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The World Future Council: Jakob von Uexkull

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Mr. Jakob von Uexkull is a writer, lecturer, philanthropist, activist and former politician. He served as a Member of the European Parliament 1987–1989, representing the German Green Party. In 2006, Mr von Uexkull co-founded the World Future Council, an independent body bringing the interests of future generations to the centre of policy making. 

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For many years now you have devoted enormous energy in many different forums helping to focus our attention on the challenges that confront the human future. What were the particular considerations that led you to found the World Future Council (WFC)?

After many years of identifying and supporting best practice projects worldwide through the Right Livelihood Awards, it became clear to me that these may add up to “too little too late” unless we can now create the legal policy incentives to ensure that they become the new mainstream. That led me to found the WFC, to work with policy-makers to identify, adapt and help adopt and implement best policy solutions.

In April of last year the WFC agreed on its Global Policy Action Plan. How would you describe the thinking underlying the Plan and its main objectives?

The idea is to present a coherent overview of the political solutions (= policy changes) required if we are to change course before reaching irreversible tipping-points. The plan points to interlinkages between the challenges facing us and thus encourages co-operation, new alliances and an awareness of what is necessary. Many of those who work on solutions get overwhelmed by problems in their area, and get discouraged because it is clear that isolated solutions will not work.

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Would I be right in saying that, while the Plan does call for action on some development and peace related issues, its primary focus is on ecological sustainability? If so, was this a strategic decision on the part of the Council?

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Yes, it was because ecological sustainability (e.g. climate stability, biodiversity protection) is no longer just an environmental issue but also the foremost peace, security and development challenge. In a ruined natural environment there will be no peace or development or functioning economies. You can negotiate and agree to compromises with your enemies and with financial creditors. But you cannot negotiate with melting glaciers or spreading deserts.

The Global Policy Action Plan refers more than once to the implications for governance. Am I right in thinking that much of the emphasis here is on good governance in the context of national societies, that is, national governments and national legislatures? If so, does this not overlook complex questions surrounding the future of human governance? Can the alternative policy directions you are advocating be implemented by our existing institutional frameworks? What of the role of regional and global institutions? Has the World Future Council given attention to the need for legal and institutional reform?

We are still national citizens and ultimately ruled by national parliament. Every international and regional binding agreement has to be ratified by them and they can decide to withdraw. So national law-makers are crucial and often neglected, which is why the WFC focuses on assisting them (capacity-building and knowledge transfer). But we also highlight the need for “best institutions”, including a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations, a strengthened ICC which can prosecute crimes against future generations etc.

Can you tell us something of the way you propose to implement the Global Policy Action Plan? Who do you see as the most appropriate partners? What steps are you taking to secure effective partnerships?

There are already good campaigns for several of the policies listed. We feel the plan will help form new alliances against connected threats. Thus, the WFC has highlighted the links between climate change and nuclear risks. The whole plan is of course much larger than the resources of the WFC. It would be very helpful if a major international communications company would be prepared to start a global campaign to raise awareness about and mobilize public support for it. We estimate this would take 5 to 7 years and need a budget of $ 50 to 100 million. Once there is public support the WFC can then organize parliamentary hearings – which we have experience in – to bring the policy-makers on board.

Clearly this will take some time but we feel it is important to highlight the actual steps which need to be taken instead of just discussing goals, as many meetings do. We are now presenting the Global Policy Action Plan to interested international civil society organizations and encouraging them to work for the policy changes they see as most important, while being aware of the bigger picture. We are stressing the need to prioritize educating about finance and monetary reform, as lack of knowledge about this is often used to hold back other reforms, by wrongly labeling them unaffordable.

Mr Jakob von Uexkull is interviewed here by Professor Emeritus Joseph A. Camilleri, La Trobe University.

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