Facing the sunset of my three-year term as chair of the IES, I see a period of intense change.
Looking back, national political changes have included a new coalition government and deepening devolution across the UK, whilst the globalised market’s promise of prosperity for all has imploded into austerities from which, perversely, the more affluent and those responsible for sub-prime madness seem not only best insulated but have been actively 'bailed-out'. Against this backdrop, millennial promises to prioritise the raising of much of the underprivileged world out of water, food and other forms of poverty ring hollow, whilst 2010 Copenhagen and 2011 Durban negotiations have seen the ball of decisive and concerted global action on climate change once again kicked into the long grass by powerful players, to be picked up by successor administrations and future generations. Add to this the backdrop of such environmental shocks as the Fukoshima meltdown, supply constrictions of rare earth metals and Russian gas, and unprecedented flooding on the Pacific rim. We have plenty of positive influencing work left to do!
We do not, however, find ourselves wanting for silver linings. With the publication in June 2011 of The Natural Choice, we have seen the first UK government White Paper on the natural environment in twenty years. This itself is a manifestation of the continued breakthrough of the 'ecosystem approach' into the mainstream, the UK’s (also June 2011) National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) also being a global first in terms of assessment of the status and trends of a nation's natural capital and the prognosis of this for continued human wellbeing. The NEA, as well as the 2010 publication of the global-scale The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), has drawn the attention of many across all sectors of society to the fact that the environment really does matter, not merely in altruistic terms but as a core and irreplaceable resource underpinning our health, wealth and wellbeing, including as a central and pressured business, civic and security asset.
For the IES, this has been a fruitful three years of positive progress with rising numbers of members and Chartered Environmentalists, and also our new offering of the Chartered Scientist accreditation. We've had excellent and challenging Burntwood Lectures from Professor Bob Watson and Jonathon Porritt. We've instituted numerous new policies to professionalise our own practices, and been supported by the efforts of some superb interns. If I have made any useful contribution at all, it is in running two visioning days with your Council also extending an open invitation to members (some of which have subsequently joined Council). Suspending judgements on our current activities, these visioning days started by thinking about the way the world is changing around us and the challenges it will pose in the future, and only then asking how the IES can most usefully and effectively apply the environmental sciences to help shape that future in a more sustainable way. You will have seen the way the 2009 visioning exercise broadened our intent to engage membership in developing the Institution's opinions, directions and influence on media messages, whilst the early-2011 'away day' made us think more deeply about how we could most usefully influence political processes.
Beyond this, I can take little or no credit for the efficient ways the IES has subsequently run its day-to-day and developmental activities. To this, I am indebted to Adam Donnan and Julia Heaton, our excellent and dedicated Senior Executive Officer and Project Officer respectively, and to the enthusiastic engagement of Council members, volunteers, provocative speakers such as Sir John Lawton, and many other helpers along the way. My three years as chair have passed quickly, largely painlessly and fruitfully precisely because of the orchestra around me, rather than any sporadic waggling of the baton on my part!
And so we look ahead to a world no less uncertain. We must ensure that we do not lose sight of, and indeed communicate with wider constituencies more stridently and convincingly, about sustainable aspirations, which we must ensure vie robustly with the short-term exigencies of austerity measures. We must champion the importance of hard-won social and environmental safeguards cemented by EU legislation and other international protocols, and the case for their defence from 'red tape reviews' as if they represented mere ‘optional extras’ to an imagined prosperous future somehow supporting the needs of seven billion (and rising) people. We must draw political and public attention to the inherent wisdom of sound investments in the future, including for example in tertiary education and novel technologies such as those relating to inevitable requirements including renewable energy, the long-term value of which needs to be disentangled in simple minds from other immediate cost saving measures. And who knows what new 'wild cards' the future will deal us? So the Institution’s charitable objective of educating the public in the environmental sciences is never more urgently required.
I wish my successor Chair as well as all the wider IES team every continuing success; they are assured of my continuing support as, I am sure, they of yours as we face the daunting and defining challenges of our age informed with the insight of the environmental sciences.