Dr Jakob von Uexküll is the founder of the World Future Council – an organisation that aims to change laws around the world and is concerned with issues such as future justice, climate and energy, sustainable ecosystems, sustainable economies, just societies, peace and disarmament.
A former stamp dealer from Germany, von Uexküll has long been interested in environmental issues and ways of solving them. Realising that no other group was working on policy implementation in this regard he set up the World Future Council in 2007.
“There are a lot of people around the world doing policy research but no other organisation is working on implementing policies as a blueprint for the future,” he explains. “Without the right laws, people don’t know how to act and these laws have to be implemented so they see that they work. We have all these best practices in private businesses but they are all useless unless we change the framework.”
He believes that all countries around the world should prioritise environmental problems. “They make everything worse; they increase global insecurity; they threatens to destroy much of what our civilisation has built and they make what we still want to achieve much harder.”
The World Future Council was originally funded by the city of Hamburg in Germany. However in recent years it has become entirely dependent on private donations.
It’s a small organisation which employs 10 people in different parts of the world and works with people in positions of power to make them aware that they have an ethical responsibility to assess every decision they make on the basis of how it will affect future generations.
Von Uexküll stresses that it’s not an NGO and adds that it works in collaboration with civil society groups, members of parliament, governments, businesses and international groups to research future policies and legislation in relation to the environment. It then advises political decision-makers, offering them tried and tested courses of action and supporting them in the implementation of new policies.
“We have managed to change the law in many countries. We have a special website for policymakers where they can put ideas together with bits of laws from other countries. We also look at the financial implications of what we propose and how it can be implemented. The problem is that many progressive businesses have not yet realised the value of working together in relation to the environment.”
When it comes to the Middle East, issues such as renewable energy; the construction of buildings without adverse affect on the environment; and water conservation are all of particular concern at the moment. And energy is high on the agenda.
“We’re hoping to strengthen our voice and the voice of the Arab world in the Future Council. However I find that there’s a critical awareness here of what’s going on in the world environmentally. Abu Dhabi has been making steps in the right direction in recent years but they need to speed up those steps.
"In Dubai they’ve realised that the vision of the future they had 20 years ago is not sustainable and so we’re advising – as we are around the world. It must be remembered too that what has happened here [in terms of modernisation] in past decades is not based on traditional Arabic culture – it’s based on a western idea of a how a city should be built.”
He adds that the renowned UAE professor and intellectual Dr Rafia Ghubash is a member of the council and has done much to promote its cause in the Gulf – introducing the organisation to influential people such as heads of private businesses. “So far the reception has been very positive here,” says von Uexküll adding that the Dubai meeting will this year focus on ‘Regenerative Urbanisation’. The event will bring together 40 policy makers and experts from around the world to explore perspectives and develop strategies for urban development and creating regenerative cities in the Middle East and across the world.
“Modern cities are the most complex systems ever created by humans – approximating the complexity of living systems in an ecological web. But as the world becomes predominantly urban, their inherent tendency to waste resources has been amplified. To assure that cities are not harmful to either their inhabitants or the ecosystems on which they depend, bold new approaches to policy, planning, design and use of technology are urgently needed,” he adds.
He points out the need for example for strict building codes. “Very few companies can afford to do more than is required – so we need to have strict building codes. The biggest problem is what to do with all the existing buildings. How can we make them environmentally friendly?”
This and many other pressing environmental issues will be discussed at the ‘Expert Hearing on Regenerative Urbanisation’, September 20-24, 2012 at the Habtoor Grand Hotel, Dubai.