02 November 2016

Q&A: Peace is the prerequisite for sustainable development

Options Magazine Winter 2016: Heinz Fischer was the president of Austria from 2004 to 2016, and is a member of the Alpbach-Laxenburg Group.

© Matthias Silveri | IIASA

© Matthias Silveri | IIASA

Q: What do you think the greatest challenge is in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted last year by the UN?

A: The biggest challenge is to keep peace. Because if peace is lost, if wars start, everything becomes much more complicated. That is the worst-case scenario. If we can keep peace, the next step towards achieving the SDGs is developing a fair understanding between different nations and different societies. We need the support of the people for the goals in the field of environment, social justice, and the fight against poverty and hunger. I’m optimistic, because in the last ten years some progress was made and I hope that in the next ten years more progress is possible.

Q: As the president of Austria for the last 12 years, do you perceive that attitudes around these issues—both nationally and internationally—have changed during this time? And if so, how?

A: Attitudes have changed, and they have changed in a positive sense. The understanding for the necessity of these goals is much bigger today than it was ten years ago. Today, even parts of industry, trade unions, and other groups in the population that were once very skeptical now understand that we are on common, reasonable ground if we support these goals.

My feeling, since the Paris climate agreement and already before Paris, is that the coalition has become bigger: the approach of the American government is more positive, China has become more flexible, and countries in the third world are more and more convinced that they all should have to contribute. People no longer say that only the most advanced countries should solve the problem—we must all pitch in. That’s the situation now in summer 2016. And I hope that this positive trend will continue.

Q: You have been a strong supporter of international research institutes like IIASA which are located in Austria – why are such institutions important?

A: Since I was at university I was convinced that science and technology are extremely important parts of a modern developing society. You need science-based policy. You need science-based industry. And a big additional influence for me is that I served in the government as minister for science and technology in the eighties, and after that as president of the parliament. During those times I was sensitive to the problems of research, researchers, and universities. I have not changed this attitude, and I don’t plan to change it.

Q: What is your vision for the future – for Austria, for Europe, and for the world?

A: In politics, you have to work on the one hand with hard facts, but on the other hand you need visions. And visions of course are unlimited. You must not reduce visions to just those ideas which can be realized within six months or two years. A big vision is peace. A big vision is the decline of national egoism. A big vision is more justice and more equal distribution of chances and wealth. And if we are successful in these three fields, many other positive consequences will follow. 

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Last edited: 14 November 2016

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