Blog by Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir, WEAll Ambassador and Professor of Sustainability Science at the University of Iceland
June 2, 2020
A few years ago a guy called me up in Iceland and asked: “Why do the leftists own the environment?“ My answer was: “They do not but they have taken environmental issues to the forefront of their politics. All parties should do that.“ He went on to found the Right Green Party which never took foothold in Icelandic politics. But it was a step in the right direction. Healthy environment and sustainability is tantamount for everyone’s wellbeing.
I was party to a similar discussion in an international WhatsApp group recently: “Why is it that left-wing governments are promoting the wellbeing agenda? In doing so it will be rejected by those to the right in politics.“
My response was: “In Iceland there is a broad political base behind the new wellbeing policy which has a focus on prosperity and quality of life and is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development goals.“
Our Prime Minister is from the Left Green Movement, but her coalition government encompasses the whole political spectrum – with the Independence Party (conservative right wing) led by Bjarni Benediktsson who is Minister of Finance and and Economic Affairs, and the Progressive Party led by Sigurður Ingi Jóhannesson and is Minister of Transport and Local Government.
This broad based coalition government agreed the Wellbeing policy agenda in April 2020. It has 39 wellbeing indicators that are to be collected and followed by Statistics Iceland. This is very important when considering what may happen in the next election – when the Left Greens may no longer lead the government. Then the wellbeing agenda is already engrained in policy with civil servants and public institutional support.
What about the other countries in the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership?
In Scotland, the wellbeing economy agenda is being supported and followed by the National Performance Framework (NPF) which was presented to the Scottish Parliament by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Sturgeon is from the Scottish National Party (SNP) – which is considered to be a centre-left party and wants Scotland to become independent and and have closer ties with Europe and the EU.
Importantly, the NPF was passed unanimously with support from all five political parties in the Scottish Parliament. Again, with this broad base of support in parliament the wellbeing economy agenda has a chance to survive if the next elections do not return the SNP as the leading party.
In New Zealand, the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set the first wellbeing budget world-wide in May 2019 with a central question – how well are our people? The focus is on five priority areas where evidence indicates greatest opportunities to improve the lives of New Zealanders. The PM´s political party is Labour (left). Labour is in a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party (right wing) and the Green Party (left wing). This again, is a broad-based political coalition, giving strength to the wellbeing agenda.
Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand are all members of WEGo – the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership – which is an offspring of WEAll. A new member has just joined WEGo – Wales. The First Minister of Wales is Mark Drakeford and he leads the Labour (left wing) government in Wales. Wales has had the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act since 2015 that has seven wellbeing goals. Therefore the wellbeing agenda is firmly in Welsh policy – and has been set in law for five years.
The Wellbeing Economy agenda is therefore neither left wing nor right wing. It is for us all, so that all people and our planet can prosper. Now that governments across the globe are finding their feet to lead their nations out of the COVOD-19 health and economic crisis – let us remember that pandemics hit us all, wherever we stand in politics. We also know that we cannot go back to business as usual.
In the worlds of professor Frank Snowden, a historian: “By creating the myth that we could grow our economy exponentially and infinitely, by almost 8 billion people living on earth, excessive travel, environmental pollution, by pushing back nature more and more, we created almost ideal conditions for the coronavirus to emerge, spread and hit us especially hard.“
Let us join hands across political spectrums and make the Wellbeing Economy the new economy for the 21st century. Would you like to learn more? Then see the WEAll ten principles of Building Back Better.