By Jonathon Poritt, Founder and Director, Forum for the Future
Imagine the scene amongst the eager and idealistic employees of Stakeholder Forum, IISD, Novel Futures and Bertelsmann Stiftung:
Boss: “Ok guys, exactly what do we have to do to get people focussed on this governance stuff? Nobody seems remotely interested. DON’T THEY REALISE JUST HOW IMPORTANT IT IS??!!”
(Long - and somewhat embarrassed - silence. “There’s Mission Impossible in Stakeholder Forum, and then there’s Mission Seriously Impossible”)
Team: “We could do another Report … sorry …”
(More - and even more embarrassed - silence)
Team: “I know! We could do a mini-novella, set in 2030, with a bunch of experts from today time-travelling into the future to see how some of today’s most exciting governance innovations actually worked out in practice …”
(More silence. Then a few smiles)
Boss: “Well, we’ve got nothing to lose ...”
So that’s what these crazy people at these organisations came up with, and Sustaineo 2030 is the result. And I can pretty much guarantee that you’re very unlikely to find anything else quite as original - and even interesting!
I’ve got a double interest in this personally. Firstly, I’ve just published a book called The World We Made, looking back from 2050 (using a fictional author named Alex McKay) to tell the story of how we got from the dire place we find ourselves in today to a not-half-bad, fair, high-tech and genuinely sustainable world in 2050. It was fun doing it, and this kind of backcasting approach (working out what ‘good’ looks like, and then unfolding the journey we need to get there) is one of the very few ways of avoiding the usual diet of sustainability doom and gloom.
Second, as Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission between 2000 and 2009, I was closely involved in developing what many think remains the best schematic explaining the full scope and breadth of sustainable development. Just take a look at that little governance box!
This schematic has of course now been expunged from the record by the UK’s sustainability-hating Coalition Government, along with everything else the Sustainable Development Commission stood for and created.
The truth is, unfortunately, that Ministers in this Government know practically nothing about sustainable development. Stakeholder Forum is absolutely right in arguing that governance issues are absolutely crucial – we ignore them at our peril. All the more so at a time when some of our most basic democratic freedoms and entitlements are at risk.
But ‘governance’ can also be so dry and so technical that even those who are interested in such issues can get easily turned off.
And that’s the real strength of Sustaineo 2030. It covers a lot of the most critically important areas, picking up on innovative stuff going on today – in Finland, Germany, Bhutan, Costa Rica, and so on – and seeing how those innovations pan out by 2030. (Sadly, there’s not much from the UK to refer to here, and nothing at all since this Government was elected.)
And that’s where the real interest kicks in. There’s a lot of stuff I found myself putting a great big tick against, and lots of stuff at which I found myself metaphorically shouting out ‘YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING!’ – for instance, the principal sustainability body in Sustaineo 2030, the Sustainability Multi-stakeholder Council, is chaired by the Prime Minister of the day. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING!! This is an arrangement which seems totally inconceivable for the current UK government sign up to.
Most usefully of all, it directs readers’ attention to the wealth of stuff already going on, all carefully linked and referenced. As such, it’s the sort of creative endeavour that the wonderful Alliance for Future Generations should be making known to all its members, just to get a bit of a governance ball rolling here.
If nothing else, it will have you all amazed at the authors’ latest and boldest effort to get us – or, rather, you – yes, YOU! – focussed on the whole governance dimension.
[Jonathon Porritt, 7 May 2014]
This book review was originally published on the Jonathon Porrit's blog at www.jonathonporritt.com/blog/
Book review by Dominic White, Head International Development Policy, WWF-UK
At a time when we are pre-occupied in a policy wonk’s world of post-2015 sustainable development goals, here comes a serious but easily accessible read about the critical governance structures needed to deliver sustainable development.
Sustaineo 2030 - Learning Sustainable Development from the Future, uses a narrative format; the words of government official guide, Grace, takes readers on a journey into the future, the country of Sustaineo, that is prospering from sustainable development-focused governance and policy institutions. As some of us like to think, governance needs to be addressed alongside society, environment and economy as four dimensions of sustainable development. This critical dimension attracts less attention than the others so Sustaineo does a service by making this, sometimes less digestible subject accessible to a wider, less technocratic audience.
The trick of Sustaineo’s success; the fictional sustainable society, as well as the text, is that it cleverly draws from the best in class of over 25 countries and their recent experiences of sustainable development policy, institutions and practice and pulls them all together to convey a strong sense of what is realistic and necessary for nation states committing to sustainable development.
So Sustaineo’s “Multi-Stakeholder Council” includes representatives of civil society and private sector and draws from Korea’s National Strategy for Sustainable Development and similar bodies in Canada, Bhutan and Singapore – the Council exists with a 30 year life-span thereby overcoming the constraints of short-term political cycles that stifle our current sustainability prospects; the Planning, Policy and Partnership Commission is based on Finland’s National Commission on Sustainable Development, Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Commission and the South Africa Integrated Development Planning process. One thing you can’t get away from in the future is jargon loaded institutions!
While member states are currently consumed by the UN process and the minutiae of setting development targets, the authors’ offer us a key resource with a comprehensive compendium of case studies, in preparation for the critical discussion about the governance requirements needed to implement not only the new SDG framework s but also to underpin a truly sustainable future.