World leaders slammed for prioritising ‘vested interests’ over long-term sustainability

Mary Robinson, Gordon Brown and Sir Richard Branson are among 130+ policy and business experts imploring all candidates in this mega-year for global elections to show “long-view leadership” in the face of “existential” threats including the climate and nature crises.


World leaders slammed for prioritising ‘vested interests’ over long-term sustainability

Pictured: Mary Robinson speaking at the edie Sustainability Leaders Forum in February 2020

The influential figures have signed an open letter from The Elders and The Future of Life Institute this week, stressing the importance of a mindset shift among leaders to tackle the many escalating, global risks to humanity.

This letter emphasises how risks including the climate and nature crises, pandemics, conflict and disinformation are all interconnected. By failing to recognise this and respond with both urgency and long-term thinking, the letter argues, world leaders are exposing millions of people to existential risks – now and in the future.

“Long-view leadership means showing the determination to resolve intractable problems not just manage them, the wisdom to make decisions based on scientific evidence and reason, and the humility to listen to all those affected,” the letter reads.

“Long-view leaders must have the moral strength to address both current concerns and long-term risks, often at the expense of vested interests.

“Such values should be common to all political leaders. But they are woefully missing in so many.”

Letter signatories include Ban-Ki Moon, Gordon Brown, Mary Robinson, Annie Lennox, Christiana Figueres, Julia Gillard and Sir Richard Branson.

The letter comes just one month after thousands of world leaders, ministers and business decision-makers gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual summit.

Observers generally noted that climate and nature took something of a back seat, with attendees entrenched in debates around artificial intelligence (AI) and displaying short-term, reactive thinking in response to issues such as the energy price crisis.

The World Economic Forum’s annual global risks report, comprising the views of thousands of risk experts, named misinformation and disinformation as the most likely and severe risk for the coming two years. Extreme weather events ranked second.

Looking out to a ten-year period, five in ten of the top identified risks relate to the environment, including “critical changes to earth systems” and biodiversity collapse.

It was revealed that risk experts in the private sector were less likely to see a need to respond to environmental risks in the near-term than their peers in governments or civil society organisations. The Forum has, in response, emphasised that many environmental risks are on the precipice of the “point of no return”.

Guiding principles

The letter emphasises that this year is a prime time to embed long-view thinking in governments, given that more than half of the world’s adult population will be able to participate in a national election within the next 12 months.

It also implores existing world leaders to work together more collaboratively and more decisively. It states: “The biggest risks facing us cannot be tackled by any country acting alone. Yet when nations work together, these challenges can all be addressed, for the good of us all. “

As the letter concludes, it sets out several key traits of long-term leaders. These are:

  • Thinking beyond short-term political and business cycles to deliver solutions that work for future generations as well as incumbents.
  • Prioritising “compromise and collaboration” for the good of all humanity
  • Showing compassion for people and embedding human rights, equity and equality in decision-making
  • Upholding the international rule of law
  • Taking accountability and showing transparency
  • Committing to a vision of hope for humanity’s shared future

It wraps up by stating that hope and a clear vision for a sustainable future is just as important – if not moreso – than a desire to avoid repeating unsustainable practices of the past.

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