Executive Director


This is the transcript of a video interview produced and directed by Michael O'Callaghan at the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg, in 2002.
Full transcript (1,246 words, slightly edited for clarity).
© 2002-2019 Global Vision Foundation.
At the time of this interview, Felix Dodds, from the UK, was the Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum for Our Common Future (www.stakeholderforum.org), an international non-governmental organisation working to advance the achievement of sustainable development on a global level. The Stakeholder Forum co-ordinated world-wide civil society preparations for the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and provided detailed information about the outcomes of the conference on its website.

Felix has played a critical role in promoting multi-stakeholder dialogue at the UN. From 1997 to 2001 Felix chaired the NGO Coalition on Sustainable Development at the UN. He facilitated the setting up of the international NGO Coalition for the UN Commission on Sustainable Development and the UN Habitat II Conference. He has been an advisor to the UK and Danish Governments and the European Commission at a number of UN meetings. He has published seven books, including Climate Change and Energy Insecurity and Human and Environmental Security (nominated as best environmental book of 2005). Felix is a regular contributor to the BBC Green Room and other media outlets. See his April 2010 BBC article Reviving the spirit of Rio co-authored with Earth Summit Chairman Maurice Stong, and his website at www.felixdodds.net
How do you feel about the progress that has been made since the Earth Summit in Rio 10 years ago?
I think that there's been a considerable amount progress since Rio. It depends about what level you want to talk about it. Rio birthed the largest number of international regulations of any single UN conference. We didn't just have the Climate Convention, the Biodiversity Convention, but we also had the Desertification Convention, the Straddling Fish Stocks Convention, the Persistent Organic Pollutants, and prior informed consent. So that was a very significant addition to the international framework for regulating the way we behave on this planet.
We also had the nine chapters on Stakeholders, which in Agenda 21 really define a new era for stakeholders to become involved in the decision-making process, and actually involved in, responsible for delivering many of the agreements that are in Agenda 21. So I think that was very important. One of the things that we found out since then, is there are lots of gaps in
the system for joining all this together. We had no national process, so we saw the birth of many National Councils on Sustainable Development. In fact, we this week launched a new global Network for Regional Government. You'd have thought places like California or Flanders or Wales had an association. They didn't. Now they do. So we've been filling in lots of gaps. Obviously the world has go into a worse state since 1992. But we're really trying to make a difference, by actually starting to work together on collaborative action to deliver these international agreements.

How do you feel about the WTO and the trade agreements, and the possibility of a Convention on Corporate Responsibility?

As an organisation, Stakeholder Forum has identified since 1998 the need for a Framework Convention for companies in the areas of corporate and social responsibility, something that is missing. At the national level, we regulate corporations, we give standards that we expect. For some reason we seem to have a problem at the international level to do it. But we will, I think in the next few years, see a significant move towards delivering some type of Framework Convention. And I think Friends of the Earth have done a very good campaign in this period up to this summit in highlighting the need for that. So we very much support that.

In the context of the World Trade Organisation there are many ways of answering that question. What is definitely needed is a way by which the multi-lateral environmental agreements can in some way have a dispute mechanism with the World Trade Organisation. We don't want to try and just change the World Trade Organisation because - though that's an important thing to try and do - it is not a place where people who believe in sustainable development are actually based: they are more based in the Commission on Sustainable Development, UNDP, UNEP. So it's important to find a way of dealing with any disputes between the multi-lateral environmental agreements, also the social agreements under ILO - and the trade agreements under WTO.

What's the biggest success of this conference, and the biggest failure?

The biggest success of this conference is the birth of partnerships, and I think in ten years from now, Johannesburg + 10 will be by and large a partnership conference. It will be partners trying to deliver these agreements, trying to work out their differences together. So I think that will be the great success.

The great failure of this conference is that we ended up with the wrong document! In PrepCom III, the South Africans produced a non-paper identifying the way the global agreement should be drawn up, with a proper framework. We didn't accept that - we being in this case being the governments - although many people did lobby. It set us on the wrong track, and therefore we had the wrong conversations. One of the conversations we never had here was: are the Europeans serious about the Millennium Declaration goals? And the Americans say that they want realistic targets. You hear in the corridors many European governments saying that the Millennium Declaration goals are but aspirational targets. I don't think that's good enough. And we would have liked to have seen the discussion about incremental targets for 2005 and 2010 for many of these areas that are 2015 targets, because very few of the politicians will be in power then: it's very easy then to make commitments.

Given the history of what's happened in the past, and the increasing pressure on resources and the expanding population on the planet, and the trend towards less sovereignty for governments and greater sovereignty for the WTO and so on, do you think sustainability is a realistic goal that we can actually achieve before it is too late?

I think that there are many things that we have to do to ensure that that has a chance of success! One is to create a new global movement of stakeholders. And I don't mean by this just the NGOs. I mean, we have to draw in our friends in business - and we do have some - our friends in the trade union movement, our friends in local government, our friends in regional government. And we have to work together to try and actually map out the way forward. And as we do that, and as we start to deliver some of the things that are identified in the implementation programme here and in Agenda 21, then people will start to believe that it's possible to go down that path. And at the moment they're not sure that it is, because we're not giving them the right examples about how the world might change and what - in essence - what the world would look like if we actually were going down that sustainable path.

What do you think about the idea of the Hydrogen economy? Is that realistically on the cards, and if so, how soon might we see the end of the fossil fuel era?

I don't know how soon that will happen, but I think that there are many potential scenarios based on the technology that we can see coming down the pipe. But it's important that we don't bank on technology to get us out of our problem. We have to address our own standards of living, we have to address the way that we as individuals and as groups of individuals are impacting on the planet. A technological fix is not something that we should bank on, and if we do that, then I think we'll make a huge mistake.

A final question. If you had a teen-age kid...

I do - he was here!

What is it that teen-age kids need to really understand about the future of the planet?

I think teen-age kids need to understand what role they as individuals have, in their consumption patterns and the way that they live their lives. And I think they're the most educated generation about these things. This summit will have made an enormous impact on young people around the world. And I think that they, if they manage to look at the way that they're living, and live a little simpler so others might simply live, as the saying says, then I think that we'll have gone a long way to address some of the problems of the future