155: Huge Wins for Future Generations in Australia and Wales with Sophie Howe
Finally, some optimism for future generations!
About this episode
First, in Australia, the massive success of the so-called ‘teal’ female candidates, who are not aligned to either of the major political parties, but have essentially swept to power across a number of states. This, along with long-awaited Labour victories…Does this mean the climate wars are over in Australia? We dialed up Dean Bialek, lead negotiator and legal advisor to the world’s island states (AOSIS) in negotiations that led to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and current Head of Policy & International Strategy at CWP Global, to give us a quick update on what this major swing in Australian politics means for climate!
And for our main interview this week, we sit down with Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. Her role is linked to the Welsh Government’s 2015 Wellbeing and Future Generations Act, which requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions. Described by the Big Issue Magazine as one of the UK’s leading Changemakers, her interventions have secured fundamental changes to land use planning policy, major transport schemes and Government policy on housing - ensuring that decisions taken today are fit for the future, and especially future generations in Wales.
And this week a special Outrage + Optimism EXCLUSIVE performance, Quémalo by Kathy Palma (ft. Reyli Barba).
Enjoy the show!
Christiana + Tom’s book ‘The Future We Choose’ is available now!
Mentioned links from the episode:
READ: The Welsh Government’s 2015 Wellbeing and Future Generations Act
LISTEN: Repsonse to Listener - 4 O+O Episodes on Food Systems
Thank you to our musical guest this week, Kathy Palma!
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Tom: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Christiana: [00:00:16] I'm Christiana Figueres
Paul: [00:00:17] And I am Paul Dickinson
Tom: [00:00:18] This week we discussed the stunning election victory in Australia of Anthony Albanese and the end of the climate wars. We speak to former colleague Dean Bialek, climate diplomat and head of policy at CWP Global and we speak to Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. Plus, we have music from Kathy Palmer. Thanks for being here. So in a very significant,
Christiana: [00:00:48] Nicely done
Paul: [00:00:48] Very nicely done. Tom, you're such a pro and just such a pro. Great to hear. Your perfection in radio.
Tom: [00:00:56] So in a pretty significant way. This is a moment we have been waiting for for a long time. I remember God, what was it 18 months ago getting people on the podcast to talk about the fact that Scott Morrison had won the Australian election. And we all felt really down about the fact that Australia had voted another climate denier in. But this week the astonishing breakthrough of Labor led to the election of Anthony Albanese and he said within hours of taking office that this was the end of the climate wars and he was going to bring the country together around more ambitious climate strategy. This is about time. As we all know, Australia is on the front lines of the climate crisis, terrible wildfires, but has the potential to be a huge climate leader and help take the world towards a low carbon future, which is what we all need. So, first of all, thank you, Australia. Congratulations. Welcome back.Christiana: [00:01:46] Thank you Australian voters. Yay! Load More
Tom: [00:01:49] We never lost our faith in you and we are thrilled for your success and for the success of the world. Come on, you two, how do you feel?
Christiana: [00:01:56] So teal has very quickly become my favourite colour. Beautiful quality, beautiful colour.
Tom: [00:02:02] You want to explain that?
Paul: [00:02:03] Can explain why it's your favourite colour and why is it your favourite?
Christiana: [00:02:06] Well it is. It is now. It is now and we will hear more from Dean. But how cool is it that this Australian election had a party that took on Teal as a symbol, but also as their name. Teal Independence and they're all women first, number one. So cool, all educated, really totally devoted to public policy and with such a refreshing political stand on, yes, we're going to be responsible about climate, yes, we're going to return integrity to politics. And, yes, we're going to be inclusive about everyone in our social, economic and environmental policies. How refreshing is that? Can we please have a teal team in every country?
Tom: [00:03:03] Yes, that's exactly what we need. And my understanding is and you can maybe correct me if I'm wrong, that they now hold a swing vote in Parliament, right. Because Labor did not get a majority. So they have to do a partnership with Teal to form the government. Unbelievable.
Paul: [00:03:16] Blend of green. Blend of green. What was it Sadiq Khan was saying? He says, I steal lots of policies from the Green Party. Well, it's much better to steal their policies and make worse ones myself.
Tom: [00:03:25] I like Sadiq Khan's accent in Paul’s retelling. Paul how do you feel?
Paul: [00:03:29] Honestly, look this crazy thing I've spent my years like all of us watching the television and there's kind of like every single country in the whole world says, we're terribly worried about climate change. And then it would be like the United States with Donald Trump and then Australia with kind of crazy people. And these two stand out weird countries would sort of reinforce each other's otherness. And it was like a sort of reality distortion effect, some sort of mad, crazy thing from the dark side of humanity. And it's over and I'm so happy. Yay!
Tom: [00:04:06] And my God, it feels like a long time, right? I mean, it's going back to the days of Kevin Rudd and those sorts of times when Australia was leading. So, you know, we're talking about 15 years ago.
Paul: [00:04:14] That Prime Minister Abbott repealed a carbon tax. I actually watched a video of him looking as if I'm repealing this carbon tax because he won't do anything for climate change. What a muppet. Anyway, everyone's forgotten his name now. I'm sorry for mentioning it myself. I’ll wash my mouth out with soap and water. Oh, by the way, after that, he went on to give a speech at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is, by the way, look on their website. It's like 50 men and one woman. And we've got to talk to her about the fact that, like, she's got to get away from this sort of mad, all male kind of conspiracy to support Tony Abbott in believing mad things. Anyway, they're all gone. Australia is free and we can be happy.
Tom: [00:04:50] Well, they're not quite gone. I mean, the insanity of the UK means that that man is now on the UK's Board of International Trade. Yeah, exactly. We'll deal with that separately. Right. Should we just go to about two interviews for you today and the first one will really help us dig into Australia, so maybe we just go to that. Unfortunately I couldn't join you. But Dean, in a better world, Dean Bialek would be world famous. He is one of the most remarkable people and a leader on climate change. He's a lawyer. He has been around in the climate space for many, many years. He was a close colleague of ours in the lead up to the Paris Agreement. He not only negotiated on behalf initially of Australia, but then became legal adviser to the world's island states, AOSIS in the lead up to the 2015 Paris Agreement he has done such good,
Christiana: [00:05:36] One of the mobilising forces of the High Ambition Coalition. That from a political perspective, was hugely responsible for success in Paris. So he is just totally, totally brilliant, worked very, very closely with Tony de Brum from the Marshall Islands. I really, really want, one of our former colleagues who is still very, very close to our heart.
Tom: [00:06:00] An interruption from Christiana Figueres in the midst of the introduction, no less. That's a major endorsement, and we should not fail to mention that right now. Even though he's no longer our colleague, he is now the head of policy and international strategy at CWP Global. So here's Dean with your conversation specifically about Australia and then we'll be back afterwards for the intersection before we go to Sophie, we'll be back after Dean.
Christiana: [00:06:25] Dean, thank you for taking our call. Just basically in the middle of the night. I'm glad we gave you a few hours of sleep before we called you again, but you probably didn't get too many winks of sleep since you are so excited, I’m sure about this fantastic result from the Australian elections over the weekend. So Dean, how much of a surprise is this? How big a deal is it given where we have been in this incredible seesaw on climate change policy in Australia for as long as I can remember? How long is it? 10, 12, 13 years. How long?
Dean Bialek: [00:07:05] Well, Christiana, an incredibly exciting time. I think it's fair to say that the election has fundamentally changed the political landscape in Australia. As you mentioned, we've been engaged in a political battle or some would call the climate wars for some 15 years in Australia since Kevin Rudd was elected in 2007, in the famous Kevin o-seven election. And this is now an incredible victory for those who have been arguing for forthright, focused climate policy and a policy that takes advantage of Australia's natural assets. I suppose the biggest surprise has been the success of the so-called teal female candidates who are not aligned to either of the major political parties but have essentially swept to power across a number of states and will hold, it looks like potentially the balance of power definitely in the Lower House and the Greens will have the balance of power in the Upper House. The Coalition, kind of conservative right coalition, has been pretty much obliterated. They've lost more than 20 seats and we now have a mandate for a climate policy that not only increases the targets internationally and pursues the net zero transition with great fervour and enthusiasm, but also which implements sectoral policies that get right down into the weeds of what's required across the board. And that very much relates to the phasing out of fossil fuels, to the electrification of transport, to the dealing with methane emissions from Australia's very large LNG export business. So we're looking at a complete transformation in the policy settings here.
Christiana: [00:09:11] It is so exciting for so many different reasons. Dean but you touched upon one that I think cuts very deeply, which is these teal independents, all women, all running on basically one issue campaign, separating themselves from the traditional parties and all running on climate change and all because they know it's good for Australia, but because they know it's good for their families. How has the Australian imagination actually been sparked by these amazing women?
Dean Bialek: [00:09:51] So I think it's fair to say, Christiana, whilst climate for these teal candidates was definitely out front as their number one issue, there are a couple of other issues sitting behind that that I think helped to really bake in support in seats where traditionally it has only been the conservative right to hold those seats is a group of very smart, professional, aspirational women who spoke very clearly about the generational importance of the decision at this election, but also the need to return integrity to politics and also the need to have a greater representation and respect for women in the political process.
Christiana: [00:10:35] Well, yeah, not a bad not not a bad package to be running on. Not bad.
Dean Bialek: [00:10:40] Really good package. And as you said, it really managed to capture the imagination of a broad groundswell of constituencies. And I think it speaks to a real change in the political culture in Australia, not only the ending of the climate wars, but a greater degree of transparency and accountability in the political process and a greater presence and impact from women in the political process. That's really exciting.
Sophie Howe: [00:11:10] Woo hoo.
Paul: [00:11:12] Dean, can I ask you a tough question here? We've had this crazy thing where the US and Australia have been these sometimes these awful outliers outside of the international system. The two standouts and we know it's not an accident of, you know, some kind of problem with Australian attitudes. It's about money, right? Because I was just looking, the Financial Times reported today that liquefied natural gas, you’re the biggest exporter in the world and second biggest exporter in the world of coal. Those two combined bringing in about $130 billion to the economy last year of Australia. That's 10% of your GDP. How can you kind of free yourself from the resource curse, all that money trying to subvert your politics? How are you going to keep it? How are you going to sustain this victory?
Dean Bialek: [00:11:53] So Paul, I mean, those issues came up very regularly in the political narrative and debate in the lead up to the election. I think what helped the Labor Party to win and with this big groundswell of teal candidates in behind was to focus very much on the opportunity embedded in the transformation of the economy and in particular the new industries that can flow from the decarbonisation process. So in particular we're talking here about the opportunity for Australia to be a global leader on green hydrogen and to export that use of both domestically and to export it to key Asian markets. So that in a sense a displacement of fossil fuels on the trade balance sheet in favour of green energy products. And I think also what we're seeing is with this opportunity to do these massive hubs of renewables, both solar and wind, because Australia has so much space, so much sun and so much breeze to value add to the raw materials that we have and produce green products that we can sell to the world. A great example is that Australia puts a whole lot of iron ore on boats to send over to Asian markets in, as a raw material does nothing to value add. With very cheap renewable electricity and power, we can convert that iron ore into refined steel products, green steel products and sell them to the world.
Christiana: [00:13:29] With much more value add.
Paul: [00:13:30] It’s not a commodity when it's green steel, you charge more for it. Fantastic.
Dean Bialek: [00:13:34] Exactly right. Another example is the rare earth minerals that are key components for batteries, for energy storage. And you will have noticed one of the first really big batteries to be installed by Elon Musk was in Australia, the first kind of 100 megawatt battery which has made an extraordinary amount of money for its firming value add on the grid. The other thing that's very clear is not only in respect of the exports that you were talking about, but domestically coal is phasing out much more rapidly than was originally thought.
Christiana: [00:14:09] Because? Why?
Dean Bialek: [00:14:12] Renewables are cheaper because coal power plants, if you look at the coal power plants feeding the grid at the moment, 30% of them are offline because they're non-operational and have issues that need to be fixed. So this whole thing about renewables being unreliable, actually it's completely the opposite. And we're also seeing major interventions from big players in the green energy industry and also those for example like Mike Cannon-Brookes who's come on the scene and all of a sudden has bought up 15% of Australia's largest power producer, AGL. And he's now saying to the board, you can't split the company and do coal on the one hand and renewables on the other. It's more valuable to you to keep it together and just phase out more quickly and bring on the renewables and make your money that way. You don't split it off and keep going with coal. It's a complete dead end.
Christiana: [00:15:13] A complete dead end. Dean, spoken like the secretary general of the UN, who also said fossil fuels are a dead end. Dean, there's clearly so much more exciting news and information here to unpack in Australia. So we're going to use this quick conversation just as a foretaste and would love to come back, Dean, once the government is seated and there is a little bit more visibility of the first steps and the policies that they're going to be undertaking. Would love to come back to you and a couple of others in Australia to do a whole episode on Australia. Because honestly we have been waiting on Australia for 15 years and finally Australia is back, very exciting. So we don't want to cut Australia short on the podcast. We would love to come back and do a full episode if that's something that you would be interested in.
Dean Bialek: [00:16:14] I would love to do it. And I would love to have a tea lady alongside.
Christiana: [00:16:19] Yes.
Dean Bialek: [00:16:20] One quick footnote. 3 hours after being sworn in, the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese got on a plane and is meeting with the quad leaders in Tokyo today. So with President Biden, Prime Minister Kishida and Prime Minister Modi. So it will be and everyone should watch the news and coverage of that. But it will be the real moment for Albanese to start to talk about the new zeitgeist in Australia and hopefully that will bring about some real energy and really accelerate his desire to start delivering on the policy front at home.
Christiana: [00:16:59] Awesome. So exciting. Right, we shall come back. All of us will be wearing teal. This is going to be our commitment.
Paul: [00:17:07] Welcome back, Australia. Congratulations. Such a great day for the world.
Christiana: [00:17:10] Paul, you're going to look so good in your teal shirt.
Paul: [00:17:13] I'm looking forward to 100%.
Christiana: [00:17:14] Yes. Seriously, Dean, thanks so much for joining us. Just on the spur of the moment. And we will be back with a much deeper analysis of Australia's turnaround finally. Thank you so much.
Dean Bialek: [00:17:29] Thank you all, bye.
Tom: [00:17:36] So cool to have Dean Bialek on the podcast just a few days after that remarkable election outcome that he has worked so hard to deliver. I mean, what a fantastic person and so great to hear his analysis. What did you leave that conversation with?
Christiana: [00:17:50] I told you teal is my favourite colour now and I want teal in every country. I mean really.
Paul: [00:17:56] I mean I challenged him about business because you know, Australia is getting all this money from fossil fuels and I actually picked up something today from the Alderman Trust Barometer in the Financial Times. They were saying 59% of respondents now say geopolitics is now a top priority for business and 47% have bought or boycotted brands based on the parent company's response to the invasion of Ukraine. So the reason I mention all of that sounds a bit off topic, but it's not. It is the fact that societies are now coming together around these critical issues. And I think the genius of democracy is that Australian society has recognised that short term financial gain is not as interesting as long term financial gain. And we all have a responsibility to our children and their children and therefore Australia has come good and ended the climate wars. It's just a great new dawn for our planet. What do you think, Tom?
Tom: [00:18:51] So, I mean, I thought it was fantastic. And I also really liked that he pointed out that he felt this heralded real change in the political culture of Australia, that he actually was pretty clear that he didn't think this was a flip flop. And you know, as we see in the US, we could be back in the same place four years later. But he thought this was representing a major cultural transformation in Australia. So what I took from it, which actually is enormously encouraging because we've needed to get to that point for a long time. So hugely exciting news.
Christiana: [00:19:19] I agree with both of you. And on a more serious note, what an inspiring example of the difference that it makes when women stand up and exercise their agency. We have talked about this sort of theoretically many times on the podcast that wherever there are women, there tend to be better decisions, better leadership, etc., etc.. We talked about it during the pandemic. We talk about it in climate. But this is such a remarkable example of these women not not willing to stand down, not willing to operate as victims, as helpless, whatever, but actually standing up in their full agency and glory and saying, enough, enough is enough. We are standing here for ourselves, for our children, for their descendants, for our country. And we're going to do what it takes. And I just think it is such a strong and shining example and one that seriously colour, independently of the colour, one that really should be an inspiration for all other countries and in fact, stakeholders, CEOs, companies. It just makes such a difference.
Tom: [00:20:44] And it makes such a difference. And also, I mean, I don't want to mischaracterize Australia unfairly, but you know, it has been kind of a blokey culture in some ways over there and Australians I think would admit that. But actually, and I remember speeches in Parliament that were kind of misogynistic and I remember Julia Gillard coming out and having to really defend herself in that way. So it's not necessarily the easiest culture for that to happen in. So which speaks only to the courage and bravery of those women that they actually had that determination stepped in and made this happen.
Christiana: [00:21:12] Indeed.
Paul: [00:21:13] And that stepped in is key. I was watching just last night a program from the 1960s and some of the toughest issues were dealt with by female comics in the 1960s. And one of them, she said, it's the same in any movement. How do you get the spotlight and focus it on the issue? And I think that's what the teal women have done brilliantly.
Christiana: [00:21:33] There you go. Good summary. Brilliant.
Tom: [00:21:36] Well, that's actually quite a nice intersection to talk from the past to the future. So should we now talk about future generations? And Sophie Howe has really one of the coolest jobs that must exist as the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. That is the role she's held for the last six years. Her role as the Future Generations Commissioner is linked to the Welsh Government's 2015 Wellbeing and Future Generations Act, which requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long term impact of their decisions, which is a remarkable piece of legislation that was brought in by Wales. The only other country I think that gives as much attention to the needs and views of future generations could potentially be Costa Rica or am I may be opening a can of worms there?
Christiana: [00:22:18] Well, Tom, you are opening a can of worms because since you weren't able to be in that interview, you don't know that this was the standing joke throughout the interview, right? Oh, no. Are you actually one upping Costa Rica here? Do we now have to aspire to a Welsh nationality as opposed to a Costa Rica nationality? So, yeah, you're stepping on very fertile ground, Mr. Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Tom: [00:22:52] All right. Well, we will explore that further in this interview. So here is Sophie Howe, duking it out between Wales and Costa Rica. We'll be back after Sophie.
Christiana: [00:23:07] Sophie, thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism. I'm almost thinking this is going to be a conversation that takes us very quickly from outrage to a lot of optimism and a lot of role modeling here for so many other countries. But before we get to looking into the future, let's just take a quick peek into the past. Sophie, you are definitely the world's first commissioner in charge of future generations, not in charge, but in charge of monitoring for the well-being of future generations, which is quite exciting, something that I would say was much more a part of indigenous governance in many indigenous cultures rather than in the ones that we are living in now. But, can you share with our listeners, where did this idea come from? It is absolutely an urgent need, but just because we know that there is a need to be aware of our impact on future generations doesn't necessarily mean that we then step into a pretty interesting solution to that. And so where did the idea, not that generations need someone to speak for them, but where did the idea come from to form a commissioner in Wales that is speaking for those who are yet unborn? And of course, I cannot hide my curiosity about whether the year in which this was decided, 2015, has anything to do with the fact that 2015 was the year that the UN adopted both the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.
Sophie Howe: [00:24:59] Yeah, absolutely. So Wales has had quite a long history with sustainable development. So when the Welsh Parliament, the Senedd as we call it, was established in the New Government of Wales. So that was following a referendum in 1998. The devolution to Wales in 1999, so the Government of Wales Act included this clause which said that sustainable development should be a central organizing principle. So kind of, you know, lofty ambitions, but what does that actually mean in practice? And in practice it didn't really mean an awful lot. What it meant was that the Environment Minister would take a report to the Senedd once a year on all things sustainable development, but it was very much seen as that. It is the responsibility of the Environment Minister. It certainly wasn't a central organizing principle of the whole, of the whole government and we had a really progressive Environment Minister, you know, going round different countries, seeing the best of the best elsewhere. And she was frustrated that this really wasn't a central organizing principle and it was just her responsibility once a year to produce this report. She implemented a non statutory Sustainable Development Commission which would sort of audit how well the government was doing. And that Sustainable Development Commission said, well, you know, you're not really doing what you should be doing here. And also at the same time we had new politics in Westminster. So Labour lost the election in 2010 and we had a new Conservative and Lib Dem Coalition and they abolished the Sustainable Development Commission in England or across the UK. And there's always been this kind of healthy competition between what goes on in Wales and what goes on in England. So that was the backdrop, the frustration of this Environment Minister saying, hang on a minute, this is not just my business, it's just as important. In fact, it's more important what the economy ministers do in what the housing ministers do, in what the transport minister is doing and and saying we need something more meaty and with more specific requirements. So she managed to convince the first minister at the time that running up to the elections in 2012 that there would be a commitment that simply said we will legislate for sustainable development. She then actually retired from government so didn't come into the next term. The new government were left with this. We will legislate for sustainable development. It had been Jane Davidson, that was the minister, it had been her baby. Nobody really knew what to do with it. What is this thing we've kind of agreed to?
Christiana: [00:27:44] She just left it there, hanging for everyone else.
Paul: [00:27:47] The great Jane Davidson setting something out for us to follow.
Sophie Howe: [00:27:52] Exactly. And so it was kind of complete, just serendipity in a way, the right thing happening at the, you know, the sort of the right time. So back to your point on, you know, run up to the SDGs and run up to the COP in Paris and so on. Actually, that was really helpful because what then happened was we held this big conversation with the citizens of Wales posing the question: what's the Wales you want to leave behind to your children and your grandchildren and future generations to come. Yeah. And you get people into a different space when you pose that question, which is really good. And they came up with, I think, 13 different things that they felt were really important. Like, you know, we love our natural resources in Wales. We're rich in, you know, in natural resources and we should be protecting them. We want to keep people well rather than just treating them when they're ill. We want to be addressing inequality that exists in our society, a whole range of things. But we also then look to all of the discussions that were going on around the SDG and in the run up to COP in Paris. And that really helped to inform what our long term vision for Wales is going to be. Those conversations in Wales, those conversations happening internationally, and that then morphed into this instead of a Sustainable Development Act, a well being, a Future Generations Act. And I think that's much more powerful. It's much more relevant to the average person on the street and the seven long term wellbeing goals.
Christiana: [00:29:23] It's more motivational, right, because it's so much more personal rather than something abstract that could be interpreted as an academic exercise or political exercise. Wow.
Sophie Howe: [00:29:34] Yeah, absolutely. So that's how it came to be. So a lot of local conversations, a lot of push from I have to say, it was mainly the environmental NGOs initially, but actually because it's so broad defined in sustainable development as the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of Wales, you've then got the public health people say, and actually this is a public health act and you've got the cultural sector saying, we've got a role in this and you've got the environmental NGOs saying, Well, how can we work with the cultural sector to be communicating what we need to communicate and so on?
Christiana: [00:30:09] Wow. How, how fantastic. Sophie And and so now that we know the roots of this, how does it actually work? The commissioner is in an advisory role? Is there anything legally binding behind it? How's the operation when you see when you identify something that is very clearly not in the interests of future generations, what do you do and what can you do?
Sophie Howe: [00:30:38] So the kind of the legislation sets out a number of requirements for the institutions that are covered by it. So 44 public bodies covered by the act, all of our health bodies, our local authorities are national agencies like public health and Natural Resources and so on. And then significantly the Welsh government named a Welsh minister themselves covered by the legislation. It requires them to set objectives which maximise their contribution to all seven of our wellbeing goals. It requires them to take all reasonable steps to meet those objectives. That's really important because all reasonable steps, that permeates every aspect of what a public institution does, how do they spend their money? How do they do their workforce planning? How do they do their risk management? All of those sort of functions. How do they develop policy and deliver services? And then there's this sort of overarching principle which says they must demonstrate how they're meeting today's needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The role of the Commissioner, then, is a number of aspects duties to monitor and assess. The progress is being made towards reaching the seven long term wellbeing, goals and powers to provide advice and support to government and others and anyone else who's interested or has an interest in achieving those goals. And then I suppose the meatier part of the powers is something which are called Section 20 reviews. So I can go into an organisation or collection of organisations on a particular topic. So for example, I've just looked at procurement. How will we spend in the £7 billion we spend on goods and services in Wales, across Wales and make recommendations. I can provide an assessment of what's going on there in line with the Future Generations Act and make recommendations, which there are statutory duties that those public bodies have to respond to. And if they're not going to follow my recommendations, they have to set out why and what alternative course of action they're going to take. So I can't force anyone,
Paul: [00:32:42] Comply or explain I think it's called right?
Sophie Howe: [00:32:43] Yeah. But a bit of name and shame, I would say. And a bit of adopt or justify, I suppose.
Paul: [00:32:51] And the seven and the seven areas can you define them?
Sophie Howe: [00:32:54] So seven wellbeing goals, nothing sort of groundbreaking in the titles, but I'll say a little bit more perhaps about the detail. So prosperous Wales, a resilient Wales, which is about ecological resilience, a healthier Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language, cohesive Wales and a globally responsible Wales. So nothing really that is kind of massively surprising. You would expect a country to sort of be bothered about all of those areas.
Christiana: [00:33:23] But brilliant, brilliant to crystallize all of that into seven goals. Totally brilliant.
Sophie Howe: [00:33:29] Yeah. And I think that one of the most exciting parts about it is if we look at our goal of a prosperous Wales, it talks about productive, innovative, low carbon society, one which uses resources efficiently and proportionately, including acting on climate change, and one which helps to develop a well-educated population with the skills to enable them to access decent work. Now, not catchy, of course, but if you pick out, you know, nowhere there is GDP, you know, and it's this kind of, yes, prosper-parity within planetary boundaries. So that's kind of for that to be not just a policy definition of prosperity, but a statutory definition that's really exciting. And then the other important element with those is that all of those bodies have requirements to set objectives which maximize a contribution to all of those goals. So that's requiring them all to work beyond their traditional boundaries. So just as important, what the economy department does in terms of improving the health of the nation as it is the economy, it's just as important what the Housing Department does in terms of the environment.
Paul: [00:34:40] Sophie I have to interrupt you here because, so Christiana just sent me a note asking how to get your job because she thinks it's really cool. How do you get your job?
Christiana: [00:34:48] Sophie honestly, I think this is the coolest job on the face of this planet. I am so thrilled. And, you know, we're in major dangerous area right here on this podcast because my colleagues know that I very disrespectfully use this podcast to always sing the praises of Costa Rica. I think we're in serious danger here of Costa Rica having to take second place to Wales after hearing this. Pretty amazing. That’s a big thing.
Paul: [00:35:22] Yeah. But seriously, how did you get the job?
Sophie Howe: [00:35:25] Well, so my background is in the public sector. So I've worked in lots of different organizations. I started my career as a young counsellor. I was the youngest counsellor in Wales. I was elected at the age of 21. I've got a background in equality and diversity, so I managed the legal department in the Equal Opportunities Commission. I've worked in government, I've been in policing, I've been in a range of different public sector roles. And I suppose my frustration about all of them is that pretty much all of those roles were picking up problems that have gone wrong, you know, decades before in some occasions. So my passion is about this sort of public policy reform shifting towards prevention and away from short termism and kind of joining the dots between things.
Paul: [00:36:17] So can I ask you a little bit about that? I mean, by the way, you will have heard this before, but for our listeners, we had a whole thing with Kim Stanley Robinson on this book, The Ministry for the Future. And of course, many people will say you are the Minister for the Future, which is very exciting and I cannot help but avoid quoting a UN Assistant Secretary General who said what Wales is doing today, the world will do tomorrow and indeed many countries following your leadership, so fantastic there. But I'm fascinated by a comment that you made a little while ago. You said on a podcast, I am very pleased not to have anything to do with party politics anymore. And what I think is so interesting is, you know, the world is torn apparently between a kind of left wing and a right wing. And actually, maybe everyone's forgotten. There's a third one. There's a kind of future wing, and you're embodying some kind of new kind of administrative politics, which is so exciting. Can you talk a little bit about that as it's coming into being?
Sophie Howe: [00:37:08] Yeah. So I mean, you know, the role is political with a small piece and it's not party-political, but when you're talking about public policy, which is what I'm doing all, all the time, but from a futures perspective, of course, it's political. But, you know, in some ways, you know, and this is perhaps a criticism of the role. How do I know what the interests of future generations are? Because the unborn don't speak to me. So, you know, and who so you know, how do I know whether I'm sort of saying or doing the right thing? Who's holding me to account? Because, you know, the unborn can't hold me to account either and so on. But it does give you that sort of freedom to not be bound by OK, I know we really need to take these really significant actions in terms of shifting the way we spend money to deal with the climate crisis. But that's too politically difficult, so I'm not going to. It does give me the freedom to say, well, actually, you know, that I speak on behalf of future generations. And that is absolutely, as far as I'm concerned, the right thing that we should be doing. And I'm not bound by, you know, am I going to get elected next time for taking some of those difficult decisions? And what's really quite interesting and perhaps I'll let you into a secret here.
Paul: [00:38:23] Good. We like secrets.
Sophie Howe: [00:38:25] Sometimes the politicians actually quite like me calling them out on stuff and they quite like me.
Christiana: [00:38:34] It gives them cover. Very important cover. Yep.
Sophie Howe: [00:38:39] Yeah, it's the same as you know, they set up commissions and reviews and you know, and all of these things because it does give them that cover because sometimes this is really, you know, I've been in a political environment, it's really difficult because, you know, I said that the people of Wales came up with these goals and definitely they did. But you know, we've got some local issues now when we do things like, so therefore we're going to stop all road build in Wales. But hang on, but not my road. Not the road that was going to be the bypass from my village. Don't stop that one. And so then I am able to enter into that fray to say, well, on behalf of future generations, I know this might be difficult for you now, but we do need to be taking those difficult decisions. And so the politicians in that instance are absolutely right to be taking some of those difficult decisions, and maybe I can give them some support and cover.
Paul: [00:39:27] On that one specifically. Then, am I right in thinking Wales is the only country in the world that has announced a moratorium on new roads. Is that true?
Sophie Howe: [00:39:35] Yes. So this stemmed from, I suppose, the first sort of major test of the Future Generations Act and and I suppose the power or the intervention of the commissioner. So the Government had had on the books for a long time plans to spend all of its borrowing capacity on building a 13 mile stretch of motorway to deal with the problem of congestion at an area called Newport. And I intervened in that issue. So I think it's important to say I can't intervene in every decision. So they have to be big strategic decisions. And I consider this to be a big strategic decision.
Paul: [00:40:11] The entire borrowing power of the government. Would seem to be pretty big, right?
Sophie Howe: [00:40:14] Quite. Yeah, yeah, exactly. So that's one of the reasons why I intervened and it was going to set this precedent. So I asked them to explain to me how they'd applied the Future Generations Act, their own legislation to their thinking on this decision that they were planning to take and they had real trouble explaining. So, you know, can you explain to me how this is in line with that definition of a prosperous Wales, productive, innovative, low carbon society, you know, acts of climate change and so on? Can you explain to me what long, long term trends you've considered here in terms of health? Because by my reckoning we've got a big problem with air pollution, illegal levels of air pollution. We've also got a big problem with obesity. So building more roads to fill and get more people to sit in their cars rather than travelling actively doesn't seem to be helping with that. And can you explain to me how this is in line with the goal of a more equal Wales because 25% of the lowest income families in that region don't even own a car. So why is it that you're spending the entire of Wales’ borrowing capacity on something which is already going to benefit or the already better off and they had real trouble. Yes. So they couldn't demonstrate how they'd applied the act and it went to a public inquiry and actually the inspector in the public inquiry recommended that it should still go ahead. So therein lies some of the problems with the whole system beneath this that needs to reform.
Sophie Howe: [00:41:33] But the First Minister had been regarded as a complete done deal. It was going to go ahead. Following that intervention, the first minister changed his mind and he said, which I think was probably one of the first times ever in Wales, maybe that's unfair. But you know, usually if there's an economy versus environment argument, economy wins, environment loses. Yes. And the first minister said I'm persuaded by the arguments and I give more weight to the environmental arguments than the economy arguments in this. Queue then changed to the entire transport strategy in Wales, which my office have worked with the Government on, drafted parts of it, aligned it to the wellbeing, goals and so on. And then I challenged them on OK, this is all very well and good, but you still keep allocating money to build more roads. Why are you doing that? Because that's not in line with what you said you're going to do. And so they stopped doing that. There was about three years of me challenging on that. This year, first year we've seen we were spending two thirds of our infrastructure investment budget on roads. This year that's gone down to a third and the Government have announced a moratorium on all road building. So 52 already approved schemes in Wales have been halted and are being reviewed independently in line with the future generations act on our carbon, our climate targets, I think three have been reported so far and have been completely cancelled.
Paul: [00:42:55] And so is it true that doctors can prescribe bicycles to people?
Sophie Howe: [00:43:00] Yes. So this is the you know, this is where you get this join up. A really interesting thing is that one of the principles in the act is that they must demonstrate the long term preventative action, collaboration, integration and involving citizens. So that collaborative approach, what we've seen in our capital city is a public health consultant seconded into the council to lead on the development of the transportation strategy. And so when you apply a public health lens to a transport problem, you get a completely different set of solutions. So they've targeted active travel and public transport investment to the communities with the lowest levels of life expectancy and the highest levels of air pollution, which incidentally also happen to predominantly be our black Asian minority ethnic communities. And you've got things like doctors being able to issue bike prescriptions.
Paul: [00:43:56] Honestly it's an amazing policy and who knows if it'll be adopted by Costa Rica. But here's a final question for you, because I know we're running out of time. You've also thought about basic income and having a basic income pilot. I mean, I think that's a very far sighted, we've not discussed it on the podcast before. Can you just give a little bit of your thinking behind basic income and how you're trying to move ahead with it?
Sophie Howe: [00:44:17] Yeah. So I mean, I've got a number of priority areas that I focus on. What are the things, if we get them right, would make the biggest contribution to reaching those long term goals. And one of them is better ways of keeping people well. And if we look at the wider determinants of health, so, you know, in Wales and indeed across the UK we spend about 50% of our entire government budget on our National Health Service, which is much loved and well regarded and utterly brilliant. The problem is, it's a national illness service. So basically what we do is we treat people when they're ill. We don't join the dots to help keep them well in the first place. And if you look at the World Health Organisation data, what it tells us is that the major differences in life expectancy in most developing countries are things which are not really to do with what the health care system itself does. Only about 10%, in fact. 35% of what makes a difference to our health and whether you die older or younger is income security. You know, can you put food on the table? Are you living hand-to-mouth? You know, these sorts of things? Yeah, it's absolutely huge.
Christiana: [00:45:23] So, sorry, can you say that again? 35%. Just can you just repeat that? It's worth repeating.
Sophie Howe: [00:45:32] Yeah. So in terms of what makes a difference to the reasons why some people die 20 years younger in, you know, in Wales and the UK than than other people, 35% of what accounts for that difference is income security. So basically poverty kills, is the the short analysis there. So we would actually be much better off dealing with that poverty problem than putting more money, more and more money into treating the problem after it's sort of occurred in the NHS. So that's where my role is coming in and saying we need some long term interventions here and we also need to be looking at things that are happening in the labour market. So the change in nature of work, our welfare state was established when the gig economy didn't exist, and it's just not fit for purpose anymore. And even if you look at environmental issues, you know, things like whether people can afford good quality, locally produced food, I mean, there are wider issues there, but that's down to poverty. Whether they can afford electric vehicles or not, that's down to poverty. Actually, we want to want them to be using public transport, but there are lots of these kind of connections here. So again, that was so universal. Basic income I think should be a solution that we should be looking at. It was seen as a completely left field idea. It's going to cost a lot of money. I say not not as much money as, you know, treating the problem after it's occurred. And the government at the beginning of this year announced the first pilot of a universal basic income in Wales.
Paul: [00:47:18] Wow, amazing. Pioneering Wales, giving Costa Rica a real run for its money.
Christiana: [00:47:24] Oh, definitely, definitely. I can see everybody here paddling like crazy under the water. Oh, boy, oh, boy. Sophie, how inspiring, how absolutely brilliant that we have at least one country moving ahead and honestly, really opening a whole space of possibilities that many people have thought about and written about, but is much more difficult to get to implementation. So how absolutely exciting. So honestly, I think Paul and I would love to stay online here and hear more and more from you. But sadly, we have to come to a close now. How we come to a close on this podcast, Sophie, is we always ask our guests what is one thing that they are outraged about and one thing that they're optimistic about. Now, your whole conversation, in fact, your whole job is about being optimistic that we can today lay the groundwork for a much better future. So if you want to say something about that, that's fine. But actually, I would love to encourage you to say, in this job that you've been doing for, what, six years now, is that right? What continues to be outrageous to you?
Sophie Howe: [00:48:48] I think that it's, well, I got to call it outrageously frustrating that the unpicking of the system that I've got to do or that needs to be done. We've got this brilliant Future Generations Act,
Christiana: [00:49:06] The systemic paralysis. Is that what you're saying? Yeah.
Sophie Howe: [00:49:09] So but what's come before that mostly is completely at odds with the Future Generations Act. So, you know, short term performance measures, we're still allocating budgets in many cases on an annual basis, you know we're still being held to account on these sort of five year electoral cycles and so on and so on. So and even down to like the minutiae of how does a procurement officer take decisions on contracting when they're still trying to put cost above anything else? Unpicking that system is outrageously frustrating and every day I see that stuff happening in Wales and indeed across the world. So despite the fact we've got legislation, we've had these real big shifts, it's still the day to day outrageous decisions that are not in line with that Future Generations Act, which add up to outrage, if you like. But on the optimistic front, bit by bit, we are unpicking it and bit by bit, things like the moratorium on road building and the UBI and the changes to our planning policy and the changes to our waste policy. Wales is third in the world for recycling, tiny little Wales and we're moving beyond recycling. And now to a completely circular economy. It's a bit by bit we're unpicking that system, but it's going to take quite a long time.
Christiana: [00:50:35] Well, it's taken a long time to build it up, so it's not going to happen overnight for sure. How wonderful. Sophie, thank you so much. Thank you for sharing this with us. I'm sure our listeners are just going to be wildly inspired, as are Paul and Clay and myself. Thank you so much for sharing. We're going to be following this. I'm sure there are many, many lessons learned of how to go about cutting into this very, very new space. So thank you for pioneering this, Sophie. Thank you to Wales. Thank you. Thank you so, so much. Sophie Thank you.
Paul: [00:51:13] Thank you for unpicking the system, Sophie.
Sophie Howe: [00:51:17] I'll keep going.
Tom: [00:51:25] So what a great interview. I'm so sad to miss this one. Paul, history suggests you probably have something to say.
Paul: [00:51:31] You know? I do. I do. Thank you for asking me, Tom. I've been completely inspired by Sophie, and I've been running around thinking about things. You know, I read an article in the Financial Times. All I do is watch television and read the Financial Times. And it was saying that the human project has kind of changed a bit, that we're not necessarily trying to build a better world, but we're just trying to kind of protect this one. Now, I'm not sure if that's entirely true, but I do sense that extreme weather has galvanized the entire world now. And I think we need to be much more ambitious in recognising that power. I listen to what Sophie is doing and the authority she's taken because, you know, authority is taken and not given. And, you know, I think of other global movements like the anti-apartheid movement, which you can see within this context of an anti racism movement that's been going on for millennia. But rather than left wing and right wing, we've now got this future wing, and it's a unifying force and it's growing and it's getting stronger. And I can hear it and feel it and sense it. And I'm just so excited about how we can unite the climate change movements around the world with extreme weather galvanising everyone's attention on making the changes we need to have. Because things are moving really fast now and I think we can be so confident. And Sophie's just a beacon that I think aligns us with how to get stuff done.
Christiana: [00:52:44] How do you follow on from there?
Paul: [00:52:49] Now, that's a compliment coming from Christiana.
Tom: [00:52:52] You need to watch a lot of TV and read a lot of the Financial Times to have that level of insight.
Christiana: [00:52:56] I guess so.
Paul: [00:52:58] Well, there's more to it. You know, Scotland announced it is joining a future commissioner. I've got like I'm not the first page of an eight page treaty here, but no, honestly, everyone's following. It's just amazing.
Christiana: [00:53:12] Well, it is very exciting. And one actually asks, how did it take us so long to get here? It's clearly the right thing to do and gives the long term perspective that we all need. But also, I was just reflecting after that conversation with her, and that's why I say how did it take us too long to get here? Because the fact is that there are other cultures who have had this wisdom and have operated this wisdom before. And the one that comes very quickly to mind is the children's fire that has been made pretty famous by Mac Macartney, where he tells us about this process, this decision process that some of the original peoples of the United States followed, in which the elders would sit in council when they had a very important decision to make, and they would sit around a fire, which they understood to be the children's fire, and the fire in the center of their circle would remind them that whatever decision they took had to actually pass the fire of is it in the interest of future children. And otherwise they didn't take decisions. And that was the way that they decided between A, B or C. It was also, is this actually in the benefit and does it contribute to the well-being of future children? That is a beautiful, ancient wisdom and tradition that we have lost and how wonderful that Wales is now bringing that back, not asking their elders to sit around the fire, although all of us would benefit from that. But actually to institutionalize this in the way that Sophie has explained to us, and to do so in such a thoughtful and such a powerful way, the fact that she can question any policy that is put in place, I mean, it's just completely brilliant. And my point is, although we would think it's very innovative, it actually goes back to ancient wisdom.
Tom: [00:55:43] Hmm, absolutely. I thought it was really interesting that she talked about, it's kind of like an advisory voice in the room, right. That she says that because she doesn't have to worry so much about votes, she can then challenge ministers on what they're going to do and say, well, what about future generations? How do we incorporate that into decision making? One of the things I think I would have asked her if I'd been in the conversation, I wonder if either of you got this sense is whether that's effective or frustrating. Well, did you get the sense of because I mean, the other alternative, if you were to think about how a role like that might evolve, would be to merge it, say, with the finance minister, so that the finance minister had to consider both. Do you think an advisory role is powerful enough to actually make sure decisions are based on that because presumably that advice can be ignored by ministers? What was your sense of her perspective on that part of her role?
Christiana: [00:56:39] Well, I think it's a brilliant idea, Tom, and it might evolve into that. My sense is that it's currently an advisory role because that is what is currently possible, what is politically feasible. I think if they had pushed too far and wanted to make it structurally part of the Ministry of Finance, two things, A, there might have been much more resistance to it, but also I think she or the role would have lost this overview. I think of her or the commissioner as sort of being in the control tower over the over all of the landing and taking off airplanes. And she does have extraordinary leeway to ask all kinds of uncomfortable questions so she doesn't have the power to stop something. But she definitely has the power, if you will, to ask people to justify those who are making decisions to justify themselves from the point of view of future generations. And personally, she has a brilliant capacity to make you feel very uncomfortable with yourself if you thought about, it's a skill, if you haven't thought of all of these ramifications down, you know, a few decades from now. So good on her and her. What did you think, Paul?
Paul: [00:58:03] Yeah, her position in the government, I think. And if we imagine more functions like that in other governments around the world, they are as important as that particular issue. What do I mean? So like when there's something terrible, like a war, then the kind of the Defence Ministry is, is the one that's most important when there's like a global pandemic, the health ministry, it comes along when there's a sustainability crisis, then then her ministry becomes the most important. And by the way, and this I thought was absolutely fascinating, she said the Future Generations Act felt more relevant and personal to people than the old Sustainability Act. So here's some learning. You know, this word sustainability, you know, it kind of explodes and becomes boring. Simultaneously, the future generations are what this is about, and let's respect the future generations in our governing process. I mean, you know, the only reason we're here is because to some extent, they respected the future generations in pre previous governing processes and we got that same obligation to the next generations.
Tom: [00:59:07] Very nicely said, yeah.
Christiana: [00:59:08] I really like that reinterpretation of sustainability into something that is much more personal. There's very little that is as deeply personal and as deeply motivating as a parenting role, whether you are a physical parent or whether you are a parent or playing a parent role to many other people, many other young people. And I say that because Paul is not a parent, but he plays a parent role to many young people. And so but my point is,
Tom: [00:59:42] And some older people.
Christiana: [00:59:44] And some older people.
Paul: [00:59:45] Retaining the parenting favour that they're still doing me.
Christiana: [00:59:48] But, yeah, I mean it really makes it very personal. It makes it very human. It takes it out of the academics, theoretical, you know, there are three pillars to sustainability, that kind of thing. And it just makes it about, okay, this is about us.
Tom: [01:00:05] Yeah, I'd stop listening by the time you got to the end of that sentence, actually, which is an indication you're probably right, there are three pillars to sustainability.
Paul: [01:00:14] Cruel but fair.
Tom: [01:00:17] All right. Anything else to add before we get to our music?
Christiana: [01:00:20] No, just kudos to Wales. Kudos to Australia. It's so nice to have good news because we had so much bad news last week. And so there we are. How we go from outrage to optimism. Hallelujah for our wonderful title.
Paul: [01:00:36] One more bit of good news. I went out and I looked at the flowers just today and they are so beautiful. So maybe it depends what country you're in and all the rest of it. But just to say, yeah, it's a beautiful world and it may be getting more beautiful.
Tom: [01:00:48] The flowers are nice. Protip from Paul. Thank you, Paul. Thanks, everyone. Thanks for being here with us this week. We will leave you, as ever with some music this week from Kathy Palmer. And we'll see you next week.
Christiana: [01:00:57] Bye bye.
Kathy Palma: [01:01:00] Hello, I'm Katy Palma, Guatemalan singer songwriter. This song I'm going to be sharing with you is about transforming pain into change and recognizing the equality between our cultures and the way we love and feel. As a surprise today, I'm sharing this acoustic rendition with a very special guest from Mexico. Here's a message from him.
Reyli Barba: [01:01:20]: Quiero saludar a todos. Soy Reyli Barba, un artista y compositor Mexicano. Asi que un privilegio para mi. Without further ado, esto es Quémalo.
Quémalo by Kathy Palma ft. Reyli Palma [01:01:20] [Song plays]Clay: [01:05:44] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. I'm Clay, producer of this podcast, and welcome to the end of the show where I wrap things up, have some fun and send you off to the rest of your beautiful day. The song you just heard was an Outrage + Optimism exclusive, this is huge and what an honor. Quémalo by Kathy Palma with special guest Reyli Barba. Muchisimas gracias, and thank you for giving us this incredible music to share with our audience. Again, that was an exclusive for our podcast and you can't find it anywhere else. So cool. Kathy Palma has much more music you can listen to on Apple, Spotify, wherever you get your music. Please check the show notes for links to that and be sure to follow her as an artist on YouTube or Apple, Spotify and social media, etc. because she has more releases of music planned for this year. So stay tuned. I'm going to give a quick recommendation. Cool By Myself, Pintada del Roto and Lost in Translation are my three favorite songs of hers. But you might have your own favorite, so go listen. Enjoy. Thank you to our guest this week, Sophie Howe. She wins the Cool Job Award 2022 for sure. And you can connect with her on social media via the links in the show notes. And thank you to Dean Bialek for joining us so quickly after the Australian election. You can check the show notes for his social media as well. Now if you like this podcast, you can give us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. We read every single one and actually I'm going to read one right now. So let me read one to you here. Okay. Here's one from Galiana1965, titled Meat Consumption. I just found your informative and interesting podcast. Is there any episode regarding the unsustainable and harmful effects of animal factory farming and the urgency to eat more plants and less animal derived foods? Galiana1965, thank you for your five star review first. Yeah, we've actually done four episodes on food systems already and one in particular I think you might enjoy is episode 25 with Ethan Brown, the CEO of Beyond Meat. He's been one of our favorite guests of all time, especially Paul's. And I have a link to all four of these episodes in the show notes for you that you can check out. Also, actually, we're working on an episode coming out soon on alternative proteins as part of our Future of Food series. Thank you again for your review. The best way to hear that episode when it comes out is to hit subscribe to this podcast or follow us on social media at @OutrageOptimism coming soon. Ok, Enjoy the weekend. Another episode coming next week. Bye.