by Stephen Leahy
posted June 4, 2012 by Inter Press Service News Agency
Ecologically ignorant policies are largely responsible for the interlinked crises that are unraveling the planet’s life support system.
The unintended consequences of such policies are climate change, desertification, biodiversity decline, ocean pollution and the destruction of forests, according to the policy advocacy organisation World Future Council.
The solution is to eliminate “bad” policies and implement policies that ensure a healthy planet for future generations. On world environment Day, Jun. 5, the World Future Council will present an emergency policy agenda consisting of 24 tipping-point policies that need to be implemented globally to preserve a habitable planet.
“We are in an Earth Emergency. It’s an unbelievable crisis. Policies are the most important tool we have to change this,” Jakob von Uexkull, founder and chair of the World Future Council (WFC).
The five-year old WFC is based in Hamburg, Germany and comprised of 50 eminent individual from around the globe who have already successfully promoted change.
“Policy may be seen as dull and boring but they are the things that shape our societies,” von Uexkull told IPS.
In 2000, the German government created the now famous feed-in tariff policy launching a renewable energy revolution. That policy has enabled Germany to generate 22 percent of its electricity from renewables today and created a new business sector employing more people than its automotive industry.
“With the best laws and right policy incentives we can mobilise human inventiveness and entrepreneurship to safeguard a healthy planet for future generations,” he said.
On the other hand bad government policies allow 3,000 of the world’s biggest corporations to escape more than 2.2 trillion dollars in annual costs through their impacts on the natural environment, according to the U.N. Environment Programme.
(A trillion is one thousand billion. A trillion seconds is nearly 32,000 years).
The impacts of pollution and destruction of ecosystems are now undermining the very life support system humanity relies on, threatening the well-being of current and future generations.
“If those companies had to account for those costs as they should, few would be profitable,” von Uexkull said.
The WFC’s 24 tipping-point policies include the best policies for speeding up the global transition to renewable energy, policies regulating financial instruments, securing sustainable ecosystems, granting equal educational opportunities for women and outlawing nuclear weapons.
One of the more controversial may be a policy to require politicians, public officials, economists and business school graduates be tested for their eco-literacy.
“Ecological literacy is vital for those in positions of power and influnce. How can they be taken seriously if they don’t understand the real risks and dangers?”
Traditional economic theory puts the environment is a subset of the economy. Von Uexkull says it is “profoundly scary” that decisions are being made on that basis when reality is exactly opposite: the economic system we’ve created is wholly dependent on the natural environment.
“Many economists actually believe that if food production collapses we can just make more iPods to keep the economy going,” he said.
Ecological literacy needs to be a legal requirement and be a part of a basic education – just putting the idea out there isn’t enough, he added.
“We are the guardians of all future generations of life on earth,” begins the short document with the 24 tipping-point policies titled “Saving our Shared Future – Best Policies to Regenerate our World”.
The first needed policy is to establish the election of High Commissioners/Ombudspersons for Future Generations at the U.N. and in national governments to represent and protect the rights of future generations.
The environment and future generations also need legal protection through changes at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to “criminalize acts that cause irreversible damage to our natural environment”. Activities causing widespread and long-term damage to the environment would be considered crimes against future generations, says Alexandra Wandel, director of the WFC.
Bottom trawling, an industrial form of fishing that damages the ocean floor, is an example of a practice that could be outlawed by the court, Wandel told IPS.
“We are now working with lawyers at the ICC to develop the appropriate amendments to the statutes of the court,” she says.
Another crucial tipping-point policy is to require full-cost accounting for the energy sector and elimination of subsidies for the fossil fuel and nuclear energy industries. With policies like this in place to level the playing field, renewable energy deployment will “explode”, says von Uexkull.
Governments also need to gradually shift taxes from labour (incomes) to resources, the WFC recommends. This “Green Tax Shift” increases the cost of non-rewewable resources while taxing pollution and includes a carbon tax.
The Green Party of Canada has a well-thought out approach to this that was adopted by one Canada’s major parties. However, they were unsuccessful in educating Canadians about its merits, he says.
“There is no viable alternative to this in a world running out of resources,” von Uexkull said.
The 24 policies are the result of more than five years of work by a very broad range of experts from different cultural backgrounds, some of whom have been working on these issues for two decades, said Wandel.
The WFC has developed a specific methodology for assessing successful policies around the world and issues a “Future Policy Award” annually for year’s best. Last year’s winner was Rwanda’s National Forest Policy that resulted in a 37 percent increase in forest cover, reduced erosion, and improved local water supplies and livelihoods.
“Independent representatives from local civil society also provide their assessments of these policies,” Wandel said.
Recognising that these are far-reaching proposals, the WFC proposes a five-year worldwide public education campaign to rapidly raise global awareness about the stark realities of the Earth Emergency, the choices we face, and to mobilise support for the key policy changes required.
To reach both the global public and the key policy-makers, organisers estimate the cost at less than 100 million dollars. They are actively seeking partnerships and appeal to governments, inter-governmental and civil society organisations, academia, media and youth groups to work with them.
These 24 are not nice-to-have policies. They are essential if we are to continue to have habitable planet, says von Uexkull.
“This is a realistic message of hope. Big steps are easier than small steps,” he said.