Michael Sheen Starts a National Conversation on Sustainable Development
On 18 February a ‘National Conversation’ was launched by the Welsh Government at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, attended by award-winning Welsh actor and UNICEF's advocate for children's rights Michael Sheen (star of The Twilight Saga and Frost/Nixon amongst many other films), who lives in Neath Port Talbot. He gave this inspirational speech.
He was followed by Jonathon Porritt, the former Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission and head of the Forum for the Future. He used his speech to give a message of hope based on the research he did for his book The World We Made (Alex Mckay's Story from 2050), published in late 2013.
I was present at the launch, called #TheWalesWeWant, a unique dialogue that the Welsh Government has initiated with its population in advance of drafting a bill on sustainable development, that will be called the Future Generations Bill.
Wales is almost unique in the world as a country for having sustainable development embedded into its constitution. Its First Minister, Carwen Jones, has repeatedly said that he wants sustainable development to be part of everything the government does.
His minister responsible for sustainable development and the bill is not an environment minister but Jeff Cuthbert (right) who is the minister responsible also for Communities & Tackling Poverty. This is due to a recognition that sustainable development is also about social justice, he said in his speech.
Following introductions by Peter Davies, the independent Commissioner for Sustainable Futures in Wales (right), speaker after speaker affirmed that the reason for naming it the Future Generations Bill is to emphasise the role of children and young people, and that what the country does now affects profoundly the lives that they will lead.
As a result, many children and young people were present at the launch, on stage, reading poems that they had composed specially for the event. There was also a representative of a Young People's Parliament for Wales present.
This was the reason why Michael Sheen was chosen also: as UNICEF's advocate for children's rights he spoke passionately, after the clip above, about the need to make children feel accepted, included an part of the community. If this is done, he said, they will not grow up to be disenchanted, or to feel a sense of unreasonable entitlement, but will want to play their full part within the community.
The bill builds upon traditional Welsh values of family, community, and respect for the land and its language and traditions. But it also looks to the future.
It will do this by aligning the goals of the act with the new post-2015 Millennium Development goals being drafted by the United Nations. Amongst these are that no individual should take more than their fair share of the Earth's resources.
As part of the United Kingdom, Wales does not have power over all of its affairs. Some, such as taxation and energy, are handled by Westminster in England. Unlike Scotland, which is currently debating whether to vote in a referendum for complete independence from the United Kingdom, Wales currently has no plans to do so.
The powers that the bill will confer, when its contents are eventually decided by the conversation begun yesterday, will therefore be limited. It will only be able to ensure that sustainable development is intrinsic to spending decisions made by the Cardiff government and its public bodies.
But this is a powerful beginning. When you start a conversation like this, you do not know where it will end. so for a government, it is a huge gamble, but one that it hopes will really pay off.
At a covering of "green champions" after the launch, upstairs in a seminar room in the Millennium Centre, (see picture, which shows Jonathon Porritt, Michael Sheen, Peter Davies, and many others), participants celebrated the launch of the conversation and applauded the fact that the government was effectively about the use crowdsourcing as a way of determining policy.
Peter Davies welcomed this and said that that conversation will not be limited to the next few months, but would be revisited year after year in the future as a way of engaging the population in the decisions made by politicians.
I must admit that I am habitually a cynic about the promises that politicians make, especially on sustainable development, the environment and poverty alleviation. But in this case I think there may be a glimmer of hope.
As far as I know, this is a unique exercise in the developed world. Wales' government hopes that other countries will notice what it is doing and begin to copy it in their own ways.
David is Special Consultant of this website. He's author of Energy Management in Buildings, Energy Management in Industry, Sustainable Transport Fuels, Solar Technology, Sustainable Home Refurbishment, Solar Photovoltaics Business Briefing, and much more. His new book, The One Planet Life, is due out in November. He's also a novelist, script and comics writer, journalist, and editor. He was ...
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