An announcement expected Monday in New York will break the news that Minneapolis will host a major global conference on sustainability that will attract the former heads of state of nearly 100 countries to Minnesota in October 2015.
The theme of “MN2015,” as the conference will be called, is “democracy in a sustainable future.” Given the governing crises in many democracies — and the challenge of climate change — the timing couldn’t be better.
The host state is hard to top, too. Minnesota’s growing global reputation for good government, multisector collaboration, and innovation in business, education and the arts makes it an ideal place to host a serious dialogue on these fundamental issues.
Reflective of that growing internationalism, one of MN2015’s organizing partners is Partnership for Change, a Norwegian-based nongovernmental organization whose American affiliate is based in Minnesota. The goal of Partnership for Change is to “pull people together and get them to engage in these issues,” said Orlyn Kringstad, executive director/USA for the organization. “Climate change is here, now. Conflict is here, now. Democratic governance is being challenged all over the world, now. That’s why [MN2015] is important and timely.”
The other organizing partner is the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), whose chair is University of Minnesota, Morris Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson. The University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs will also be involved, and U President Eric Kaler will serve as co-chair.
Kaler, who notes that the U sends the nation’s third-largest cohort of students on study-abroad programs, told an editorial writer that he wants the U to be “worldly and of the world.” MN2015 “aligns with our global ambitions and it fits into our role as thought leaders and a place where different points of view are articulated and respected,” Kaler said.
Humphrey School Dean Eric Schwartz added that there is an evolving consensus that some of the most significant challenges with issues of sustainability are not scientific or technical but political.
That’s a perspective that will likely be heard from some of the nearly 100 former heads of state who make up Club de Madrid. The CdM, as the organization is informally known, will hold its 2015 conference and annual meeting in conjunction with MN2015, underscoring the international importance of the event.
The hope is that work done on MN2015 before and during the conference will have an impact on the December 2015 United Nations Climate Conference in Paris. In advance of the gathering in Minneapolis, MN2015 organizers will analyze trends in democracy and sustainability and present best practices from government, business, education and philanthropic organizations. And at the conclusion of MN2015, Club de Madrid members and business leaders will be urged to sign a call to action dubbed the “Minnesota Compact.”
That could also be an apt title for the cross-collaboration between multiple institutions, industries and individuals that gives the state great standing to host a sustainability conference.
Take climate change, for example. There is widespread consensus among most scientists, as well an increasing number of business and national-security leaders, that climate change poses real threats. Politicians, however, often react with indecision, if not indifference, to the issue.
CdM’s former heads of state, not beholden to the ballot box, can play a unique role in honestly assessing these risks, as well as suggesting ways that democracies can help find solutions to mitigate the impact. Club de Madrid leaders might not craft or implement policy, but as senior statesmen and stateswomen, they can take the long view. Freed from elections, they can urge current leaders to leave a legacy that will benefit future generations.
Ideally, organizations like Partnership for Change, AASHE and Club de Madrid — as well as events like MN2015 — will inspire world leaders to not let politics transcend governance and its requisite element, leadership.