The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights. They were brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela. Mandela, former president of South Africa and Nobel Peace Laureate, dedicated his life not just to the anti-apartheid struggle, but to global democracy and equality.
When organizing The Elders, he said, “”This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes. Together they will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair.”
According to their vision as an organization, Elders no longer hold public office; they are independent of any national government or other vested interest. They should have earned international trust, demonstrated integrity and built a reputation for inclusive, progressive leadership. The Elders share a common commitment to peace and universal human rights, but they also bring with them a wealth of diverse expertise and experience. An Elder is also a changemaker—someone who can lead by example, creating positive social change and inspiring others to do the same.
Kofi Annan currently chairs The Elders. Annan, former UN Secretary-General and Noble Peace Laureate, put development, human rights, the rule of law, good governance and peace at the top of the United Nations agenda. Gro Harlem Brundtland currently serves as deputy chair of The Elders. As the first woman Prime Minister of Norway and a medical doctor who champions health as a human right, she put sustainable development on the international agenda.
On 25 September, Gro Harlem Brundtland received the Mahbub Ul Haq Award for Human Development for her work in environment, sustainable development, health and climate change. It follows her receipt of the Tang Prize for sustainable development on 18 September.
Described as Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize, the Tang Prize recognizes contributions to science and the humanities. Gro Harlem Brundtland took the opportunity to urge leaders to respond to our rapidly changing world, establishing a “new universal climate agreement in 2015”:
“We need to reflect the new challenges faced by humanity – climate change, energy shortages, emerging diseases, clashes of cultures and ideas, and shifting world orders.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland called for everyone to take personal responsibility to address climate change: “As long as we all live on the same planet, we will have to make it happen for all of us, or it will not happen at all. I believe we can do it. There is no alternative path ahead.”
On Sunday 21 September, the world witnessed the largest ever demonstration on climate change in history. More than 100 world leaders gathered in New York while 2646 solidarity events were held in 162 countries. Several members of the Elders stood in solidarity with demonstrators at a major march in New York City.