Environmental networks

The imposing biography that Claire Weill devotes to Konrad von Moltke is an opportunity to describe the processes which made it possible to put environmental issues on the political agenda of international and European bodies.

A graduate of the Ecole des Ponts et Chausses and a bridge engineer, Claire Weill, after creating a research team at the Ecole des Ponts et Chausses and teaching at the University of Marne La Valle, intended in 1999 to move into action in favor of international recognition of environmental issues. She thus joins the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) created in 2002 on the initiative of Laurence Tubiana. It was there that she met Konrad Von Moltke with whom she would have multiple opportunities to collaborate. She was still in contact with him regarding the draft European regulation REACH (Registration, evaluation and authorization of chemical products) when he died in 2005. She then embarked on a long investigation to illustrate Konrad's journey, combining the study of archives, that of the texts he wrote and interviews with his collaborators. We have, with the imposing biography she devotes to him, the result of meticulous work, pleasantly written, and very instructive. Relating the personal story of Konrad von Moltke indeed offers Claire Weill the opportunity to describe the processes which made it possible to put environmental issues on the political agenda of international and European bodies.

A rather exceptional personal story

Helmuth James von Moltke, wikipedia

Born in 1941, Konrad von Moltke came from an aristocratic family from East Prussia, owning the Kreisau castle and estate (now Krzyowa in Poland). His father, Helmuth James, had resigned from his post as clerk at the Berlin High Court when Hitler came to power. With his wife Freya, he helped organize a network of peaceful resistance to Nazism which would later be described as the “Kreisau Circle”. Helmuth James was hanged in early 1945 for plotting against Nazism. In 1948, Freya decided to go to South Africa (where she had family) at the invitation of General Smuts, who was one of the first theorists of holism and the last bulwark against apartheid. Unable to support the apartheid that was imposed after the ouster of Smuts, Freya returned to Germany in 1956 and her children followed her. Konrad nevertheless took advantage of his schooling in Cape Town to learn to speak English fluently but also Frikaner, which would later allow him to understand Dutch. Freya then joined Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, an intellectual specializing in legal history who had known Helmuth James and who taught at Dartmouth. Having completed his secondary studies, Konrad leaves to find his mother and his stepfather at the USA. He first studied mathematics at Dartmouth College. After several years in Munich where he trained in the history of medieval Germany, he returned to Dartmouth, obtained his diploma in mathematics and immediately began a thesis in history in Gttingen. He then married Ulrike von Haeften, whose parents were associated with the “Kreisau circle”.

Back to USA, Konrad became an assistant professor of history at the University of Buffalo where he developed interdisciplinary programs for undergraduates. In 1973, he left for Germany because he wanted his children to study there. Having various activities in educational sciences, he met Raymond Georis, general secretary of the European Cultural Foundation. The latter suggested that he take charge of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IPEE), which he intends to install in Bonn. Konrad had until then helped Georis launch the European Institute of Education and Social Policy, but had not had the opportunity to worry about the environment. He nevertheless accepts the proposal and will direct theIPEE from 1977 to 1985. From then on his path was charted: he would mobilize all his energy to promote the consideration of environmental issues in public policies.


The Institute is located in the building of theIPAan environmental lobbying structure headed by Wolfgang Burhenne who had largely contributed to the development of the Convention on Endangered Wildlife, and the creation of the WWF (in 1961). It is next to the International Law Center of theIUCN which has premises there. The situation is favorable: the “Meadows report” on the limits of growth was published in 1972, European countries have equipped themselves with specialized institutions and environmental diplomacy was initiated to prepare for the Stockholm conference in 1972.

Konrad von Moltke will prove to be the man for the job and be able to influence the political agenda of environmental problems in Europe. It is located in the building where theIPEE extensive documentation and benefits from the legal knowledge of the Center forIUCN. He will patiently build a network of relationships both at the USA that in Europe connecting actors convinced of the importance of environmental issues: scientists, politicians, national and international civil servants, members of think tanks and environmental activists.NGO environmental. Speaking and writing fluently in English, German and French, even understanding Dutch, he will serve as a facilitator (or go-between) between these different environments. He is a network man before the internet. This is how he will help advance many issues.

Konrad builds theIPEE like a kind of think tank, which intends to inform and convince national and European parliamentarians, thanks to expert work based on the results of scientific research and a good knowledge of the environmental jurisdictions of Western countries. It engages in collaboration with the Conservation Foundation (think tank founded by Aldo Leopold in 1948), of which he will be part after his return to USA and which will merge with the WWF in 1990. In 1978 lIPEE opened a Paris office and, two years later, another London office, managed by Nigel Haigh.

Perhaps tired of Germany and certainly eager to help bring together the environmental policies of Europe and America, he left his position as director of theIPEE in 1985 and settled in Norwich, Vermont. While teaching at Dartmouth College, he became a senior associate at the Conservation Foundation and spent his life between Norwich and Washington, traveling tirelessly between Europe, the United States and Canada.

A contribution to the development of environmental policies and the evolution of institutions

Upon his return to the United States, Konrad von Moltke played a significant role in including the precautionary principle in the Maastricht Treaty. This one comes from Vorsorgeprinzip rigged by the Germans in Europe about acid rain. Great Britain is concerned about this and the Royal Commission on Pollution commissions an analysis of this principle.IPEE, who asks Konrad to take care of it. The Royal Commission published its report in 1988, and managed to convince Margaret Thatcher to accept that the precautionary principle be adopted at the European level, with the other European countries joining in (which was done in 1992).

Thanks to his good knowledge of national institutions and policies, Konrad will thus, by mobilizing his network and through reports, conferences, seminars and symposiums, intervene indirectly in the “battle of the ozone” which resulted in the Montreal Protocol . We can also note that, if this citizen of the world has also contributed to advancing the international issue on climate change and the creation of IPCC, he himself had, due to his pregrinations, a disastrous carbon footprint. But he is also involved in the preparation of the Rio summit. Satisfied that the issues of climate change and the erosion of biodiversity have been associated, he admits that it will not be enough to focus on the international conferences which will follow, but that we should try to engage in the search for results. With this objective, he tries in vain to promote the introduction of environmental objectives into the missions of theWTO. Thanks to the dynamic created by the negotiations on China's entry intoWTO (December 2001), at the end of his life he wanted to engage in work with the Chinese government to take environmental issues into account, while being concerned with the delicate negotiations which led to the settlement REACH in Europe.

Claire Weill takes advantage of this biography to describe the journey of the files which led to the establishment of policies and institutions dedicated to the environment both at the European and international level. It thus shows how, through reports, conferences, symposia, research programs, and political projects, environmental issues have been put on the agenda of political negotiations. This work is thus a remarkable contribution to the history of environmental globalization and the policies devoted to it. In doing so, it does justice to a multitude of great servants of the environment: scientists, national, European and international civil servants, members ofNGO well-established and think tanks, which contributed to the negotiations and decisions leading to the globalization of environmental policies.

It would now remain to do another environmental story. Faced with the succession of global conferences which produce agreements which are never really applied, there is in fact throughout the world, a multiplicity of citizen struggles and experiments, opposing environmental and social injustices, and wanting to maintain or improve environmental environments. life. It would be another story of the environment, which is not that of international policies, but that of the men and women in struggle, of their successes and their failures.