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Noreena Hertz, Minister Cramer at WECF Anniversary

WECF celebrated 15 year anniversary with conference "Innovation for sustainability - the crisis as opportunity"

11.06.2009 |Chantal van den Bossche

Noreena Hertz, opening the WECF Anniversary with her key note speech

Critical analyses and inspiring ideas about the fundamental causes of the current economic crisis and how this may create an opportunity for a more sustainable world were presented by experts in the fields of economics, politics, science and technology during the debates and speeches at WECF's Anniversary in The Hague.

The conference showed that innovation for sustainability is all around us already today, that excellent entrepreneurs, NGOs and scientists demonstrate how, for example, kerosene burners can be exchanged by solar light at the same price accessible even to low income villagers in Laos highlands, that safe wooden toys made in solidarity by Bosnian women from different religious backgrounds are an alternative to plastic toys containing heavy metals and hormone disrupting chemicals, and that onsite decentralized sustainable wastewater treatment systems already exist for municipalities with over 1 million inhabitants, making human waste streams into a resource,as energy, irrigation water or fertilizer.

Minister Cramer trying out the Electric Think! car outside the theatre

The emphasis of the debates was on stimulating discussion on initiatives being taken by women and men in the field of innovation. The panelists presented examples from the Netherlands and from WECF partner organisations in Western and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.  The afternoon debates addressed the following questions: How can initiatives taken by pioneers at the local level be translated to the national and international level. How will they lead to increased sustainability in the fields of energy and water, agriculture and consumer products?

Financial representatives suggested how greater investment can support and stimulate local economies and initiatives. Government representatives and politicians showed new ways in which barriers can be removed and people can be stimulated. Andy Schroeter, Director of Sunlabob, winner of the Sasakawa sustainability award (UNEP) told how even the poorest can afford light from solar energy.  Special attention was given to the role of women in their participation in sustainable innovation.

The keynote speech was given by Professor Noreena Hertz, the well known economist and author, from the University of Cambridge, who is currently visiting Professor of Globalisation at Erasmus University of Rotterdam. She presented a critical analysis of the roots of the current economic crisis, and ways out towards a sustainable economy. With a special focus on the anger felt by a great deal of the public at the moment: "If people are denied prerequisites - they cannot take responsibility".

In her speech Noreena Hertz questioned and analysed economic, social and political global developments of the past 20 years in response to the current financial crisis. The era of Gucci capitalism, as Noreena Hertz likes to call this period, caused an ever deeper division, gaping chasms even, between the economy and social justice.
Women have in very little sense profited from the era of Gucci Capitalism: only 1 percent of the world’s wealth is shared by women, only 14 percent of leadership positions are occupied by women, but above all, 70 percent of the poorest people in this world are women.

Companies were never asked to be socially responsible, profits were privatized and changes were made to the detriment of economies and workers. All the while people lost their faith in politics and growing anger and fear took over consumerist behaviour.
In her analysis on the past, present and future Hertz claimed that we today are standing at crossroads and free to choose paths that can lead to creating a better world and well being of each and every one of us.  An open and critical attitude towards new technologies is needed and new reflections on the conditions for free trade and better legal bases can be one of these paths. She addressed to the people in the audience to take responsibility for choosing the path on which we collectively “can change the course of history” .

The Netherlands Minister of Environment Jacqueline Cramer presented her vision on how innovation can create a sustainable economy and pointed at the the large number of green investments the Dutch government has made over the past few years. She ended her speech with a special note of appreciation on what WECF and especially President Marie Kranendonk in their 15 years of existence have achieved both politically and practically on issues of environment, health and women.  

Summarising, the WECF conference showed that we now need to address the fundamental causes of the financial crisis, that we need to turn our backs on “Gucci Capitalism”, in which greed and money ruled, to societies based on the “might of the right”, the right to equal opportunities, to sustainable development and to a healthy environment. We have heard that a long-term supportive legally binding framework is essential to bring sustainable innovation to the market and maturity, for example, the German renewable energy feed-in tariffs were highlighted, but also the need to change “crazy” rules, for example forbidding reuse of urine as fertilizer. We have seen that we have to go from the polluter pays principle, to prevention, and even further to precaution, in which we take action even when the scope and size of the risk are as yet unknown, which in the case of new technologies with potential great risk for all of humanity, a moratorium can be enacted by law, for example for the use of genetically modified organisms in outdoor applications.

Looking Back and Looking Forward:  At the end of the day WECF said farewell to her first president and founder Marie Kranendonk and introduced the new President Christine van Weizsaecker The closure of the WECF anniversary was dedicated to the work of WECF founder and president of many years, mrs Marie Kranendonk,  who has been the driving force behind the international network the past 15 years. To thank her, she was appointed Honorary President of WECF for the rest of her life.

WECF was very pleased with the excellent panel debates and the more than 175
participants to this anniversary event of WECF. We will prepare a summary of the debates in the coming weeks with key conclusions, which we will bring into the policy debates in the Netherlands and at the European and International level.

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