Would even an infinite fund on loss and damage be enough?

This is the Editorial of the final Deep Adaptation Quarterly of 2022.

The COP27 climate conference announcement of a new fund, of unknown quantity, for the loss and damage occurring due to climate chaos, means it might appear that politicians and bureaucrats are finally getting real about how bad the situation is. So could they be catching up with the ‘Deep Adapters’? Unfortunately, no fund will ever be able to recompense the loss and damage that is being suffered – and will be suffered – from the impacts of climate and ecological breakdown. No international currency, bank, or payment system will likely survive the extent of disruption when impacts of global heating really kick in. I am just back from my first and last climate conference, and not only experienced it as an exercise in denial but one that is made impenetrable by the numbers of people and resources maintaining it in myriad ways. Even critics of COP27, and climate policies more generally, have their budgets, wages, skills, and status tied to the story of ultimate salvation from climate chaos. A consequence of this denial is not looking at the root causes of our predicament. Which might also be a reason for the denial. So let’s go there…

Continue reading “Would even an infinite fund on loss and damage be enough?”

Capitalism Versus Climate Justice – thoughts on my first and last experience of climate COP

In the run up to COP27 climate conference, The Economist magazine declared it has become impossible to limit global warming to an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Many analysts of the relevant science have said as much for a few years. We were dismissed as too negative and so our ideas on what to do were therefore marginalized. Sadly, warming beyond 1.5C means that climate change will become far more damaging to societies. Even worse, due to a range of amplifying feedbacks that are impossible to have certainty about, no one can credibly claim anymore that human actions to cut and drawdown carbon, while still important, will certainly work to stop or reverse the changes. When people take that situation to heart, it can challenge the societies and systems that brought us to this point. For many, it is a fundamentally radicalizing realization. Although The Economist cited my views in one of their articles, rather predictably it didn’t provide space for the kind of criticism of capitalism and the global order that can ensue.

Continue reading “Capitalism Versus Climate Justice – thoughts on my first and last experience of climate COP”

Decolonize the World Health Organisation (WHO)

There is now much peer-reviewed science on the medicinal benefits of various natural foods. Which is obvious as humans have been healthy and recovering from disease since… um… well… prehistory. 

So science is playing catch up with traditional and community knowledge on how to help stay healthy and recover when we get sick. But that wisdom is studiously ignored by medical bureaucracies that have been trained to only accept large clinical trials of the type that (mostly Western) pharmaceutical companies can pay for. It means that esteemed institutions like the World Health Organisation (WHO) mostly ignore what is being done with healing plants in many countries. Worse, their staff devoutly and proudly ignore it as a matter of professional and personal identity as being strictly “scientific.” I know that because I worked as a consultant with them before. And there is evidence that millions are suffering as a result of their conceit. 

Continue reading “Decolonize the World Health Organisation (WHO)”

Cutting Love – 4th Quarterly

Every 3 months I send an update. In my 4th I focus on listing some links for resources and events, before a few thoughts on “cutting love.” You can sign up to receive this Quarterly Bulletin.

First up, the culmination of a year’s efforts, today the UN publishes a paper I co-wrote on how Ewtonterprise Zones can contribute to the new Global Goals for sustainable development. These zones are popular with some governments, from India to the UK, but they aren’t without criticism, in terms of what they achieve. Now with changes in trade rules, Zones are going to have to come up with new ways of staying competitive. We argue that embracing social and environmental excellence is a clever response. I explained this in my article for the World Economic Forum. I was pleased to present the preliminary findings at the public forum of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva in October, and the report is launched this week in Nairobi at the ministerial. You can read it here (pdf). I’m grateful to Dr Tony Miller at UNCTAD and also for colleagues at the University of Cumbria for supporting me to do this work.

In September I stepped back from Director of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) so I can focus on my research and teaching as a Professor of Sustainability Leadership (as part time) as well as new role with an impact investing fund. I’m pleased Dr Caroline Rouncefield is the Acting Director and joins an Institute with 5 MBAs growing well (over 2000 international students), as well as co-delivery of an MSc in Strategic Policing and a new MA in Sustainable Leadership Development. One of the last projects I worked on was to initiate a partnership with the National Trust, to promote innovation in the heritage and conservation sectors, which was recently launched with some fanfare. Our Deputy Director Dr David Murphy will lead on the project for IFLAS.

Trimantium Capital are the Impact Investors that I’ve joined the board of. Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, it is making waves for attracting hundreds of millions of dollars into a fund directed at financial services and health technology with a clear social and environmental purpose. As the Paris climate summit started, I shared what some of us impact investors are thinking about the future of fossil fuels, in a WEF article.

Looking ahead from the winter, at IFLAS we will turn our efforts towards to the IFLAS Spring School, for two weeks in both London and the Lake District. It kicks off our new MA, but can also be attended as a stand-alone course. Lots of mid-career execs do our courses and become co-conspirators on future projects. The Spring School will also involve a reunion of participants in the Leading Wellbeing Festival, on April 9th in Ambleside, which will also be the annual meeting of the Cumbria Environmental Network. If you are interested in the new MA or the Spring School, please fire off an email to iflas@cumbria.ac.uk

Some of the ideas behind the MA are contained in a co-authored paper just published by the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (JCC). I’m grateful to Richard Little at Impact International for having schooled me in critical leadership thinking these past 3 years. I also presented the paper at the International Leadership Association in October and will share some similar ideas at the ‘Lead in Asia’ conference in Bali on the 21st January.

The 2nd cohort of our Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) on Money and Society went well, with around 100 people completing all 4 assignments over the month. That means they can now progress to the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange, with the 5 day residential happening in our London Docklands Campus in April (as part of that spring school I mentioned). This labour-of-love for me and course co-tutor Matthew Slater, this free course is “bloody brilliant” and “mind bending”. The next cohort starts on Feb 14th and runs for a month online. Read more and sign up here.

Since my last update I was pleased to receive an award for my past work on cross-sector collaboration for sustainable development. The award made the local news, and my paper on the future of such partnerships (think disruption and revolution) is available here.

That’s nothing compared to being made an honorary fellow of the University of Cumbria. In November, my friend Funmi Iyanda became the first African Woman to be recognised in this way by the University and gave a powerful speech in Carlisle Cathedral. Her talk really reflected our ‘transmodern’ times, where we purposefully and playfully mix old and new ideas from all corners of the world to discover ways of rethinking progress today. Read her super speech here on the IFLAS blog, which is now also home to a regular series of articles on leadership themes.

In October I was pleased to host Professor James Wilsdon’s at our Lancaster Campus to discuss the future of how we are going to be assessed as academics. James is the chair of the Campaign for Social Science. As the University sector has been blasted by austerity measures over the past years and will continue be, James does important work reminding everyone why it’s good that we do what we do and how to do it better. Britain has an incredible heritage of intellectual leadership of international importance, based on the country’s love of learning and its institutions of research and education. Sadly we have now become the most expensive place in the world to get a degree, while many Universities cash in on their heritage in the form of sponsored buildings and uninspiring pack-em-in courses.

Unfortunately just the week after the celebrations in the Cathedral, a large part of Carlisle went underwater due to a storm that damaged many towns, villages and roads in Cumbria. The increased frequency and intensity of extremes of weather is in line with predictions from climate models. The events in Cumbria made climate change that much more personal, as explained in a first hand account by IFLAS Advisory Board member Becky Willis. The beginning of climate chaos is already upon us, with weird weather fuelled by a raised global ambient temperature of 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century, along with seas warmer by 0.7 agrees and higher by 8 cm, on worldwide averages. The most concerning thing is the extremes, with the north-pole being about 5 degrees warmer than hundred years ago. After the floods people have begun to ask why the investment in flood defences and watershed management wasn’t increased in line with the known growing threat from a disturbed climate. The answer, again, is austerity. The floods are a reminder that you can’t ignore nature because of your politics.

Looking across the country, the cuts in government spending can be seen as cuts in a nation’s commitment to its shared assets. Whether it is flood defences, education or care for the disabled, all the things being cut are the things that reflect a country’s capacity to love itself: to care for its towns, its people, its culture and its future. When a government is cutting back on love, people must fill the void, as has been the case in Cumbria, with a wonderful community spirit emerging. If you want to help support people who have been flooded, please see the Cumbria Foundation or Spirit of Cumbria.

Although an agreement in Paris is important, the key is implementation. To make changes quickly, finance and trade ministers will need to shift incentives, hence the reason for my WEF blog. Ultimately we will need to redesign of our monetary systems, to allow us to thrive without requiring exponential economic growth, as I explain in the free intro to my last book.  A COP21 climate agreement is a piece of the puzzle; but the puzzle is already burning. We will have to live with the weather that’s coming and that calls for us to go deeper in our discussions and planning, as I described for Open Democracy earlier this year.

If any of these topics interest you, then do engage in the Sustainable Leaders linked in group, or see my latest musings at www.jembendell.com

I hope you have a good holiday wherever you are,
Jem Bendell

You can sign up to receive this Quarterly Bulletin.

An immigrant walks into a bar…

An Eastern European Immigrant to the UK (aka: human) walks into a bar: “A key reason I came to the UK was because of education for my kids. I grew up in communist Hungary but the education was so much better than the values they are teaching now.”

Me (slightly pissed human): Why do you say “but”? Why not “so”?

Immigrant: …… (Silence, maybe confused.)

Me, point maybe made: “So you like the UK for its schools?”

Immigrant: “Yes, but it was tough at first with my different landladies in Oxford. I realise they don’t differentiate between types of foreign residents. Its crazy foreigners can get benefits. But most of us don’t. I don’t think people know that EU migrants to the UK are a net economic benefit to the UK. I think its crazy you have a system that funds people to not work and have babies, that can be taken advantage of by foreigners, so then we all get the blame.”

Me: “Why isn’t it something to celebrate about Britain that we look after the basic needs of vulnerable people and all babies?”

Immigrant: “Well its impossible to pay for everything”

Me: ” Where did you get the idea we can’t afford that? We afford to give billions more to bankers, including many foreigners, for bail outs, than to single mums. I don’t think your landladies have considered Eastern European bankers in London having been a net drain on the economy. So where are they getting their bad impressions from? They’ve been given a narrative of blame. Are you joining that?”

Immigrant: “But don’t you think you need to tighten up as Britain is an island with only so much space. You can’t have all these people coming for benefits”

Me: “Ah, space. You means house prices and rents? UK population growth in the past decades was less than the amount of new housing built. The cost of housing is driven by our banking system where about 80 percent of new money is created as loans for property purchases. Immigration is a not a significant factor for the systemic problem of cost of housing in the UK. The fact you haven’t heard much about that reflects the mass corporate media and BBC agenda to ignore systemic political issues.”

Immigrant: “Something is wrong when my husband finds its easier to sign on for unemployment benefit than open a joint account to access our own money. Your benefits system is too easy.”

Me: “Maybe banks should be more efficient: it sounds like they could learn from job centres! We might improve the benefits system but its a secondary or non issue for the state of the UK right now. You sound like you tried to find common ground with your landladies but end up blaming others less fortunate than yourself. It seems there’s a cascade of blame on every one lower than them on the power ladder. I remember there was a kid at school who was bullied and who tortured insects”



This was a very educated lady, works at a top University. My reflection is that once narratives of blame are maintained by mass media then a spirit of wanting to connect to people living in societies with such narratives can then lead us to find complementary narratives to the power structure that those main narratives of blame protect. We all peck the smaller bird.

My speech at the UN on the housing crisis:


Future lines of debate and action on climate

Last week’s climate summit and week of side events in New York got people talking about climate change. But I looked at the 400,000 person march with a heavy heart. The climate science has moved on. It was hinted at by Leonardo DiCaprio in his speech to the UN, when he mentioned the plumes of methane rising from the ocean floor. What’s been happening in the Arctic the last few years is far beyond even the worst case predictions. It amounts to localised 5 degree warming already, and the summer pack ice disappearing in the next few years, when just 7 years ago we were told by scientific consensus that might happen in the 22nd century. The warming in the Arctic has been exponential. There are signs that this is already affecting the frozen methane on the sea floor, leading to methane release into the atmosphere. Over 20 years, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2 in greenhouse effect. Mass release of methane is a mechanism that scientists have known for years was the cause of the last mass extinction, the Permian, which ended 95% of species on Earth. (For videos on this, see Last Hours, or 10 minutes of this)

Given this information, the future debate about climate will be very different to what was considered appropriate in either the conference centres or on the streets of Manhattan last week. It is this future debate that we need to explore ourselves, urgently, even if politicians, businesses, and mainstream environmental groups are not ready to yet.

On the sidelines, I’m seeing four future lines of debate and action on climate: profound change, emergency response, local resilience, and transcendence.

Profound Change is the theme we heard from Naomi Klein, Leonardo DiCaprio and others in recent weeks. The argument is that the efforts to incorporate climate concerns into current economic systems has failed to have any significant impact on aggregate carbon emissions. The arguments that such approaches are “pragmatic” and “non-ideological” no longer have any evidence to support them. Instead, the only intellectually or morally sound environmentalism is now an explicitly revolutionary one, that seeks to change our political economic systems. Ideally, peacefully – I’ve not heard of any one calling for armed struggle! Klein’s new book (This Changes Everything) explores this Profound Change analysis.

Emergency is another approach to the latest climate science, whereby people think that a Profound Change in political or economic system is not sufficient, as we are now on course to experience abrupt climate change within the lifetimes of humans already borne. Therefore, such as emergency paradigm starts with calls for urgent geoengineering to cool the arctic to save our civilisation and even our species. The argument is that the risks are now so great that we have to take the risk to geo-engineer. The call becomes one not only of scientific research and experimentation, but also for intergovernmental frameworks for implementing such an approach and dealing with possible damaging consequences for some peoples and regions. This emergency approach can also trigger discussion about how to deal with climate-induced collapses in societies, including humanitarian responses and security responses. For instance, this could include new roles for atomic energy agencies to bring nuclear plants to cold shut down in situations of social and economic collapse. Authors exploring these ideas include Mark Lynas (The God Species) and several writers in The Ecologist. While people thinking within the emergency paradigm are often talking about physical adaptation, such as higher sea walls, they are not often discussing deeper psychological adaptation to climate change, which is where two other lines of debate come in.

Local Resilience is a third approach I have been hearing on the sidelines. This is when people consider that it is too late to avert a collapse in the current civilisation due to catastrophic climate change, even if profound change occurs in our economic systems and geoengineering is underway. A belief in near-term collapse leads to people focusing on what forms of life could be sustained, what values and aspirations might help up in a transition to that different way of life. This isn’t the well-known agenda of transition to a post carbon world, but a transition to a way of life where basic facets of our current societies no longer exist, such as the nation state, industrial agriculture, pharmaceutical drugs, and so on. The film Collapse introduced the world to the late Michael Ruppert, who expressed this view quite eloquently. Some of the more radical elements of the Transition Towns movement give space to this line of argument, as do authors like John Foster (After Sustainability), Charles Eisenstein (The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible), and projects like Dark Mountain, that encourage new cultures to emerge to help in this traumatic transition ahead. A key insight from this approach is how to not make things worse through attachments to ways of life and values. Are brands, properties, or nationalities so important? There are many things that we hold to be true and important in our societies which we need to be better at letting go of.

Transcendence is the name I’ll offer for a fourth line in the emerging debate on climate. It is when one allows oneself to consider that near-term extinction of the human race is now probable. Obviously to most people that is a harrowing and saddening thought. In my experience most people, like myself, attempt various forms of denial when faced with this idea. Many consider it would imply fatalism and risk states of despair, depression and inaction. However, those who do accept this analysis, at least for reasons of intellectual and emotional exploration, are finding a range of different insights result. For people like me, who since 15 years of age defined self-worth in terms of contributing towards sustainability and protecting the climate, this process can be extremely destabilising, involving some grief. Yet despair can be transformative. It can lead you to transcend your previous sense of self, and allow a new one to emerge, less framed by attachment to notions of self-worth or progress. Others may find they stop working on sustainability altogether. Others may enter depression, especially if they cannot cope without a story of self-efficacy. This line of debate is difficult for me to describe at this time, but appears to emphasise that we reflect on fundamental questions about the meaning of our lives and the meaning of life itself. Some will turn to religion for answers, and yet others will find existing religious explanations as fundamentally limited in how they address such dilemmas. The writings of Carolyn Baker (Collapsing Consciously) explore these issues, by deriving insights from hospice care. I think the writings of others who study what we learn from suffering will also be helpful in this line of thinking, such as those of Mark Matousek.

I recently brought these hidden debates on climate science into the classroom with our mature students at IFLAS. Most have been engaged for years on matters of social and environmental progress. None of the four perspectives I outline above suggest that “progress” has a future. As such, these ideas can destabilise one’s sense of self. I’ve always believed that real education is of the heart and soul as well as the mind… I just didn’t think it would have to involve such a difficult topic. I’m informed that the potential trauma from certain perspectives on climate science is not something that therapists have been widely discussing or have experience with treating. The climate category on “Therapy Today” indicate something of the state of the debate in this profession. I realise many people will shy away from this debate, and instead return to positive things such as the price of solar falling below that of coal. At a subconsious level people who do that will know they are simply changing the subject from what the latest climate science is suggesting about the changes we are already locked in to. Denial may be tenacious, but wont last.

I’ve mapped out here 4 lines of debate on climate science and action that were largely hidden during last week’s events on climate change in New York because I find them bubbling up in more and more conversations, and after broaching this subject I feel a responsibility to provide further information. There will likely be more lines of debate. There are also insights that can be blended from each. For instance, perhaps some forms of geoengineering could be supported by those who think that it’s too late to save this civilisation or the human race. One thing I am convinced about already is that many of our current institutions, including things as basic as our monetary institutions, are not designed to help us address this tragic new agenda. I am also convinced the more that senior decision-makers are attached to the idea of being good and self-efficacious, and being seen to be such, the more they will make things worse for humanity. Instead, we need people to approach this difficult time with greater humility, equanimity, gratitude, inquisitiveness, compassion, love, playfulness and hope. I am also convinced that the institutions we have created in our political, economic and social sphere have not promoted such qualities within them or to the top roles. So the greatest leadership challenge I see today is therefore one of unlearning a lot of deluded notions about self, success, and progress.

If this stuff is new to you, I recommend you talk to someone about it.

Im not a therapist.. If you think you might benefit from talking to one, here are a couple of links relevant to UK readers:





Economic governance is key to any useful outcome from Rio2012

Readers of my blog will note that at the beginning of the year I reflected on the coming Rio2012 Earth Summit, and what it could be useful for. Since then the preparatory committees have got somewhat lost in definitional issues about what the “green economy” really is… oh, the farce of humanity’s efforts to do something together for our common future.

Dark grumblings aside, during the year Ive been doing some work on the economic governance needs for more sustainable development. Some of the results of that are out, with the UNCTAD World Investment Report discussing public policies for scaling CSR (I helped with the research that went in to it), and a new journal article just out where we go into some depth on a new paradigm of collaborative economic governance for sustainable development.

The UN Non Governmental Liaison Service published my opinion piece about the need to focus on economic governance, in their “Road to Rio 2012” publication. But it was in a publication from Singapore, for the region’s enthusiasts in social enterprise, corporate responsibility and voluntary sector, where I let summed up some basic points…

“If Rio 1992 was about governments calling non-state actors to act, Rio 2012 may be about non-state actors calling on governments to join them in creating greater change.”

“…the continued lack of major global progress towards sustainable development, towards true integration of environmental and developmental priorities, should make us question [the] lack of attention to economic systems and
government roles.”

“Twenty years after Rio, with the old debates and fears of the Cold War well gone, we should be able to show more maturity in exploring how systemic flaws in our economic systems could be changed to improve social or environmental outcomes.”

“…it will take effort and courage, rather than mere intellect, to articulate and implement a global policy agenda that tackles some of the economic causes of social and environmental problems.”

The pdf of “Towards Rio 2012 And Collaborative Governance For Sustainable Development” is available from Singapore Management University at http://bit.ly/ukwagD

Will Swiss Economic Ideology Harm Global Health and Humanitarian Efforts?

The Swiss franc has increased 30% against the US dollar and 20% against the Euro since last year. The pain felt by Swiss businesses is being well documented. But less well documented is the effect of this currency imbalance on international efforts to promote health, peace, human rights, and humanitarian action. Switzerland is home to many international organisations, including United Nations agencies and international charities. Many have their assets and grants denominated in US dollars or currencies other than the Swiss franc, yet their fixed costs of buildings and staff are in the extremely overvalued Swiss francs. Consequently their budgets are being ravaged by the currency imbalance, leading to mass redundancies and the cutting of various programmes, at key organisations for world affairs, such as the World Health Organisation to the International Labour Organisation. Those with seniority in such organisation are more able to hold on to their jobs, so the harder-working and far less well-paid staff are often the first ones to be shown the door. Although there need to be efficiencies found in international organisations, a sinking-ship mentality is not the way to achieve it.

The current efforts to reduce the value of the Swiss franc, by the Swiss National Bank, are reported by the Financial Times to have completely failed. Their tactics have been to increase the volume of Swiss francs, and slash interest rates. Yet as the international financial markets are spooked and want to buy Swiss francs, banks are simply buying up the excess francs. Not only is this causing a problem for Swiss businesses, it is creating a massive future risk for the Swiss economy when one day people decide they don’t need to hold so many francs. In addition, in efforts to keep the Swiss franc down, the government’s debt is spiralling. That will be compounded by recent commitments to spend billions in bail outs to suffering businesses. Such bail outs will be open for mishandling and corruption and propping up inefficient companies – especially if they are spent quickly enough to have any effect. But worse, these bail outs are like a sticking plaster for a haemorrhaging wound, as systemic solutions are required. If we compare prices across the border, the Swiss franc might even be 100% overvalued already, and the Western monetary crisis is only beginning its latest phase. This is no momentary problem. Imagination beyond old ideologies is required for systemic solutions.

The answer is so simple. The Swiss government could impose a currency transactions tax on any purchase of Swiss francs or assets/instruments denominated in Swiss francs. This transaction tax would reduce the demand for Swiss francs, and generate revenues for the Swiss government. These new revenues could be used to pay down the wholly unnecessary new Swiss government debt, and finance a new emergency international cooperation fund. That fund could issue core-budget grants to Swiss-based non profit organisations and international agencies for them to maintain or increase their employment of non-senior staff. In terms of the UN, this would mean staff below P-3 level. Such staff spend a greater percentage of their wages on local businesses than more senior staff, who invest it abroad, or drive over the border to get cheaper goods, services and property in the Eurozone. Targetted action like this would maintain a key element of the Swiss economy and society, and its contribution to the world.

The arguments against a currency transactions tax have always been vacuous, ideologically driven and about protecting short term profits. Its not workable? Tell that to countries like Brazil who have had a transaction tax for years. It will dent confidence in the economy? Well what do we mean by economy? The current market for the franc? That needs denting! The longer term prospects for the economy require effective denting right now. Given that leading Eurozone nations want to impose a similar tax in future, this is a great opportunity for Switzerland to lead the way. There are strong business arguments for a currency transactions tax, due to the effect on cooling volatility, and strong government reasons, by making up for falling tax revenues. We documented these issues in a report for the Swiss charity Bread for All, yet we found bankers and top government officials wedded to an unthinking belief in no new policy innovations to harness financial markets for the productive economy, public finances or common good.

Why is it such a crisis when the world wants to own your national currency? It should not have to be a crisis, indeed it could be a major opportunity for the Swiss people and the wider world who benefit from its role as a home for agencies of international cooperation. The only thing stopping this being an opportunity is the ideological blinkers of top bankers and politicians who are currently exhibiting zero creativity in transforming this situation from crisis to opportunity. Impose a transaction tax, to release Swiss business from the high franc, pay down the government debt, and fund a more dynamic international cooperation community. If such effective action isn’t taken, some citizens may start asking if the private ownership of 45% of the national bank by private banks like UBS in some way compromises its ability to take action in the public interest. And if such action isnt taken, we will see once again how economic ideologies in certain circles can harm the lives of poor and vulnerable people many thousands of miles away.

Professor Jem Bendell: http://www.twitter.com/jembendell

Towards Rio 2012

In May 2012 Rio De Janeiro hosts a major UN conference, that marks the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit. In 1992 the Rio Earth Summit was the largest ever held, and helped spread around the globe the idea of ‘sustainable development’ as a common goal integrating environmental protection and poverty reduction. It also saw the UN and its member states calling on business and civil society to join in meeting the challenge, thereby encouraging more corporate responsibility and integrated approaches from nongovernmental organisations. Having discovered “sustainable development” in 1988 on the back of the Brundtland report, and just about to start a Geography degree at Cambridge Uni, I followed the Rio Earth Summit and was hopeful that it marked the beginning of a major change. I responded to the call, by working on and developing partnerships between businesses and NGOs in the following years. By 1995 I was helping develop market demand for wood certified under the Forest Stewardship Council system, and by 1996 developed an organisational concept for the Marine Stewardship Council, for WWF. In 1997 I then co-wrote a book about these novel ways of implementing the call from Rio.

Since then the field of innovation on responsible enteprise and finance for sustainable developed has grown and grown, and with that my workload, as an activist, analyst, and advisor. The FSC and MSC are now both massive organisations influencing the sustainability of forests and fisheries worldwide.

However, twenty years on, the statistics on environment and development are not particularly encouraging; consider the rising rates of deforestation, carbon emission, malnutrition and forced migration. Why? Partly because the focus on sustainable development was sidelined by a primary focus on trade liberalisation in the 1990s, on geopolitics and security in the 2000s, and because of an over-riding focus on increasing economic growth rates throughout. One reason for the lack of focus in 1992 on economic root causes of social and environmental problems was the exuberance and hopes after the end of the Cold War: discussing flaws of capitalism was seen as unhelpful and not hopeful. One reason for the focus on what non state actors can do, and thus not government, was the dominant influence of Western nations, who were embracing a laissez faire approach to state governance at that time.

Twenty years later the lack of major global progress towards sustainable development, towards true integration of environmental and developmental priorities, should make us question this lack of attention to economic systems and government roles.

In the last twenty years we have seen non state actors experiment in many new ways to advance the sustainable development agenda, with partnerships and voluntary standards emerging to promote responsible enterprise and finance. Its been exciting and exhausting. However, despite our enthusiasm, these experiments have also reached some limits of what they can achieve in promoting wider change. Leaders in business and civil society are therefore calling for government to become involved to help mainstream the innovations in sustainable development governance. If Rio 1992 was about governments calling non state actors to act, Rio 2012 may be about non state actors calling on governments to act in support of their innovations.

It is a call that may be heard, because today there are non Western nations with more recent experience of strong government leadership that have greater influence in the intergovernmental arena. In addition, twenty years on we should be able to show more maturity in exploring how systemic flaws in a our economic systems could be changed to reduce pressures for poor social or environmental outcomes.

A debate is beginning to be had in both business and civil society circles about the type of economic system we need for a more fair and sustainable world. Although often rudimentary, and often misunderstanding what capitalism is, these debates show there is growing willingness to tackle issues at the depth and scale that matches their signficance to our planet and our humanity. If it was practical not to discuss capitalism in 1992, given the shortcomings of our progress towards global sustainable development since then, it would not be practical to avoid discussing it today. Consequently we will see an agenda for innovating collaborative economic governance for sustainable development emerge over the coming years. Rio 2012 could be a useful moment in helping to globalise that conversation. However, if it becomes a huge draw on our time and attention without getting to the root causes of our enduring social and environmental problems, it could be worse than useless.

For those of us who have worked hard heeding the original call of Rio, we would do well now to organise to influence people’s awareness of what we have learned through success and failure over the twenty years.

With that in mind, I have begun reflecting on those lessons, and on how they could be communicated and learned in ways that could influence the agendas of organisations that can implement change. Because, we must not lose sight of how such summits are not in themselves implementing mechanisms.. connections have to be made from the insights and hopes of such summits to the real institutions of national and international governance.

Therefore, here are some initial ideas on what we could do:

– clarify the lessons from the last 20 years and the accuracy of the narrative I have just described above

– communicate these insights and narrative to global civil society through networks such as the stakeholder forum for the Rio 2012 summit, and get buy in

-communicate these insights and narrative to business networks active on sustainable development, such as the WBCSD, which was born by the last Earth Summit, and the World Economic Forum, which subsequently saw the light and embraced the goal.. and get their buy in

– begin deliberations and research and a devise a plan of technical assistance for a collaborative economic goverance agenda that would seek to mainstream the last 20 years of innovations in sustainable development practice and sustainable development governance

-communicate these insights, narrative and the technical advice about how to implement a collaborative economic governance agenda to mainstream sustainable development innovations, to the various parts of the UN system that are involved in Rio 2012

– engage the Brazilian government, NGO and business communities on this agenda, as given Brazil’s emergence they will play a far greater role in shaping the agenda, messaging and outcomes of the summit than in 1992

– create powerful communications products, such as TV documentaries, popular books, and celebrity campaigns and concerts that sing from this hymn sheet, rather than a dumbed down and expedient narrative, as we have seen at past summits

– remind everyone that the impact of this summit will be in the way it influences other institutions such as WTO, IMF, WB, UNCTAD, UNDP, ECOSOC and so on, and that unless the connections are made to these agents of economic governance, the summit will be a global mirage of hope in a desert of statis and despair

If you agree, and can actually do something about them, please get in touch. Given my existing commitments to other work, my only plans for engaging in this process are some work Im doing for UNCTAD. However, I will find time to discuss other ideas if you have plans to act.

Ann, you said that war was right to stop torture. Now you know the amount of torture and death it caused, what have you learned?

Open Letter to Ann Clwyd MP, from Dr Jem Bendell, October 25th 2010.

Dear Ann,

My name is Jem Bendell and we met in 1996 during the time when a couple of my friends were among the British hostages being held in West Papua and you offered to help. You kindly worked to get a letter written to the OPM rebel leaders from Klaus Hensch, then President of the European Parliament. The letter seems to have played a role in helping organise a release, although the release failed when the OPM leader Kelly Kwalik changed his mind during his speech. You may recall the British hostages got out, as they fled, later, when the kidnappers starting killing the Indonesian hostages, two of whom died. Thank you for your efforts back then. I remember you from then as a principled MP.

I was always surprised and disappointed at your stance on the invasion of Iraq. I was working as a consultant at the UN in 2003. I organised the writing and UN staff signing of a letter sent to all non permanent members of the UN Security Council to remind them of the principles of the UN Charter. We were concerned the UN might endorse an invasion, as that would have set a new precedent in international law, suggesting that a state with power and prejudice could launch an attack because it felt threatened. In the letter we simply reminded them of the UN Charter, which international civil servants at the UN are meant to uphold, rather than focusing on specific issues they were deliberating. The UN hierarchy did not like our efforts – security paid us a visit. Fortunately a few brave non permanent Security Council members did not cave in to the bribes and phone taps, and the resolution to authorise an invasion was not passed. This meant that PM Blair could no longer say the UN would back the coalition forces as implementing the will of the ‘international community’. It might also help in him being prosecuted as a war criminal one day, and thus serving as a warning to Western leaders in future. However, it did not stop the war, which appeared inevitable to everyone, including the millions of protestors who did not believe it when politicians said war was not inevitable. Never has there been a bigger display of the general public believing their leaders to be liars than that anti war march before the invasion.

There were few moral voices in favour of the War. You stood up and called for war to end torture. “See men shredded, then say you don’t back war” read the headline of your article in the Sunday Times, calling for an invasion. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/thunderer/article1120757.ece

I was wondering whether over the years you have rethought your views on how one deals with oppressive regimes and dictators. The latest leaks show that terrible abuses have been widespread since the invasion. For instance see the Guardian stories showing the level of abuse, and the official policy of the US Army to ignore it. This is aside from more than 60000 civilian deaths, documented by the US Army in the leaked information. In 2003 you talked of men being shredded by Saddam Hussein being a justification for war. So many more people have been shredded by bullets since, as well as tortured, due to the war. The depravity of killers is not the primary issue that should influence our judgement, rather the extent of the human rights abuses, the extent of the killings, and what responses will work, not make things worse. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/22/iraq-detainee-abuse-torture-saddam)

This level of violence was predicted by the anti War movement in 2003, whose analysts said it would be a long fight, with sectarian violence, and the likelihood of invading forces reestablishing a despotic government or militia in order to keep some control. They also said it would stoke hatred and trigger terrorism against the West. It appears the anti War movement had the smartest military intelligence; or perhaps they were simply not being willfully ignorant due to political and professional pressure in 2003?

When faced with evidence of human rights abuses in Iraq, you told the Chilcot inquiry earlier this year that “it is disappointing but understandable” and explained that it takes time after wars to achieve security. You didn’t express such patience about dealing with torture and death under Saddam Hussein. You told the inquiry you have made representations to the Iraqi government to uphold human rights as “one of the main reasons for going in there, to get rid of the kind of tyranny and cruelty that was going on in that country. I don’t want to see it perpetuated.” It appears from recent leaked documents from Wikileaks that you had little impact in that regard.

Some make statements such as “it was right to get rid of Saddam”, which is meaningless as it could justify any level of destruction in pursuit of that aim (would we nuke a whole country to get rid of one man? No, and so in isolation it is a nonsensical justification). Some make statements such as “its important to focus on the future” as if the future wont include other situations where we face dictators, human rights abuses, and opportunistic politicians seeking to take countries to war, and so we need to learn our lessons.

Do you now see that to deal with dictators and despotic regimes you need effective sanctions that take away the ability of a regime’s elite members of society to move or bank abroad? That those and only those sanctions are the ones that work, and we need more progress to ensure all governments, including offshore financial centres, participate in such sanctions in future, and where there are tough trade sanctions against countries who do not participate in such efforts against dictators? And that, conversely, we need to engage more with the people living under dictatorships, giving them visas for tourism, study, business etc, and funding them to study abroad, etc, as part of the process of creating a lasting change?

Ann, you said that war was right to stop torture. Now you know the amount of torture and death it has caused, what have you learned?

A lot of people died in a War that you helped to justify. You have been largely quiet in public about revelations about abuses in Iraq since the invasion. It would be a good time to say something new.

I will post this letter to my blog, and will post your reply if you permit. (http://www.jembendell.com)

Thanks, Jem
Dr. Jem Bendell