Established in 2010 by The Prince of Wales, the International Sustainability Unit (ISU), which closed down in March 2018, addressed critical challenges facing the world, particularly the question of how to sustain the health of the environment while advancing development goals. The ISU built on the success of The Prince’s Rainforests Project, established in 2007 to find solutions to tropical deforestation, which resulted in international commitments of US$5 billion for immediate financing.
The ISU was proud to have played a part in facilitating the advances that have been made, based upon its international reputation for credible, trusted and neutral convening, underpinned by well researched and rigorous analysis, and broad consultation with key people from governments, the private sector and civil society.The ISU's key achievements are reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 and also later that year the new climate change agreement reached at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris.
In addition to convening and gaining consensus on specific issues including integrated rural-urban development, and the use of sustainable cotton, ISU implemented programmes focused on marine ecosystems, the illegal wildlife trade as well as agriculture and food security, and the linkages between climate change and health.
The Marine Programme focused on driving change towards sustainable 'blue' economies. Initially focused on how best to transition to sustainable marine fish stock management, find solutions to the increasingly serious problem of plastic debris building up in the ocean and explore new ways of funding the recovery of sustainable use of seafood resources, the ISU worked with over 600 international experts in the fishing industry and finance sector as well as other stakeholders including retailers and scientists on this programme. A key element of the programme was the Blue Economy Development Framework (BEDF); the ISU worked with the World Bank, the EU Commission, the US State Department, and other G20 countries to establish a secretariat which was launched at the Our Ocean Summit 2017.
The ISU’s activities in this area set out to reveal how economic growth and ocean conservation need not be in conflict, and how indeed sustainable development depended upon a healthy marine environment, especially for those countries that were dependent upon ocean ecosystems.
The Prince of Wales and the ISU launched competitions to encourage innovation for solutions and facilitated discussions to assist with system-wide approaches. 'Out of the Blue' photography competition which was part of The Prince of Wales's Commonwealth Environmental Photography Awards at the World Oceans Day on 8th June 2015 highlighted the value and importance of the marine environment to the Commonwealth countries.
Illegal Wildlife Trade
The ISU was also active in seeking solutions to the illegal wildlife trade that has during recent years decimated populations of rare animals, especially in parts of Africa and Asia. As well as raising awareness and encouraging governments to work more closely together, the ISU liaised with banks to find ways in which the money laundering and other illegal financial transactions linked with the trade might be contained. In addition to the focus on specific issues the ISU helped with international efforts toward the mobilization of the finance needed for meeting different environmental and development agreements being reached between governments.
Agriculture and Food Security
ISU carried out responsible investment in agriculture project which focused on investigating the most economically sustainable approaches to the future of farming. The ISU team looked at how best to encourage international investment into sustainable farming practices and carried out extensive research and convening on the extent to which rural areas and their food production might be better integrated into towns and cities lying adjacent to them. As a result, ISU brought together an unprecedented alliance of 60 stakeholders from civil society and the investment community to develop a common position on transparency in agricultural investment in developing countries.
ISU encouraged sustainable practices in relation to specific commodities, especially cocoa and cotton. In both cases leading companies were engaged in discussions that led them to see opportunities for positive change. For companies buying cocoa this included a commitment from the world’s largest chocolate brands to source their raw materials without causing deforestation. Some of the most significant buyers of cotton undertook to procure only from sustainable sources.
Climate Change and Health
ISU carried out research on climate change which revealed that environmental factors, including land use, water availability, biodiversity loss, soil degradation and acute weather events, which had been implicated in at least 73 conflicts since 1980. ISU not only sought to encourage action on deforestation but also set out to highlight the critical importance of agricultural soils in accumulating carbon. These specific lines of thinking were set against the ISU’s work to raise awareness among key decision makers as to the security issues linked with what was increasingly seen as the risk multiplier of climate change. The ISU also convened leading experts to consider the health implications arising from climate change and also the health benefits that might be derived from action to tackle emission.