Sustainable Leadership

CANBERRA – Last September, at the European Forum on New Ideas, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, former Polish President Lech Walesa, and former West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher participated in a panel discussion (of which I was a part) on Europe’s response to climate change and global development prospects more broadly. By ending the Cold War, democratizing Poland, and reunifying Germany, respectively, these leaders have helped to improve the lives of people worldwide.

In rebuilding Europe physically, politically, and socially after World War II, they demonstrated the value of transformative political leadership. To overcome the challenges that they faced, they had to recognize the failings of the paradigms that guided their peers, and adopt updated models based on a new worldview.

In the next half-century, creating a sustainable and desirable future for Europe and the world will require equally significant transformations. But the challenges to be faced will be radically different in nature.

In the second half of the twentieth century, fossil fuels were abundant and cheap. People had barely begun to consider that, over time, unbridled economic growth could damage natural capital assets. Economic growth was the unquestioned goal – and for good reason. Improving human well-being required adequate infrastructure, widespread access to goods and services, and enhanced political and economic participation.