes judgements on the suitability of investments that “favour short-term priorities over long-term sustainability”. While the Committee offers concrete suggestions on how the Treasury might improve its appraisal procedures to incorporate sustainability concerns, this most powerful of Whitehall departments does not have a good record in responding to such criticisms.

The full report can be accessed on the Parliament website.

Piketty’s call for a new political discourse on globalization

The Motor City, Packard Plant (Detroit) CC-BY-SA 2.0 :: Joseph Stevenson / Flickr

The Motor City, Packard Plant (Detroit) CC-BY-SA 2.0 :: Joseph Stevenson / Flickr

In a recent article for Le Monde, Thomas Piketty argues that unsustainable development – a pattern of globalization which has boosted inequality and so undermined communities and social justice as well as the environment – has brought about the recent democratic upheaval seen in the election of Donald Trump.

He argues that in any trade treaties – as in CETA, the Canadian-EU deal just going through – sustainable development should be at the forefront, not siloed in other international agreements such as the Paris agreement. Without that, present democracy as well as the interests of future generations will be under threat.

The full article can be accessed on the Guardian website.

For the Next Generations | Paula Tiihonen

Part of the Artwork Tulevaisuus (Future), Väinö Aaltonen (1932) © Vesa Linqvist

Part of the Artwork Tulevaisuus (Future), Väinö Aaltonen (1932) © Vesa Linqvist

To mark her retirement as the Counsel for the Committe for the Future in the Finish Parliament, Paula Tiihonen brought together a group of significant thinkers and doers for an international seminar on ‘Work for the Next Generation’. A report bringing together contributions from the seminar has now been published.

FDSD wishes Paula a happy retirement and great thanks for her work promoting the interests of future generations amongst Finish parliamentarians.

The courts, the government and air pollution

(CC-BY 2.0) Manish Prabhune / Flickr

(CC-BY 2.0) Manish Prabhune / Flickr

 

This week we have seen the UK government lose twice in the courts – once on air pollution and then on Article 50 to formally start the Brexit process. While there are voices questioning why in a democracy the courts should be able to overturn government decisions, the judgement on air quality highlights the critical role that courts can play within the democratic process in moving us towards a more sustainable future.

The government had committed itself to take measures ‘as soon as possible’ to improve air quality in a number of cities to comply with legal standards. But the plan put forward by Defra was judged to be a ‘woeful approach’ by the courts, following a legal challenge by ClientEarth. The government has been told to think again. It is clear that the Treasury blocked more radical plans that would see increased taxes or bans on diesel cars.

Is this interference by the courts in the democratic process? Not at all. It is a critical part of any democracy that there are methods of redress when governments fail to live up to their legally enshrined commitments, be it EU directives or laws adopted by parliament. Given the challenges that will face governments in realising their legal commitments on issues such as climate change and air pollution, oversight through the courts may become an ever more important method for ensuring meaningful action.

Our submission to the EAC’s Global Goals in the UK inquiry

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Andrea Westall is an FDSD trustee, Strategy and Policy Consultant and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Open University.

In September 2016, FDSD submitted our thoughts to the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee in response to their Inquiry into the domestic implementation of The Sustainable Development Goals in the UK.

We argued that the SDGs provide a timely opportunity and useful framework to “create sustainable social, economic and environmental futures for the UK, devolved nations and localities”, as well as to “create the appropriate infrastructure – the participatory processes, institutions and data” to realise sustainable development, as well as to contribute to democratic renewal.

These opportunities are reinforced by their ability to link, and contribute solutions to, current UK challenges such as those raised by the EU Referendum, particularly around participation, and inequality.

Theresa May, in her inaugural speech as Prime Minister said: “we will strive to make Britain a country that works for everyone – regardless of who they are and regardless of where they’re from”. Part of achieving that goal is a proposed industrial strategy aimed at creating a more equitable distribution of economic activity. This policy would benefit from applying the principles underpinning the SDGs, as well as future-proofing industry to be better able to respond to environmental challenges, rather than aiming for short-term strategies. Alongside this, the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) work to determine how best to collect and provide data to report on our progress on the SDGs provides yet another opportunity for wider and related impact. For example, more fine grained data on places and people’s circumstances, or on flows of materials and resources around the economy can help address inequalities and the circular economy respectively.

But the UK Government, despite these potential positive impacts, has not yet produced any statement about how the Sustainable Development Goals are relevant to, and will be implemented, within the UK.

However, it hasn’t stopped similar countries from using the opportunity to rethink their direction and goals. We set out some examples in our consultation of countries such as Germany, France and Finland who have explored and begun to institutionalise the domestic relevance of the SDGs. Germany, for example, has used the principle underpinning the SDGs, that of ‘no-one left behind’ to explore what this means for Germany across a whole range of issues. Scotland and Wales have both in different ways looked at how the SDGs are relevant to their own nations, and how they can contribute both domestically and internationally.

As we have said in many other posts and articles, the SDGs also present a profound opportunity to thicken our ideas about participation in decision-making and action, and find ways to engage people around considering their future.

We recommended in our consultation response that questions about the relevance, priority, and performance of SDGs should be included in public and multistakeholder conversations and consultations across the UK. These could take the form of a UK-wide FutureWeWant national conversation, or at least one for England and Northern Ireland where so far there have been no conversations either about what people want to see (WalesWeWant) or stakeholders’ vision of the relevance of SDGs (Scotland).

With the very different approaches to implementation of the SDGs in Wales and Scotland, as well as likely strategies by cities and localities, devolution also provides an opportunity to explore the wider challenge of how to balance locally relevant and ‘owned’ responses, whilst ensuring collective UK- wide impact. Getting governance right so that we can co-ordinate what happens at different levels (for example, devolved, local and national) whilst preserving local relevance and appropriate levels of control over decisions, is another broader challenge we have barely begun to address.

Our currently disjointed and confused approach was sadly demonstrated to the people of Lancashire, where, on 23rd June, people voted in a majority to leave the EU, partly as a response to being in an area struggling to create a viable economy, and being remote from government. This distance, and likely feelings of irrelevance, were no doubt confirmed when Lancashire Council’s decision, just over three months later in early October, against fracking on the Fylde Coast, after careful deliberation and engagement, was subsequently overturned by central government. Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, said, after accepting the appeal: “We will take the big decisions that matter to the future of our country as we build an economy that works for everyone”. We need to find better ways to manage multi-level governance.

Our other recommendations focused on what is necessary to firmly embed the SDGs in the UK so that they realise positive gains for our country. To get things moving we suggested:

  • an urgent and transparent review of central and local government department goals and targets, matched to the SDGs;

And there are a range of institutional changes necessary to better ensure policy coherence, oversight and scrutiny, with lead departments and a specific minister to show commitment and create the necessary coordination. We recommended that:

  • responsibility for SDG goal coordination and oversight should lie with the Cabinet Office to ensure policy coherence alongside cross-government and cross-UK engagement (including devolved nations, city and local authorities);
  • there is consideration of a Minister and/or Cabinet Committee with specific responsibility for sustainable development and the domestic application of SDGs to underpin their importance

And to enable delivery, we recommended:

  • a review of the architecture within Government, and local government, necessary to ensure policy coherence and coordination across departments and agencies;
  • an independent oversight and scrutiny body for the SDGs. This could be along the lines of the Welsh Office and Future Generations Commissioner, and with opportunities for public and multistakeholder participation, as well as good practice sharing.

Interview with new trustee Dr. Sándor Fülöp | Looking back at the impact and role of Hungary’s Ombudsman for Future Generations

Sándor FülöpFrom May 2008 to August 2012 Dr. Sándor Fülöp was the first Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations in Hungary. He is president of the Hungarian Environmental Management and Law Association (EMLA), works on public interest environmental cases as a private attorney, teaches and does international consultancy work in environmental law and policy. Sándor has authored numerous publications on environmental protection legislation, e.g. “Environmental protection democracy in the practice. Handbook on community participation for environmental protection and water management authorities”.

Sándor was interviewed by fellow trustee, John Lotherington.

What was the Office of the Ombudsman for Future Generations initially set up to do? And what do you think it has achieved?

Before the new Constitution in 2011, Hungary had a decentralised ombudsman system. A number of ombudspersons were responsible for minorities, data-protection, future generations and general (other) human rights. They worked in the same large office and co-operated on cross-cutting issues. The Office of the Ombudsman for Future Generations (FGO) was created in order to introduce long- run, holistic decision-making. It also handled complaints from citizens and NGOs (about 200 substantial cases a year) and had a parliamentary (legislative) advocacy role.

Additionally, there was also a special third (think tank) function where we tried to identify and highlight new and emerging issues (for example, sustainable local communities, or alternative indicators of social development).

Looking back at that time pre-2011, I think that the Hungarian FGO could successfully fulfil all these tasks. For the majority of individual complaints we could carefully clarify the facts and legal background through an iterative, consultative process and find satisfying solutions. Many of our legislative proposals were positively received by Government and were partly or wholly accepted into legislation.

In what way did the original Office represent future generations, those yet unborn?

Our approach was more pragmatic than philosophical. Our belief was that local communities (as our complainants) are best-placed to know their respective environmental problems. Community procedures can filter out successfully any selfish, shortsighted economic interests and can forge viable solutions for the whole community (‘community’ includes the young and the unborn).

Another pragmatic consideration is that for the near future we have a stronger responsibility than for further in the future (where we share this responsibility with future generations). Many current environmental and social issues can also be considered as intergenerational justice issues.

Did the work of the Ombudsman strengthen the links between democracy and sustainability? Or was it forced to be technocratic?

We were convinced that well-discussed, deliberative decision-making procedures are beneficial for the environment and for coming generations. Arbitrary decisions on the other hand, made behind closed doors are almost always risky, even if at the first glance they serve environmental purposes. Sustainable development questions as a rule are complex and need to bring together multiple factors. This approach is unimaginable without democratic procedures.

Building on the work of the Ombudsman’s Office, how has the relationship between democracy and sustainability developed, and how might it develop in the future?

Although there was an attempt to totally eradicate the Office, the wide social support (including hundreds of NGOs, religious organisations and certain political forces) resulted in a constitutional arrangement whereby we now have an individual Chief Ombudsman with a Deputy who is responsible for the protection of the interests of future generations. The work of this deputy represents continuity with the earlier, independent FGO.

On the other hand, the civil sector and especially the environmental NGOs, are in a difficult situation in Hungary today. They face an unfavourable political climate. Relatedly, I see a decline in the level of environmental protection. The administrative system of environmental protection has lost its relative independence within Government. As far as I can see, they also lost resources and are therefore less effective than they used to be. In such a situation the initiatives of local communities will need to play a key role in ensuring the most possible sustainable futures for our offspring.

What do you see as the key challenges coming up for the link between democracy and sustainability, and what would you yourself like to focus on in the future?

Populism and demagogy may turn people against environmental protection. Both are growing threats in several European countries. Also extremist political movements are usually hostile towards democratic institutions and procedures, and impatient with differing interests and ideas.

I personally divide my time now between teaching environmental law (in a multidisciplinary department together with physicists, economists, biologists and other lawyers) as well as public interest environmental litigation (where I represent only local communities and municipalities, not the polluters). I hope that by reinforcing the efforts of local communities, I can encourage them, and other similar communities, to stand up for their environmental rights, and also for the rights of their children and grandchildren.