by Nela Cadinanos, WEAll Youth Member

Last month I attended COP27 in Sharm el-Sheij, Egypt, representing the Youth through various voluntary roles I play as part of my climate activism – these include advocacy for global movements like the WEAll Youth, and the BMW Foundation, and being representative of the Students’ Union at my university in Scotland.

Just about two weeks prior to COP27, I was offered a pass to attend the blue zone, a space within these annual conferences where negotiations for climate action take place. 197 parties are involved, alongside different non-state actors which are given  accredited observer status to participate and make their contributions through different side-events, exhibitions, panels and so on. After this invitation, I entered a moral debate with myself trying to decide whether I should take the opportunity or not, particularly after finding out that many young activists from around the globe had decided not to attend to stand in solidarity with  those forcefully oppressed by the Egyptian forces. “If they are not going, I must go” – I thought. This was my reasoning: despite the failures of the unfair system, and the counterproductivity of serving Coca-Cola and Nescafe at a conference that aims to protect our planet, I decided to go so that there would be another hopeful young voice on the conversations concerning our future. With only a week left for preparations, I ended up rearranging my schedule and getting extensions for university assignments, and arrived at this conference with the fresh and vibrant energy that I have been carrying for years, hopeful that the event will finally result in meaningful change.

Being my first COP, I have been immensely stimulated intellectually, physically, and emotionally by engaging in the most challenging conversations I have ever had. It’s been, indeed, a very enlightening experience from which, if I could highlight just one thing, it would be the people. Connecting with like-minded individuals, artists, activists, and organisations that share the same vision was special, and despite all the frustrations, the intensity, and the consequent burnout (which had me hibernating for three days due to sickness after I returned to Scotland) it was worth it. 

There is a lot of controversy around the purpose of this conference, and it is obvious that the amount of “speaking” compared to the actual action taken from parties and states, can be very discouraging. “Implementation” was the keyword at COP27. But implementation must be exercised with a particular sense of urgency that I feel is often missed in these contexts, where people seem more focused on handing their (sustainable) business cards so they can expand their networks and continue with their (green) initiatives. On my first day in Egypt, at one of the night events, I remember feeling very confused. I did not know what all of it was about, the fancy drinks at expensive venues, the dresses, and the laughs. A guy approached me, and we had a brief conversation before he went on to show the biggest success of his day: an accumulation of business cards.  He seemed very proud, and I was certainly astonished by the thickness of the set. I decided to go back to my apartment, feeling very strange. I would say that his collection of cards for the day was larger than the cards I had gathered during my entire stay at the conference. But I was not discouraged, nor ashamed, because every single card that was handed to me had a meaningful interaction behind it. 

Overall, a key observation that I’ve had is how we are letting our egos and our roles come into action when we are surrounded by such high-reputational personalities, international organisations and world leaders. Our ambition and ‘growth’ mindset take over our pure intentions, as we get so carried away by the excitement of the opportunity to network. We might put our organisational interest first, to the level of completely missing the point of the COP, and the main mission why we engage with it, to protect the Earth. In many ways, this behaviour is representative of our current economic system, where counting the number of LinkedIn connections is equivalent to measuring success by GDP.

As someone who values meaningful human connections, one of the most fulfilling blessings from COP was meeting young changemakers, two of which deserve to be featured in this post. As part of their Cycle To Farms initiative, Aisha and Lukas cycled into Egypt from the Netherlands, on a mission to document regenerative farmer’s realities across the EU, the Middle East and Africa – read their adventures and experience at COP27 here! They are currently entering the third stage of their journey, with over 3000km awaiting in East Africa.

These kinds of projects are much needed to help raise awareness of alternative methods of operating, that go beyond the standard. After a month of reflection on my experience at COP27, I am realising how impactful elevating human consciousness could be in our aim to solve our crisis. Consciousness can change the way that we relate to each other, and our planet. During the conference, I was stunned to see that there was representation from initiatives such as the Brahma Kumaris (World Spiritual University) and the Bahá’í International Community. 

As the urgency of the ecological crisis increases and merges with the cost-of-living crisis, and the subsequent spread of fear across society, it can be challenging to remain hopeful and to promote dialogues of hope. This is why having a holistic approach to taking care of ourselves and the world is essential as we move towards building a Wellbeing Economy. Bringing space of breathing and consciousness into decision-making processes, and international conferences is essential to switch off the growth mindset of constant productivity. I was grateful to attend the “Extreme Hangout – Giving Youth a Voice” on the morning of day 4, for a “regulation meditation with Qi-Gong and fire breathwork” session hosted by Wisdom Health at a hotel by the Red Sea. Interestingly, only young people took part in it. I wonder how different the dynamics would be if more of these practices were integrated and normalised within institutional processes. Especially since every year, the controversy and contradictions of the COP become increasingly notorious, and more voices are calling for the need to reimagine these conferences. Maybe, what we need to do, is to go back to our roots and reconnect with Mother Earth, as our ancestors did. Let’s leave the air-conditioned conference rooms and sit on the ground, in a circle, learning from each other, releasing judgements and assumptions while we collectively contribute to an alternative pathway to reach international agreements that will respond to the necessity of not only protecting, but saving our planet.

by Margreet Frieling, Knowledge Co-Lead at WEAll

Margreet has fifteen years of experience working in the public sector internationally, including for the OECD, the New Zealand Ministries for the Environment, Social Development, Education, and Finance and the Dutch Ministry of Health & Wellbeing.

Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers is joining the global movement towards a wellbeing economy with his new budget, announced last month that aims to weave wellbeing indicators into government budget decision-making. While traditionally, government budget analysis has focused on a limited set of economic outcomes like GDP, inflation and unemployment, the new Australian budget will base its priorities on a more comprehensive analysis of societal wellbeing outcomes. In the aftermath of raging bushfires, extreme floods and COVID-19, the new Australian Wellbeing Budget recognises that there is more to life than economic growth. Instead, scanning societal wellbeing evidence across social, environmental and economic outcomes paints a much more realistic picture for deciding on government priorities. One that better reflects people’s lived experiences. 

In its move towards wellbeing budgeting, Australia can build on its extensive experience in measuring societal wellbeing, such as its pioneering work on Measures of Australia’s Progress, the wellbeing framework developed by the Australian Treasury and the more recent work by the ACT government and other Australian states. Australia is also not alone on this journey. Internationally, a growing number of governments are developing wellbeing indicator frameworks to inform and shape better public policy (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Australia has led the early work on wellbeing framework development

Source: OECD, 2021

Putting wellbeing measures at the heart of the budget process

However, measurement alone is not enough. The government budget process is a critical lever to more strongly link wellbeing evidence to government spending and policy prioritization. Governments around the world, in countries like New Zealand, Scotland, Bhutan, Canada, Ireland, Iceland, and Wales are working towards Wellbeing Budget approaches that base budget decisions on a more comprehensive set of evidence about the outcomes that ultimately matter to people, including not just the health of finances and the economy, but also of our natural environments, people and communities.

Critics in Australia have argued that wellbeing budgeting is nothing more than a way to “elevate Labour spending priorities ” or “another excuse for higher taxes and bigger deficits”. The political origins of the wellbeing agenda is however neither ‘left’ or ‘right’. Internationally, calls for a wellbeing policy approach have come from parties across the political spectrum, including the Conservative Party in the UK, the Christen-Democrats in Germany, the Liberal Party of Canada, and the Scottish National Party. Wellbeing Budgeting is also as much about cutting spending on those things that detract from our societal wellbeing as it is about spending more on the things that make our lives better. 

Others might argue that wellbeing has nothing to do with the role of the Treasury, who should only be concerned with economic and fiscal outcomes. Ironically, it is exactly this confusion between means and ends that a wellbeing approach is trying to address. While Australia has praised itself for more than 25 years of continuous growth, the severe environmental, inequality, health, housing and cost-of-living crises it is facing are telling us that growth does not equal true progress. By targeting wellbeing more directly – and explicitly building wellbeing considerations into policy upstream – we can create economic systems that serve societal wellbeing, rather than continuing to sacrifice the wellbeing of people and the planet for the sake of the economy.   

The start of a journey rather than the end

Nonetheless, wellbeing budgets mark the start of a journey towards better societal wellbeing, rather than the finish point. New government budgets announced each year are small compared with baseline funding that rolls on from year to year (equalling about 4% of core Crown expenditure). To have real impact, wellbeing analysis needs to be integrated throughout all of government decision-making. 

There is also a steep learning curve. Working towards wellbeing asks for shared understandings across government of what societal wellbeing means and how different wellbeing outcomes interrelate. It requires policy makers to understand the system rather than its component parts and to focus on the root causes of our crises rather than firefighting the symptoms of a broken system. Moreover, as improving wellbeing is ultimately a whole-of-society affair, it calls on governments to reconnect with the people they serve.

Then, there is accountability. Rather than a new narrative or objective, ‘wellbeing’ needs to become a new way of working. Inspiration here can be drawn from the Wales Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, which goes beyond specifying wellbeing goals to identify the ways of working to arrive at these outcomes. An independent Commissioner supports the Welsh government on this journey and holds agencies to account if needed. 

Last but not least, wellbeing budgets can only be successful if the frameworks that underpin them reflect the diversity of perspectives in society on what wellbeing means. A successful Australian Wellbeing Budget must therefore recognise the importance of First Nations views on wellbeing in shaping both budget decisions and policy approaches. 

Treasuring what matters most – and spending government budgets accordingly – is an essential step in moving towards wellbeing economies. The WEAll Policy Design Guide, developed by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, provides valuable guidance for those wanting to join Australia and many others on this vital journey towards wellbeing for all on a healthy planet.

Written by: Isabel Nuesse

In the system that we’re currently living in, money reigns in every aspect of our lives. Wherever money flows in our economy will dictate the priorities of our culture. If this is the case, what can we do in the short-term to influence where money is flowing and, therefore, influence the priorities of our time? 

In October 2021, Jags Walia, a portfolio manager and responsible investor since 2008,  gave a WEAll Talk “From Nudge to Push – Money, Power and CO2” where he shared his own experience of influencing big companies to reduce their CO2 emissions as a smart investment decision. 

He gave our audience his take on how to do this, and assurance that he’s not alone working on these bold objectives.

As an investor, Jags told us he has two priorities: 

  1. Make money for his clients;
  2. Consider the environmental implications of those decisions, to reduce harm and the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

There are a number of strategies to go about meeting these goals, and, rather than shying away from today’s big polluters as potential clients, Jags operates on the notion that, by  choosing to work with a dirty company, he can have a bigger impact by directly  influencing their decision making. You can read his Investment Guide here.

“I find the companies that are not the saints today – and try to change their behavior and rehabilitate them.”

He shared a story of a client he worked with back in 2019. The company had proposed to build two brand new coal power plants. Of course, he was adamantly against this decision. But rather than coming out and saying his opinion, he needed to show them that making such a choice was bad business. Why? Well, the average lifespan of a coal power plant is 48 years, and he was predicting that, in 48 years, coal will not be the primary energy resource that we use and, therefore, the return on their investment wouldn’t be realized. In the end, after 8 long months of back and forth, the company decided that they wouldn’t go ahead with the power plants and not only that, but they vowed never to build another coal fired power plant again. 

This was a huge win for Jags and his team, as the outcome of their work turned out to be a long-term company-wide divestment from coal, rather than something restrained to one single project within the company. 

How does Jags do it? He shared his 3 main strategies  for how to engage with companies effectively.

  1. Understand the complexity of the situation that the company is in. Really put yourself in the shoes of these businesses. Who are their stakeholders? Who are the beholden to? What steers their decision making?
  2. Find the right question(s) to ask. When engaging with any company, find out what is possible for them within their context. Don’t suggest something outrageous for them to achieve without first understanding what is reasonable. 
  3. Evaluate what each company says they’re doing vs. what they are actually doing. Many companies will boast about their sustainability achievements, but these can often be overembellished. Do your due diligence to better understand what kinds of commitments the company is actually making. 

One of the participantsasked Jags about the Key Performance Indicators he looks at when evaluating whether a company is ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’. 

He said that he looks at three things, 

  1. Willingness
  2. Ability 
  3. Commitment 

In other words, are the companies willing to make a change? Is it possible and are they able to make it? And, can they get paid to commit to making significant changes? Still working within the current framework, Jags understands that in order for companies to decarbonize, they still have to meet their financial obligations and therefore be paid to do it. 

There is always a balance between uprooting what exists, and improving the status quo. This talk with Jags showed a clear example of how to improve the current situation within the existing boundaries or our system. 

If you missed the talk or want to engage further with this topic, you can watch the full talk recording on our YouTube channel: