Friday 20 May 2022

People will suffer more if professionals delude themselves about sustainable development – Letter to UN

[From and embargoed until May 23rd, 2022, 1am EST]

At the start of a United Nations summit on reducing the risks and impacts of disasters around the world, 100 scholars from 17 countries are stating publicly that increasing environmental mayhem demands a rethinking of the goals of international aid and cooperation. On May 23rd 2022, their public letter appears in the Independent newspaper. It calls on delegates to the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction to ditch the concept of sustainable development, due to 30 years of proven failure from its allegiance to global capitalism. The full list of signatories follows the letter below. Background information on the International Scholars’ Warning on societal disruption and collapse is available here.

The Letter:

The worldwide increase in harm from human-caused environmental mayhem demands an urgent refocusing of international aid and cooperation.

The United Nations has reported non-existent progress to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on reducing poverty and environmental destruction. As members of Universities and research institutes from around the world, we know that UN Secretary-General António Guterres was right to state that humanity is “moving backwards in relation to the majority of the SDGs.” As he emphasised, even before impacts of the pandemic response, the “number of people suffering from food insecurity was on the rise, the natural environment continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate, and dramatic levels of inequality persisted in all regions.” For instance, SDG 2 aims to end hunger, but world hunger has been rising since 2014, with more than a quarter the world population affected by moderate or severe food insecurity in 2019.

Coming in the wake of the failure to meet all the Millennium Development Goals, failure to meet the SDGs is an indication of a systemic problem. If the way modern societies operate cause the problems that the SDGs seek to address, can we be surprised that those same systems are incapable of fixing them? It is becoming clear that the assumptions that underpin the SDGs are invalid, including continual economic expansion. 

Before now, it may have been convenient for politicians, bureaucrats and people in the organisations they fund, to maintain an upbeat message that more technology, capital and management will solve both poverty and environmental destruction. However, the evidence from the UN’s own reports show clearly that is merely a convenient myth, and that billions of people would be better served by more sober analysis of the worsening situation.

Decades of failure must not be ignored. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, we publicly call on the UN to drop the redundant and unhelpful ideology of Sustainable Development. Instead, enabling communities to become more resilient locally must become a central and cross-cutting principle for international cooperation. Fair and locally-led adaptation to disruptions must be complemented with attempts to transition to new socio-economic systems. That can involve some re-localization of trading relationships and energy production, alongside the equitable degrowth of wealthy economies.

We agree with the head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Mami Mizutori, that “raising the alarm by speaking the truth is not only necessary but crucial.” Our own analysis supports the conclusion of Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed that the world is entering “a spiral of self-destruction.” However, the only way to stop the spiral is to drop allegiance to economic growth and its attendant ideologies like Sustainable Development, and reframe international cooperation.

As more experts in Disaster Risk Management abandon the idea that an expansion of economic activity is always a necessity, they could help shape a framework 'Replacing Sustainable Development', whereby policy making reduces harm in the face of growing disruption, loss and damage. Therefore, during the UN’s summit on disasters, we call on all international agencies to help governments bring all policies into line with greater resilience and risk reduction.

Lead signatories, in a personal capacity

Professor William Rees (University of British Columbia, Ecological Economics)

Dr Malika Virah-Sawmy (IASS, Climate Adaptation)

Dr Yves Cochet (Former Minister of the Environment, France)

Dr Stella Nyambura Mbau (LOABOWA, Climate Adaptation)

Dr Ye Tao (MEER Framework, Climate Adaptation)

Dr Sonja Kaiser (TUBAF, Earth System Modelling)

Professor Jem Bendell (University of Cumbria, climate adaptation)

Dr Clelia Sirami (INRAE, Ecology)

Dr Jeremy Jimenez (State University of New York, Education)

Dr Britt Wray (Stanford University, Psychology)

Dr Rupert Read (UEA, Philosophy)

If you have a PhD and would like to engage other scholars in helping shift the policy agenda to one that recognises reality and the unfolding societal disruptions it entails, then please consider signing the original International Scholars Warning on Societal Disruption and Collapse []

If you are interested or working on related themes, but not a scholar, then I recommend the Deep Adaptation Forum. []

If you are in the UK and would like to study leadership and communications on these topics in a 5-day starting on June 13th, then the deadline for your application is June 8th!


All 100+ signatories, in a personal capacity

Dr. Sheena Wilson, Professor, University of Alberta, ca

Dr. Geoffrey Samuel, Emeritus Professor, Cardiff University, ca

Dr. David Schenck, Retired scientist, Independent, us

Dr. Jean Rumbold, Honorary Associate, La Trobe University, au

Dr. William Welsh, Independent Scholar, Independent, us

Prof. Brian Stewart, Professor of Physics, Wesleyan University, us

Dr. Ronald Parry, Scientist, Rice University, us

Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker, Senior Lecturer, Curtin University, au

Dr. Patrick Smith, Ecologist, Independent, id

Dr. Hamilton Carvalho, Lecturer, USP, br

Dr. Greg Lennon, Scientist, CarLen5050, us

Dr. Caroline Smith, Adjunct in science education, University of Tasmania, au

Dr. Rachel Forgasz, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University, au

Dr. Britt Wray, Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, us

Prof. Joyce Green, Professor, University of Regina, ca

Dr. Joachim Schutz, CEO, alex2020 gmbh, ch

Dr. Gerd Bongs, Consultant, Dr. Gerd Bongs scientific consulting, at

Dr. Michel Dobrijevic, Astrophysicist, University of Bordeaux, fr

Dr. Els van Ooijen, Psychotherapist, Nepenthe Consulting, uk

Prof. Adi Ophir, Professor Emeritus, Tel Aviv University, us

Dr. Gillian Ross, Author and meditation teacher, Independent, us

Dr. Daniel Buckles, Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University, ca

Prof. Wendy Hollway, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Open University, uk

Dr. John Phelps, Educator, Burke Indivisible, us

Dr. Sonja Kaiser, Researcher, TUBAF Germany, de

Dr. Andreas Birgegard, Associate professor, Karolinska institutet, se

Dr. Miguel Brandao, Associate professor, KTH Royal institute of technology, us

Dr. Eleonore Faure, Scientist, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, se

Dr. Maria Johansson, Hvilan Utbildning, Reserchers Desk, se

Dr. Stella Nyambura Mbau, Consultant, LOABOWA, ke

Dr. Eric Cavalcanti, Associate Professor, Griffith University, au

Prof. Jorn Altmann, Professor, Seoul National University, kr

Dr. Christoph Becker, Associate Professor, University of Toronto, ca

Dr. Lisa Nathan, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia, ca

Dr. Geoff Berry, Ecophilosopher, International Ecopsychology Society, au

Dr. Carol Wellwood, Botanist & Agroecologist, Independent, uk

Dr. Johannes Scheppach, Medical Doctor, Charity University Medicine Berlin, de

Dr. Bruno Gayral, Researcher, CEA-Grenoble, fr

Dr. Kirsten Shukla, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Oxford Health NHS Trust, in

Prof. Noel B. Salazar, Professor in Social and Cultural Anthropology, KU Leuven, si

Dr. Michel Cucchi, Assistant Director, University Hospital of Lille, fr

Dr. Thierry Masson, Researcher, CNRS, fr

Dr. Marshall Tuttle, Lecturer in Music, Retired, Langston University, us

Dr. Pascal Maugis, Researcher, LSCE, fr

Dr. Robert R. Janes, Museologist, Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice, ca

Dr. Richard Parncutt, Lecturer, University of Graz, Austria, at

Dr. Anthony Goodchild, Veterinary Epidemiologist (retired), APHA, uk

Prof. Carlos de Castro, Professor, University of Valladolid. Applied Physics departament. es

Dr. Clelia Sirami, Researcher, INRAE, fr

Prof. Gregoire Wallenborn, Professor, Free University of Bruxelles, nl

Dr. Richard Jabot, Postdoctoral Researcher, Audencia FR, fr

Dr. Richard Smart, Geotechnical Engineer, Independent, au

Dr. Marla Fisher, Teacher, Independent, us

Dr. Josh Goldstein, Lecturer, university of southern California, us

Dr. Morgan Phillips, Founder, The Glacier Trust, uk

Dr. Barry Gills, Scientist, University of Helsinki, uk

Dr. Julie Lavie, Researcher in Genetics, University of Bordeaux, fr

Dr. Elia Valentini, Senior Lecturer, University of Essex, ie

Dr. Wolfgang Nitschke, Senior Scientist, CNRS, fr

Dr. David Wheeler, Founder, Sustainable Transitions Costa Rica, cr

Dr. Malika Virah-Sawmy, Research Fellow, IASS, de

Prof. Stephen Martin, Visiting Professor, University of the West of England Bristol, uk

Prof. Stephen Sterling, Emeritus Professor of Sustainability Education, University of Plymouth, nl

Dr. Jean-Michel Hupe, Researcher, CNRS, fr

Dr. Marieke Van Lichtervelde, Research fellow, University of Toulouse, fr

Dr. Dietmar Weinmann, Physicist, CNRS, fr

Dr. Dalila Bovet, Ethologist, University of Paris Nanterre, fr

Dr. Magali Ollagnier-Beldame, Researcher, CNRS, fr

Prof. Eva Lantsoght, Professor, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, ec

Dr. Yves Cochet, Former Minister of the Environment, France, Institut Momentum, fr

Dr. Jeffrey Douglass, Scholar, Independent, uk

Dr. Aimee Maxwell, Psychologist, Independent, au

Dr. Irene Malvestio, Postdoctoral Fellow, Universitat de Barcelona, it

Dr. Chris Murray, Emeritus Staff Scientist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, USA, us

Dr. Hedy Bryant, Facilitator and educator for living systems informed practice. HARK Facilitation Services, au

Dr. Mike Joy, Senior researcher/ecologist, Victoria University, hk

Dr. Elizabeth Downing, Climate educator, Awakening Wisdom Yoga and Meditation, us

Dr. Terry Rankin, Activist, Independent, us

Dr. Clifford Pickett, Jr. Molecular Biologist, Swarthmore, us

Prof. David Peters, Emeritus Professor Integrated Healthcare, university of westminster, uk

Dr. Linda Vogelsong, Founder, WovenStory Productions, us

Dr. Katy Fox, Ecosocial Designer, Mycelium Design, be

Dr. Hans Eickhoff, Investigator, Degrowth Network Portugal, pt

Dr. Elspeth Crawford, Retired Lecturer, University of Edinburgh, uk

Prof. John Adams, Emeritus Professor of Organizational Systems, Saybrook University, us

Dr. Peter Kindfield, Founder and Lead Teacher, Hilltop Education Connections, us

Dr. Arthur Weaver, Independent Scientist, Independent, us

Dr. Ye Tao, Founder, MEER Framework, be

Dr. Ian Sturrock, Senior Lecturer, Teesside University, uk

Prof. William Rees, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia, ca

Dr. Martin Weinel, Research Associate, Cardiff University, uk

Dr. Vicki Little, Educator, Monash University Malaysia, nz

Prof. Yin Paradies, Professor of Race Relations, Deakin University, au

Dr. Mark Swoiskin, Medical Doctor, UCSF, us

Dr. Alison Farmer, Founder, Independent, us

Prof. Jem Bendell, Professor, University of Cumbria, uk

Dr. Rupert Read, Associate Professor, UEA, uk

Dr. Jeremy Jimenez, Assistant Professor of Education , The State University of New York (at Cortland), us

Dr. Alexandra Appel, Principal, INL Consulting, us

Dr. Thomas Bristow, Honorary Fellow, University of Western Australia, au

Dr. Lazlo Rampasek, CEO, OurOffset Nonprofit LLC. Hu

Dr. Natalie Loveless, Associate Professor, University of Alberta. 


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