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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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Conferences photo Presentations Sustainability Institute UNEP World Resources Forum

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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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, SC.net, 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