22 October 2009
On 7 September 2009 the Office of the Hungarian Ombudsman of Future Generations (FGO) held a joint workshop with the members of the Balaton Group (BG), an informal group of prominent international environmental system scientists. Following the workshop the senior management of the FGO’s Office took part in the annual conference of the BG at Balatonszemes, West of Hungary, between 8-11 September. Below is a summary of the main conclusions of the meetings between the BG and the FGO with regard to the possible fields of cooperation.
The main mission of the BG and of the FGO is fundamentally the same: to raise awareness about the systemic failure of today’s societies to achieve sustainable development and to stimulate the necessary correction of the underlying negative tendencies. While the instruments at the disposal of the two institutions are of divergent nature, the FGO believes that through the investigation of individual environmental complaints, mediation in local environmental conflicts, support to local communities and environmental groups, fostering environmental democracy it can usefully contribute to the realization of the ideas and messages BG is promoting. In addition, the policy advocacy activity of the FGO with regard to the topical problems of inter alia energy production, forestry and urban sprawl is in line with some of the main focus areas of the BG. The professional and moral support of the members of the BG in this effort is invaluable to the FGO.
A particular area where FGO and BG activities provide mutual reinforcement is the promotion of sustainable local communities. Following its establishment in mid 2008 the FGO launched a six year research project for the collection, systematic analysis and publication of best practices on the implementation of local sustainability agendas. With the project the FGO also aims to provide assistance to local communities to develop their information network, to provide a platform for methodology exchange, pointing out relevant legal problems, administrative obstacles, etc. In line with the forward thinking approach of the BG the FGO believes this project to be of outstanding importance in creating the seeds of not only small sustainable communities but a sustainable society as a whole, the only acceptable pathway that respects the interests of future generations.
At their meeting the FGO undertook to publicise in Hungary some of key scientific findings discussed at the BG annual conference. On 24 September the FGO held a press conference presenting the conclusions of a seminal new article published in Nature magazine on planetary boundaries. The findings of the multiannual research activity conducted by several BG group members, such as Kevin Noone (Stockholm Resilience Center), was presented by Mr János Zlinszky, head of the department of strategy and research at the FGO’s Office and was discussed with key environmental journalists with the participation of key academics in environmental sciences such as Prof. István Láng (former member of the Bruntland Commission) and Prof. Sándor Kerekes (deputy rector of the Corvinus University of Economics, chairman of the National Council on Environment). In addition, the key messages of the BG meeting, whether on climate change, resilience, environmental indicators, are used as a point of reference by the staff of FGO in their policy, scientific or investigative activity.
The Office of the FGO intends to have recourse to the wide network of the BG in its own international relations and invites the BG to do so with the FGO’s network. The FGO will request the presence of BG members as keynote speakers at international events fully or partly organised by the Office (such as sessions and side events of the biannual World Science Forum in November 2009 Budapest) as well as promotes BG scientific findings and messages in its own networking activity. E.g. the FGO will feed in such results and messages in its planned cooperation with the Al Gore climate training project to be held in Hungary in 2010.
The conclusions of the joint workshop with BG group members focusing on communication have been taken into consideration in the definition of the Office’s new organisational structure and work programme. In order to improve its visibility as well as the messages and values it represents the Office will hire a full time communications manager. The structure, content and administration of the Office’s Hungarian and English web site will be revised and improved. In addition, the main conclusions of the workshop on communication and outreach will be summarised in training material for both internal and external use.
Upon the recommendation of BG members the Office will gradually extend its work programme to embrace two progressive policy subjects highly relevant for the quest of sustainability: the role of social psychology and the use of local currencies. The importance of individual and social behaviour in systemic change is an area largely overlooked by policy-makers. To redress this situation, in view of the discussions at the BG meeting the Office will add a new dimension into its research and networking activity. Similarly, a non-conventional measure to eliminate an important systemic sustainability deficit is the use of alternative currencies. The issue will be addressed by the Office under the auspices of its project on sustainable local communities (see above).