Is sustainable development feasible? Can we elaborate sustainable development goals and carry them out in time? In this confusing and confused and distracted world, where the world is running very powerfully off course in many ways, climate change, the 6th great extinction, cities in danger, food supplies under threat, massive dislocations, widening inequalities of income, high youth unemployment, politics not working very well. Is it even conceivable that we can get on course? It’s not an empty question. It’s a very deep and real concern, and, some of the most important thinkers in the world have some expressed some very, very serious doubts. 3 authors have recently, all whom I tremendously admire, have in a way made me shutter in a way with their their pessimism. Jane Jacobs, who has passed away, was one of the worlds greatest urbanists. And champions of vibrant sustainable urban areas. In her last years of life, wrote a book called Dark Age Ahead. It was ooh, a troubling book to read from such a wonderful thinker who argued that we’re not making it right now and not only on the wrong track but that the tendencies continue to worsen. Communities are fraying public spirit disappearing. Higher education dysfunctional in what it’s really teaching bad science phony science that elevated and crowding out real science. Governments not responsive to real needs, but responsive to vested interests. A culture that is somehow distracting us from the central challenges that we face, all of the things we’ve seen and led Jane Jacobs what a marvelous and wonderful and influential thinker to this kind of very great pessimism. Who could rival the pessimism of the title of, of Martin Reese’s book. A great astronomer, Sir Martin published a book Our Final Hour, Will Humanity Survive the 21st Century? Well, the title tells it all, that this is a message, conditioned and saying yes of course there is a way out but how dangerous are circumstances. And the great ecologist the pioneer of the interconnectedness of global ecosystems, James Lovelock the inventor of the Gaea theory of the interconnections of the abiotic and biotic features of the Earth’s systems. Wrote in, in his recent book, The Revenge of Gaea, where he declared that we’ve already lost it, we’ve passed the planetary safety margins so far, that major parts of the world are doomed to disaster. Afterwards, he pulled back a bit and said maybe that is too pessimistic, too horrifying a thought. But I think we do make a mistake if we are glib, easygoing, saying that all of this is pretty straightforward. A small tweak here, a small change there and we’ll be on our way. Sustainable development is, simply speaking, the greatest challenge, the most complicated public policy challenge that humanity has ever faced. Climate change alone has that characteristic but add in these other challenges of a rapidly urbanizing world, of a great extinction process under way because of human domination of ecosystems, over extraction from oceans and land resources, the massive illegal trade that we talked about. These are science-based issues where there’s not enough public literacy worldwide in the scientific underpinnings. These are issues of tremendous uncertainty. Even the most refined models of climate are models of great uncertainty because there are many gaps in our understanding of how Earth systems work, and perhaps many intrinsic uncertainties in a perhaps chaotic non-linear underlying system. This is a multi-generational problem which oh, we’re just perhaps completely unequipped in tradition to think about. We have to think ahead many generations. We’re talking about parts of our economy like energy, transport, infrastructure. Food supply which go to the core of our economic life and they need major technological overhaul. There are powerful vested interests like big oil which I have referred to on many occasions which have hindered clarity and progress on implementation. There are long lead times in rebuilding our infrastructure because the life expectancy of the infrastructure of a power plant is a half a century, of our buildings, often a century or more. And we have very limited space left partly because we have, in a way, frittered away the last 20 years since the Rio Earth Summit. And one could argue we’ve been on notice for decades longer than that. We mustn’t give up hope. Partly because we have identified very specific ways through our backcasting and road mapping. Of which we’ve only touched the surface, but illustrated those two processes of how we can get from here to where we need to be. We have identified technologies that can decarbonize the energy system, and lead to tremendous energy efficiency. We have identified technologies that can economize tremendously on land, raise agricultural productivity, reduce the fluxes of nitrogen and phosphorous, and the kind of poisoning of the estuaries that they cause. We’ve shown how cities can plan ahead, and design infrastructure which makes for a much higher level of well being. In other words, these are opportunities within our grasp. Not pie in the sky, not fanciful science fiction of the 23rd century, but things that we know how to do where the costs are absolutely within reach. And in many cases such as wind power, for example, where the costs are already close to the alternatives of fossil fuels where we already have, as I’ve mentioned before with the term grid parody or near grid parody, with these renewable energy sources. So we can already see ways through the back casting and the road mapping, the identification of the pathways of how we could succeed in the sustainable development goals just as the world has made tremendous progress in the millennium development goals. I also believe that despite the cynicism, the darkness, the confusion, the miserable politics, in my own country and internationally on many of these issues, that we can make a breakthrough. Even though it looks as if the political systems are unresponsive, things can change. And the most important message that I would give is that ideas count. Ideas matter, and they can have an effect on public policy far beyond anything that can be imagined by the hard bit and cynics who say, that idea isn’t backed by the money. It’s not backed by the power, the influence, the insiders, the elites, so you don’t stand a chance. Because throughout history ideas have been trans-formative. And I think about some of the greatest movements in history of transformation of the last two centuries that have accompanied our journey of modern economic growth itself. First the end of slavery, which was a massive social movement. Perhaps the first of the social activist movements of it’s kind in modern history. In England in the home of the industrial revolution, led by William and by William Penn. The younger, the prime minister, who was also the classmate of Wilbur Force. And by other brave leaders, who took a campaign to end slavery that seemed completely, deeply embedded in the colonies of the British Empire. It took them more than a couple of decades, and there was a lot of cynicism, a lot of skepticism, a lot of dirty dealings, but in 1807 the British Empire abolished trade in slaves, and in 1833, abolished slavery in the British holdings, and ideas triumphed. It wasn’t economic interest. It was ideas and morality that in the end was the underlying force of change that led the way. We think about the struggle against colonial rule led by Gandhi and by many of his contemporaries in Africa and in Asia. And Gandhi was up against the British Empire. It seemed like an impossible struggle. And Gandhi also of course, invented and led the non-violent approach to social action and social change in a unique way. And one would’ve bet in 1910, or 1920, or 1930 that Gandhi would have been long forgotten by now and the British empire would have continued to rule over the subjects of India or of Africa. And of course, it is Gandhi’s leadership of ending the colonialism that we regard as the correct, moral answer for our age. And one that inspired the civil rights movement, the human rights movement and much beyond. And ideas played a role so powerfully that the interests were in the end completely overwhelmed. The human rights movement followed on. Eleanor Roosevelt in championing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we know that that wonderful document the moral charter of the United Nations does not exist in its full reality in the world we know that it is violated massively everyday. And that millions indeed billions of people live without the basic rights civil, political or the economic, social, and cultural rights that are theirs as human beings and reflected in the Universal Declaration. But we know that the Universal Declaration has changed the world and it has expanded the reach of human rights. It has expanded the recognition and cognizance of human rights, and those human rights ideas have empowered major initiatives like the Millennium Development Goals which have turned into real results on the ground, and so ideas, again, playing an enormous role. And those ideas of course inspired the civil rights movement and were at the 50th anniversary at the half century mark of the civil rights era in the United States and Martin Luther King’s remarkable leadership. Again, nonviolent, inspired by Ghandi, empowered by notions of human rights. As President John Kennedy said about the civil rights movement that it raises issues as old as the scriptures and as clear as the United States constitution. It was a moral issue and ideas and morality paved the way for great breakthroughs, not finished by any means, but important breakthroughs lead by ideas. And the women’s right movement and gender equality which is playing such a magnificent and crucial role in enabling the world to get on a path of sustainable development is another idea of our time. It’s been hundreds of years in the making, but it’s had great advance in recent decades. Often, in the least likely places in the world, because of the most brave people. And that brings us to the ideas of our time. The idea that we could end extreme poverty, now an official idea of an official system institution like the World Bank. And soon I think that will be at the core of new set of sustainable development goals. And the idea of sustainable development more generally as a world commitment to a safer and more prosperous and more just planet. Now to get there in all of these ideas there has had to be an underpinning of ethics, and when we talk about moving to global sustainable development goals. We’re talking also about the need for a shared global ethics. And it is heartening that many of the world’s religious leaders coming together already two decades ago in the Parliament of World’s Religions. And then in many meetings since then, have declared that the world’s religions share a common ethical underpinning, which makes it possible, even in a highly diverse world to think about the concept of a shared ethics that could underpin a shared commitment like sustainable development goals. Among those shared ethics is the one that I have emphasized: primum non nocere. First do no harm. This is sometimes expressed as: Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you. The golden rule, or as it’s expressed sometimes in its positive way, do unto others which you would have them do onto you. That golden rule is the underpinning of all great religions. It is a measure of equality, of fairness, of process, of mutual responsibility. That can be an underpinning for a global, ethical effort that makes it possible for the world to take the ideas of sustainable development and to turn them into practice. Skeptics have said throughout the ages that ideas can’t win. But all of the examples that I’ve indicated have stressed the opposite. One of the darkest figures of modern history a mass killer in fact Joseph Stalin famously said in the 1930s when he was besieged by a French Diplomat to give more space for religious freedom for the Catholics in the Soviet Union. Stalin famously answered, the Pope? How many divisions has he got? And that was real politics of one of the most brutal practitioners of real politics in real history. But we know that Stalin and his system are gone. It was Pope John Paul II that played such a role in fact in the end of communism in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union and that made possible a rebirth of human rights in those regions. Stalin was given his answer. And another great action, half a century ago I think gives us a lot of practical example and inspiration today. And that was a quest of president John Kennedy in 1963. To make peace with the Soviet Union months after the world nearly came to nuclear annihilation in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Kennedy succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty with the Soviet Union in the form of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty where both sides agreed to a major action to step back from the nuclear arms race. And more importantly to ease the tensions that have brought the two parties to the brink of nuclear war. And what is absolutely astounding for me and inspiring is that Kennedy used ideas, not power, but ideas to bring about this mutual accommodation and this advance of peace. And it’s worth listening to his words because thy can teach us today about how sustainable development can be achieved. President Kennedy gave a speech on June 10, 1963 which is called his Peace Speech. It’s a speech about values, human rights, and ideas. And the most important idea is the idea that humanity can solve its problems peacefully and can live together because what we have in common is so much more important than what divides us. Let me read you some of the message of Kennedy’s peace speech. And I quote, he says that no problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Mans reason, and spirit, have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again. I am not referring to the absolute infinite concept of universal peace and goodwill, of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal. Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature, but on a gradual evolution in human institutions, on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace; no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process, a way of solving problems. This is important. Sustainable development is a process, a way of solving problems. A way of solving problems peacefully and globally addressing our deep common needs using our science and technology, our know how, and our shared global ethics to get there. Kennedy was grappling with a divide between the United States and the Soviet Union, a divide of deep values, political systems, and nuclear arms pointed at each other. But his message was that because we have common interests, we can resolve our problems peacefully. And he had an absolutely magnificent way of describing those common interests that resonate today. He said, and I quote again. So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those difference can be resolved. And if we cannot end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal. Well, what a way to describe our fate on a crowded, shared planet. We are all breathing the same air. It’s now got 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. It is a threat to our well being, to our future survival. We all cherish our children’s futures, and we know what needs to be done. After Kennedy made that speech,he went on his final visit to Europe because he was assassinated soon afterward. Signed the Peace Treaty, the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and few months later, he was gone. But when he visited Europe, one of his great stops was visiting his own family’s home country of Ireland. And he spoke magnificently in the Irish parliament. And he had words there that also are extremely important for us. He said to his Irish countrymen as it were, this is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life. Other people, he said, see things and say, why? But I dream things that never were, and I say, why not? It is that quality of the Irish, Kennedy goes on, that remarkable combination of hope, confidence, and imagination that is needed more than every today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, says Kennedy, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not. Kennedy got his peace treaty signed, he set the world on a path for stepping back from the nuclear brink, the partial nuclear test ban treaty was signed 5 years afterward which was part of his idea of the practical step-by-step process. We are going to need that kind of practical step-by-step process. But we’re going to need, as Kennedy said, to look beyond the skeptics and the cynics. They have every reason to point out our difficulties. But we’re going to need to look forward to what needs to be done and to find that pathway to achieve it. In Kennedy’s last speech to world leaders, in the United Nations, in the fall of 1963, just after the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed. He ended his speech with absolutely remarkable words, which must be our words today. And again, I quote, Kennedy telling the world leaders assembled at the general assembly. Archimedes, says Kennedy, in explaining the principles of the lever, was said to have declared to his friends, give me a place where I can stand and I shall move the world. My fellow inhabitants of this planet. Let us take our stand here in this assembly of nations and let us see if we, in our time can move the world to a just and lasting peace. Now it’s our turn to see if we can move the world to sustainable development.