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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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Copenhagen must deliver emission cuts at or beyond current proposals

Copenhagen, 9 December 2009 Independent analyses of current mitigation proposals on the table in Copenhagen by Nicholas Stern, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Ecofys, Climate Analytics, the Sustainability Institute (C-ROADS), the European Climate Foundation and ClimateWorks (Project Catalyst) all point to the same conclusion: the negotiations must deliver the high-end of current proposals, and stretch beyond them, if the world is to have a reasonable chance of containing warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, or the 1.5°C goal of many developing nations.

There is a narrow window of opportunity to have the possibility of achieving the global political and scientific consensus of avoiding a global warming of more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels or the 1.5°C goal of 100 developing nations. The concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is increasing everyday and, without significant reductions in emissions, will soon reach levels at which the consequent changes in the Earth’s climate will have very serious, and potentially disastrous and irreversible, impacts.

Full press release here.

This statement is supported by and may be attributed to:

– Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment

– Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

– Bill Hare, Director, Climate Analytics

– Niklas Hahne, Director Energy and Climate Policy, Ecofys

– Bas de Leeuw, Executive Director, Sustainability Institute, C-ROADS

– Andreas Merkl, Director of Global Initiatives at ClimateWorks and Project Catalyst leader

– Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the European Climate Foundation

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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.

Conferences Publications Sustainability Institute

Calling for systems approach to scarcity in India

New Delhi, March 25, 2010. As part of the Foresight India symposium taking place March 25-26 in New Delhi, Sustainability Institute’s Executive Director Bas de Leeuw will be presenting his text on applying a systems approach to resource scarcity.

In this text, De Leeuw begins by pointing out that through the years an increasing amount of credibility has been given to the issue of resource scarcity. Such scarcity is not only due to quantitative limitations, but also to the constraint location may put on their availability, due to conflicts and security concerns. Though society is far along this growth path, de Leeuw assures us there is still hope. If we put effort into looking at the whole picture, gathering more specific data on the global situation, and demonstrating the consequences of inaction, we can better understand the change we need. This change must be reflected on a global, national, and individual level in order to produce effective, innovative solutions and the legislation to support.

Read the article here.   Reader available here (PDF). Sustainability Institute web coverage here

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Sustainability Institute calls for tapping systems thinking potential in UN process

Copenhagen, Denmark, December 8, 2009. Bas de Leeuw, Executive Director of the Dana Meadows Sustainability Institute in the USA pointed to the untapped potential of systems thinking for better achieving the sustainable consumption and production agenda. Individuals need to be empowered to “be the change in the world they want to see”, he said. Bas spoke at an event organized by the Climate Sustainability Platform, an open forum for climate negotiators, sustainability influencers and people from developed and developing countries across the world, moderated by the Sri Lanka based Centre for Environment and Development (CED), organised back to back with the Copenhagen Climate Change talks.

Jeffry Barber, a long time sustainability campaigner from the USA, said that it is the movement of people and their initiatives around the world that will lead the way. Uchita de Zoysa, CED, said it is not ‘development’ that people around the world are asking for, rather ‘happiness for future generations.” The Platform plans to be an active contributor to the upcoming two-years of UN negotiations on an international ten-year framework on Sustainable Consumption and Production, with the first events scheduled for May 2010, New York.

Find the full article here.

Sustainability Institute

SI has a new leader

HARTLAND, VT, USA, September 15, 2009  The Sustainability Institute announced today the appointment of Bastiaan “Bas” de Leeuw as their new executive director. Mr. de Leeuw’s move from his current position, leading the United Nations Sustainable Resource Management Program, will help the Institute strengthen its global support program for Climate Change negotiators, its modeling and outreach work addressing other key environmental challenges and its leadership development program, the Donella Meadows Fellowship.

During his 12 years with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Mr. de Leeuw launched various programmes and initiatives, in particular UNEP’s Sustainable Consumption Programme, the Advertising Initiative, YouthXchange,, the Life Cycle Initiative and the Wuppertal Institute’s Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production. Early on, de Leeuw was instrumental in promoting and designing the UN’s “Marrakech Process”, aimed at building an international ten-year framework of programs on Sustainable Consumption and Production.  Most recently, he played a leading role in developing the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, a think-tank on global resource use chaired by Dr. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker, with Mr. De Leeuw as Head of the Secretariat.

Regarding his time with UNEP, de Leeuw had this to say, “Throughout my time there, one of the most rewarding aspects was working with a young team of diverse nationalities (Australian, Austrian, Brazilian, Chinese, Dutch, Egyptian, French, German, Italian, Kazakhstani, Kenyan, Korean, Mexican, Norwegian, Peruvian, UK and USA), all eager to make a difference, while respecting various cultures and values. We all learned to have patience and make compromises where necessary for the greater good. The UN’s greatest assets are their junior staff.  I am grateful for that experience and now look forward to working with SI’s dedicated multidisciplinary team of scientists, writers, project managers and trainers, who are currently gearing up for the UN Climate Change Conference [COP15] in Copenhagen.”

Dana Meadows

The Sustainability Institute (SI) and its partners, Ventana Systems and the Sloan School of Management at MIT, have developed a scientifically-grounded system dynamics model (C-ROADS) to help decision makers achieve more effective national and international climate policies.  In partnership with the Global Observatory, C-ROADS will be used to provide real-time analysis of the implications of the Copenhagen summit to global media and to civil society groups lobbying for a strong, science-based agreement. The SI and partners also provide easy-to-use, open-source climate change support tools on the Internet, suitable for schoolteachers as well as technical advisors.

“The current climate crisis demands a global solution: nations must collaborate and they must act fast. National leaders and their negotiators must see clearly how their positions interact strongly with those of other nations, to either facilitate or obstruct the global solution required to avert environmental catastrophe”, said de Leeuw, who will take up his position in November. The December Copenhagen Summit, tasked with agreeing to a framework for climate change mitigation beyond 2012, is only a few months away.

Mr. De Leeuw notes that climate change is not the only pending crisis. “We must also deal with global natural resource scarcity, increasing prices, worsening labor conditions and environmental degradation, all intensified by global interdependence and financial instability. But these challenges also provide opportunities to break old habits and develop better patterns of production and consumption, respecting nature and humanity. We need to find solutions based on the same science-based systems thinking that the world is now applying to climate change.”

To help grapple with these issues, SI’s Donella Meadows Fellowship Program trains sustainability leaders from around the world in systems thinking and organizational learning. Currently, 74 Fellows apply these skills to their high impact work in corporations, government, foundations and civil society organizations in over 16 countries including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and The Netherlands. The Fellows Program reinforces the Institute’s commitment to ensuring that a diversity of voices and experiences will help shape policy at every level, from global to local.

From his 12 years of service at the UNEP, Mr. de Leeuw brings to the SI a wealth of experience in resource management and strong relationships with sustainability leaders around the world in government, non-profits and the private sector. Mr. de Leeuw looks forward to strengthening the connections between his networks and the work of the SI. A January 2010 International Symposium on Sustainability in Mumbai, India, where Mr. de Leeuw is a member of the organizing committee and an invited speaker, will provide an early opportunity to develop those connections, which are so critical in addressing complex international sustainability issues.

The Chair of SI’s Board of Directors, Jeanne Veatch-Bragdon, noted that one of the great strengths Mr. de Leeuw brings to the Institute is the far-reaching network of individuals with whom he’s worked and who speak highly of him, his leadership and his commitment to creating a sustainable future.  “Mr. de Leeuw’s personal mission is closely aligned with that of the Institute.  We are indeed fortunate and look forward to helping him build the Institute’s capacity to impact the momentum of the global movement toward sustainability.”

Press release Sustainability Institute