“No one can define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist.” – Donella Meadows
On 30 January 2019, I was invited to a roundtable hosted by Lord Ahmad, Minister for Commonwealth and United Nations. We were joined by the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, who was appointed the Commonwealth Youth Ambassador in 2018.
UK is the current Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth. They hosted the roundtable to identify opportunities to deliver the outcomes agreed at the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), specifically for youth.
Prince Harry gave an opening speech and it was encouraging to see the prince use his platform to talk about sustainable development.
Sustainable development is for today and tomorrow
The Prince highlighted sustainable development as the lever of change for all the issues addressed at the 2018 CHOGM summit. Quoting the famous definition of sustainable development from ‘Our Common Future’ report, the prince described sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’
He highlighted the importance of looking at global issues as interconnected saying, ‘all health is interconnected – our mental health, our planet’s health, the health of our communities. We do not survive, and certainly do not thrive without the acknowledgment and understanding that in addressing one problem, we are paradoxically solving another.’
Accountability in leadership
The prince also spoke about the importance of accountability in leadership. Leadership, in particular, global leadership is something I am particularly passionate about because sustainable development calls for a different way of convening and co-operating.
In addition to accountability, here are three reasons why acting on sustainable development is important for global leadership.
– The changing climate is a political issue. When we talk about the impacts of climate change, we have to talk about the historic and existing inequalities driving climate change. Our relationship with the planet is really about the relationship between ourselves – our values, our policies, our politics.
– The way we do politics: As a convener on sustainable development, I have come to understand that power-sharing is often messy, complex and uncomfortable. I have also come to appreciate that it can be messy, complex, uncomfortable and be grounded by integrity in the work you do, civility with those you do not agree with and truth; an earnest orientation towards what is true (not what you can get away with). Building our capacity to work with this tension is how we do politics to change our future.
– Intergenerational leadership: There is so much wisdom in sustainable development. Prince Harry quoted a definition of sustainable development that was coined in 1987. We often talk about being the last generation to be able to do something about the environment, but what we can learn from those who tried to do something before? How can we convene spaces and political processes to do it across ideologies, geographies and generations?