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ENERGIE 2013 - I want you

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Inauguration World Resources Forum Association in St. Gallen

St. Gallen, 16 March 2012. Against the backdrop of the multiple crises of the past years – financial, food and energy – the World Resources Forum announced today an expansion of its activities. On top of the successful bi-annual events in Davos, Switzerland, the Forum will start organizing conferences and smaller sized meetings in all regions of the world. An independent association has been set up to this end, supported by governments, industry and NGO’s.

The new World Resources Forum (WRF) Association was inaugurated today at the town hall in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in the presence of representatives of its founding members BAFU/FOEN (the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment), Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology), HP (Hewlett-Packard) and the city of St. Gallen.

The first WRF outside Switzerland will be held in Beijing, China, October 21-23, 2012, and will address the Green Economy. This conference is organized with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute for Process Engineering. An India Resource Forum is tentatively planned for the beginning of 2013, and the WRF plans to support meetings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (African Development Forum, 23-25 October this year) and Berlin (European Resources Forum, 13-14 November).

The new Association will be led by former UNEP diplomat Bas de Leeuw, who says that “more and more organizations are working in this field, for specific resources or for specific audiences. We welcome these initiatives and would like to provide a global platform, giving our members and our conference audiences the possibility of practical implementation-oriented snapshot experiences, where they can inform themselves about the latest trends and new cutting edge initiatives and partners”.

Urging policy makers to demonstrate a sense of urgency for resource issues similar to what they do for financial crises, De Leeuw points out that addressing resources challenges require significant investments on a global scale. Sharing information about trends and options helps ensure that these investments will be efficient and effective. In developing countries, the World Bank has estimated, that the need for investments in greening infrastructure, such as buildings, the energy and transport sectors, could reach US$264-$563 billion by 2030. “This is why it is so important that the WRF works with and for developing countries as well”, he says, “decision-makers from these countries are very welcome to join our initiative, and many of them have already done so.”

Go here for full story and press release (PDF)

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“Conferences alone do not change the world”, new WRF leader Bas de Leeuw says

St. Gallen, May 2011. The World Resources Forum has a new Managing Director. Bas de Leeuw (Dutch economist and former United Nations diplomat) has taken up his post this month. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Empa team, having been in charge of multiple UN programs in the field of sustainable development. De Leeuw also held various positions in the Dutch government, OECD and was most recently Executive Director of Dana Meadows’ Sustainability Institute in the USA.

“Conferences alone do not change the world”, De Leeuw says, “but without them we wouldn’t have seen any progress at all. Conferences can be milestone events, inspiring governments to commit publicly to appropriate strategies. They can showcase business progress and they are a podium for scientists and NGO’s to discuss problems and opportunities. For the media they are the perfect avenue for informing the public and hence keep the sense of urgency for the cause in society. And last but not least, it is only at conferences – during coffee breaks, at lunch, dinner and in the famous corridors – that people from various backgrounds can bond and in an informal way discover ways of cooperating.”

The new Managing Director is pleased to land in “an already perfect setting”. He mentions the high-quality Empa-team, led by WRF President Xaver Edelmann, which has organised international conferences on recycling and reuse since 1993. These famous R’series were in 2009 upscaled to become the World Resources Forum at the occasion of a spectacular Twin Conference (organised jointly in Switzerland and Japan).

“Backbone of the team are the two Martins” (Martin Birtel and Martin Lehmann), he says, “and with them and their colleagues I have the pleasure to benefit from a small, dedicated and no nonsense team of young professionals, who each combine cutting edge knowledge of the issues, mastered at the Empa think-tank, with a curious and open attitude towards the world’s future”. Empa, he points out, is part of the ETH-Domain – often referred to as the European MIT – where nobody less than Albert Einstein once studied and lectured. De Leeuw is also very pleased with the strong support of a multitude of external partners, from all parts of the world, who advise on themes and speakers, through the Expert Committee and Scientific Committee.

De Leeuw’s arrival is, according to Xaver Edelmann, also an important step towards the realisation of the WRF Association: an independent organisation which will organise the conferences (which will become annual in stead of bi-annual, and take place in various parts of the world), and work to increase its global reach and effectiveness. “Many of our partners have requested for such a structural setting, and I am pleased to report that the implementation of this idea is now making very good progress”, says Edelmann. China, Australia and Germany have already expressed informal interest in hosting future WRF events in their region. The Association will, apart from its founding members, be open for governments and other non-profit organizations, companies  and individuals.

The organisation of WRF2011, to be held in September this year, is in full swing, with confirmed speakers including UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner, EC’s Commissioner Janez Potocnik, Ashok Khosla and Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker (International Resource Panel). A delegation of global parliamentarians will be present as well. “We will make this year extra efforts to make the conference in particular  ‘cool’ for young people, students, young professionals, an initiative which was already started two years ago with the ‘student reporters’. The use of the social media, like Twitter and Facebook, will be strengthened”, adds De Leeuw.

Bas de Leeuw’s personal website has an overview of his professional career, including an article about WRF 2009.

He and his team members can be reached here.

Full article here.

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Speaking and moderating at WRF09

Davos, September 16, 2009 Saying goodbye to UNEP and saying hello to Dana Meadows’ Sustainability Institute, where he had been appointed Executive Director on September 15, 2009, Bas de Leeuw addressed the opening session of the World Resources Forum. He said that the World Resources Forum, like the Resource Panel, is “walking on the bridge between science and policymakers.”

“Policymakers and politicians want ‘consensus’, ‘proven methods, grounded in solid science’. And if there is any remaining doubt, or if there is anything that is not yet measurable, this can be used as an excuse for non-action, as we have learnt from the Climate Change debates. At the other hand, scientists love diversity, disagreements, debates,  they adore proving that the other one is wrong. Their passion goes into continuous improvement and fine-tuning of their analyses. And that is all very fine. However, sometimes one would like to have some sort of consensus, even if not everything is fully understood, at least some direction of the way to go.”

The issue of ‘policy relevance’ is a challenge, he said. “Governments – how strange that may sound – are in general not fond of policy advice, not even if this is coming from the world’s best scientists. Rather they want to receive ‘policy relevant’ reports … and draw their own conclusions. It is like a patient who does not want the doctor telling him to lead a healthier lifestyle: eat better, exercise more, quit smoking … he does not want to hear it, and if the doctor insists he will go to another doctor. Imagine you are such a patient, feeling ill, not really knowing what is the matter … wouldn’t you rather want to know exactly what is wrong with you and get the best advice to cure? As soon as possible?”

Bas de Leeuw went on by acknowledging the founder of the Sustainability Institute, Dana Meadows, who died in 2001, and who has written about limits to growth, and “was showing how the world could do better, choose other paths of growth. We would now call this ‘decoupling’.”

“But she also dared to write about resources without any limits: creativity and love. Those resources are not scarce, rather a huge untapped potential, and each of you here have these resources in abundance. Please use them as much as you can without any restriction for the sake of our planet, for mankind and for yourself.”

UNEP also organised a briefing on progress made with the International Resources Panel. Read here the student reporters’ findings about the briefing and about the moderator’s style.

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Writing about the power of individuals and meeting Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan

New York, April 2004 Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan once said “Sustainable consumption is about the power of individuals”. He spoke at the occasion of the launch of the World Watch Institute State of the World report, 2004, devoted to the Consumer Society. Our Paris SC team was proud to get proper coverage in the report with our various initiatives. Kofi Annan was late for his speech, which forced Klaus Toepfer – my UNEP boss at the time – and speaking before him … to use 100% of my speech and more. Kofi Annan entered the meeting room just when Klaus was really running out of his joke repertoire.  He gave an impressive presentation, seemingly improvised, and then mingled with the crowd, including Viveka Bohn, Helen Agren and many other SC fans.

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Two years later I built on his quote in my preface for the Creative Communities report by writing “The choices of everyone determine consumption patterns, production patterns, the degradation of natural resources, pollution and social progress. The sum total of trillions of individual choices in millions of life cycles of products and services is what we are talking about when reflecting on sustainable development.

People are surely doing their bit. Many want to make a difference, be it only by buying organic apples or fair trade coffee in the supermarket. People join waste recycling and energy saving schemes. Others take to the street or organize mass gatherings in an effort to wake up society. Some individuals are starting to explore new systems to work and live together. They organize their own lives differently. They act. They show by doing that there are other ways to live a good life without at the same time threatening nature, other people or their own inner peace.

Earlier work of UNEP has revealed that the Global Consumer Class (including the Global South) increasingly shares the same consumption patterns around the world. “All I wanna do is have some fun. I got a feeling I’m not the only one” (Sheryl Crow) can be heard in MP3-players in Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Paris, Cape Town and New York. The consumer society is here to stay. But these consumers also have similar ideals. They want to get rid of pollution and stop violence and they really hold that everyone is equal and deserves the same chances.

Creative communities exist everywhere, and may not differ greatly, hence offering plenty of scope for learning from each other. The vast majority of the world’s population has to struggle to survive on a daily basis. Klaus Toepfer said: “We should not be afraid to wish that everyone in the world became a consumer. The poor need more than food and shelter. They ultimately need to be able to make choices for their material and immaterial well being.” Connecting the poor to the world’s grid of creative communities is certainly part of that enormous task. They should become consumers and they should become producers.

This book shows cases, tells stories, and formulates visions and the beginning of theories. It is about individuals, it is about working together, and it will lead to new markets and tools. Let it be a rich source of inspiration for those readers who are willing to open their heart, to be curious and to think differently.”

(Excerpts preface of Creative Communities by Bas de Leeuw, UNEP. The “Creative Communities: People inventing sustainable ways of living” publication was edited by Anna Meroni and was a book resulting from the EMUDE project, financed by the European Commission. Also see Sustainable Everyday project, by Ezio Manzini.

Download Creative Communities (PDF), foreword “The Power of Individuals Working Together” on page 5.

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Co-chairing 2011 WRF Expert Meeting

St. Gallen, March, 2011. The WRF Expert Committee met in St. Gallen, March 10, 2011. The experts discussed various topics and provided their advice about program and speakers and an outreach strategy. The next World Resources Forum will be held in Davos, 19-21 September 2011. Find out everything about it here. Watch the videos of the event.

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Co-chairing 2010 WRF Expert Committee Summit Meeting

St. Gallen, June 2010. The WRF Expert Committee met in St. Gallen, 14-15 June 2010, and discussed lessons learnt from WRF09, as well as the tentative program for WRF11. Five ‘hot topics’ for a call for papers emerged. The beautiful setting of the Swiss Alpes helped to get a far reaching vision. Xaver Edelmann and Bas de Leeuw chaired the meeting.

The clusters which emerged from plenary and working group discussions are:

1.Security of Supply Peak minerals, Scarcity of metals and minerals, Environmental and social burden of resource extraction, Resource extraction and socio-political conflicts, Recycling of important material flows, Secondary resources

2.Growth, Innovation, Decoupling, Efficiency and Sufficiency Supply chain management, Regional and global material flows, Efficiency of processes and manufacturing, Dematerialization, Low Carbon Society, Green economy, Circular economy, Resources and greenhouse gas emissions, Best practice examples and case studies

3.Assessment Methods, Resource Use Indicators and Targets Life cycle analysis, Ecological footprint, Grey energy, Carbon footprint, other Greenhouse-gas-related indicators, Water footprint, Soil-related indicators, Material flow indicators and (per-capita) targets, Standards

4.The Social Dimension of Resources Welfare of countries, New economic approaches beyond growth, Values and lifestyles, Consumer behavior, Social LCA, Sustainability assessment, Sustainable consumption, North/South context, Industrializing countries

5.Communication and Education Information systems, Product information, Youth involvement, Awareness for resource limits and sustainable resource management, Workplace training, Outreach

The next meeting of the Expert Committee will be held early 2011.

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Chairing UN Sustainable Consumption and Production Systems Session

New York, 10 May 2010. The ten-year action plan on sustainable consumption and production, coordinated by the UN Marrakech process, needs to ensure equitable consumption and production opportunities. A side-event organised by the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) was held at the occasion of the 18th meeting of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development, moderated by Bas de Leeuw.

Speakers included Jeffrey Barber, Executive Director of the Integrative Strategies Forum, Gail Karlsson, member of the US Citizens Network for Sustainable Development, Uchita de Zoysa, Executive Director of the Sri Lanka based CED, and Chris Soderquist, systems dynamics consultant and trainer.

Read a personal report by Susan Overakker (Sustainable Susan) here.

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Facilitating EC Green Week session on resources

Brussels, 3-6 June 2008. Besides the problems of climate change, the scarcity of our planet’s natural resources and pollution, mankind is faced with equally pressing challenges related to production, consumption and waste disposal. Many people are unaware of the speed at which we are using up our natural resources, and that we are producing waste far faster than it can be turned back into a useful resource. Green Week 2008, organised by the European  Commission, took a closer look at the sustainable use of natural resources, focusing on waste management, sustainable consumption and production.

UNEP’s Bas de Leeuw – head of the Resource Panel Secretariat – moderated the June 4 session on identifying priority natural resources. Watch the unedited video of the full session.

Putting a priority on certain natural resources can play an important role in reducing the environmental impacts of resource use. This session focused on the advantages of using one resource over another, such as wood rather than stone to build houses. It also covered a range of related issues including trends in raw material use, price developments, market failures, the development of methodologies and how these elements influence sustainability. 

Speakers were Thomas E. Graedel, Member of the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management and Professor, Industrial Ecology, Yale University,  Phil Dolley, AEA Technology, and Andreas Kunsleben, Effizienz-Agentur – cleaner production in North Rhine-Westphalia.