Minnesota’s global outlook helps land sustainability conference

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For­mer heads of state will meet (in Min­neso­ta, Oct. 2015) on democ­ra­cy, sus­tain­abil­i­ty (Agen­da 21).

An announce­ment expect­ed Mon­day in New York will break the news that Min­neapo­lis will host a major glob­al con­fer­ence on sus­tain­abil­i­ty that will attract the for­mer heads of state of near­ly 100 coun­tries to Min­neso­ta in Octo­ber 2015.

The theme of “MN2015,” as the con­fer­ence will be called, is “democ­ra­cy in a sus­tain­able future.” Giv­en the gov­ern­ing crises in many democ­ra­cies — and the chal­lenge of cli­mate change — the tim­ing couldn’t be better.

The host state is hard to top, too. Minnesota’s grow­ing glob­al rep­u­ta­tion for good gov­ern­ment, mul­ti­sec­tor col­lab­o­ra­tion, and inno­va­tion in busi­ness, edu­ca­tion and the arts makes it an ide­al place to host a seri­ous dia­logue on these fun­da­men­tal issues.

Partnership for ChangeReflec­tive of that grow­ing inter­na­tion­al­ism, one of MN2015’s orga­niz­ing part­ners is Part­ner­ship for Change, a Nor­we­gian-based non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion whose Amer­i­can affil­i­ate is based in Min­neso­ta. The goal of Part­ner­ship for Change is to “pull peo­ple togeth­er and get them to engage in these issues,” said Orlyn Kringstad, exec­u­tive director/USA for the orga­ni­za­tion. “Cli­mate change is here, now. Con­flict is here, now. Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nance is being chal­lenged all over the world, now. That’s why [MN2015] is impor­tant and timely.”

Morris Chancelor Jacqueline Johnson

Mor­ris Chancelor Jacque­line Johnson

AASHEThe oth­er orga­niz­ing part­ner is the Asso­ci­a­tion for Advance­ment of Sus­tain­abil­i­ty in High­er Edu­ca­tion (AASHE), whose chair is Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, Mor­ris Chan­cel­lor Jacque­line John­son. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Pub­lic Affairs will also be involved, and U Pres­i­dent Eric Kaler will serve as co-chair.

U of MN President Eric Kaler

U of MN Pres­i­dent Eric Kaler

Kaler, who notes that the U sends the nation’s third-largest cohort of stu­dents on study-abroad pro­grams, told an edi­to­r­i­al writer that he wants the U to be “world­ly and of the world.” MN2015 “aligns with our glob­al ambi­tions and it fits into our role as thought lead­ers and a place where dif­fer­ent points of view are artic­u­lat­ed and respect­ed,” Kaler said.

Humphrey Dean Eric Schwartz

Humphrey Dean Eric Schwartz

Humphrey School Dean Eric Schwartz added that there is an evolv­ing con­sen­sus that some of the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges with issues of sus­tain­abil­i­ty are not sci­en­tif­ic or tech­ni­cal but political.

Club de MadridThat’s a per­spec­tive that will like­ly be heard from some of the near­ly 100 for­mer heads of state who make up Club de Madrid. The CdM, as the orga­ni­za­tion is infor­mal­ly known, will hold its 2015 con­fer­ence and annu­al meet­ing in con­junc­tion with MN2015, under­scor­ing the inter­na­tion­al impor­tance of the event.

The hope is that work done on MN2015 before and dur­ing the con­fer­ence will have an impact on the Decem­ber 2015 Unit­ed Nations Cli­mate Con­fer­ence in Paris. In advance of the gath­er­ing in Min­neapo­lis, MN2015 orga­niz­ers will ana­lyze trends in democ­ra­cy and sus­tain­abil­i­ty and present best prac­tices from gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, edu­ca­tion and phil­an­thropic orga­ni­za­tions. And at the con­clu­sion of MN2015, Club de Madrid mem­bers and busi­ness lead­ers will be urged to sign a call to action dubbed the “Min­neso­ta Compact.”

That could also be an apt title for the cross-col­lab­o­ra­tion between mul­ti­ple insti­tu­tions, indus­tries and indi­vid­u­als that gives the state great stand­ing to host a sus­tain­abil­i­ty conference.

Take cli­mate change, for exam­ple. There is wide­spread con­sen­sus among most sci­en­tists, as well an increas­ing num­ber of busi­ness and nation­al-secu­ri­ty lead­ers, that cli­mate change pos­es real threats. Politi­cians, how­ev­er, often react with inde­ci­sion, if not indif­fer­ence, to the issue.

CdM’s for­mer heads of state, not behold­en to the bal­lot box, can play a unique role in hon­est­ly assess­ing these risks, as well as sug­gest­ing ways that democ­ra­cies can help find solu­tions to mit­i­gate the impact. Club de Madrid lead­ers might not craft or imple­ment pol­i­cy, but as senior states­men and stateswomen, they can take the long view. Freed from elec­tions, they can urge cur­rent lead­ers to leave a lega­cy that will ben­e­fit future generations.

Ide­al­ly, orga­ni­za­tions like Part­ner­ship for Change, AASHE and Club de Madrid — as well as events like MN2015 — will inspire world lead­ers to not let pol­i­tics tran­scend gov­er­nance and its req­ui­site ele­ment, leadership.