Category Archives: Sustainable Development

Steps on the Road to a Great Transition

Arguably one of the most important things to come out of the COP21 climate talks in Paris last December, aside from the Paris Agreement itself, is the signal sent solidifying the growing shift in the global consciousness. We seek a transformative path forward into the new century. But any desired transformational change requires both the vision for a long term outcome and a mechanism to achieve that outcome in the ongoing grind of our day-to-day reality.

In a  globalized economy powered by fossil fuels embedded in that reality is the expectation of ceaseless energy to drive nearly every aspect of our lives, at least for some of us. The rest must live either in the shadow of the waste and destruction brought as a consequence of a fossil fuel energy economy or start out on their own quest to catch up.  Many suffer. Some resort to violence and anarchy in their desperation.

The Paris Agreement sets in motion a renewed sense of urgency in our aspiration for climate action specifically and a more equitable and sustainable society in general. The more cynical among us might suggest we’ve heard all this before, half-hearted calls to action that bear little change, leaving the rhetoric in the dustbin of broken promises and hardened souls. It’s easy to be cynical.

What is harder is to accept the failures of the past, the circumstances of the present and challenges of the future, and determine that change is not only inevitable, but that we can shape it toward a desired outcome. This is the promise of the Paris Agreement.

Choosing our future scenario

In an essay entitled Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Aheadthree classes of future scenarios are outlined, each with two variants. First is the Conventional Worlds scenario, then Barbarization and finally Great Transitions. Each scenario is characterized respectively by essential continuity, fundamental yet undesirable change and fundamentally favorable social transformation.

The two variants to Conventional Worlds are “market forces” and “policy reform.” Market forces assumes no real deviation from business-as-usual, suggesting an eventual deterioration into one of the two variants of Barbarization, either “fortress world” or complete “breakdown.” On the other hand, the policy reform variant of the Conventional Forces scenario, working in the spirit of Keynes and Bruntland, offers the possibility of progress toward a Great Transition scenario. Here we have an “eco-communalism” or “new sustainability paradigm” worldview.

Some may pine after a world of eco-communalism rooted in “pastoral romance, human goodness and the evil of industrialism,” but the authors suggest the more likely and desirable possibility, given our present situation, is a new sustainability paradigm. This is a world built out of a philosophy of sustainability as progressive global social evolution organized around human solidarity, new values and “the art of living.”

Whether we end up in a scenario of Barbarization or Great Transformation, I argue that one thing is apparent: from our current perspective of Conventional Worlds, we have a choice, even if that choice is making no choice at all – or muddling through, as the authors in the essay define as the last option; simply turning a blind eye to the whole issue of future development. By default that will almost certainly lead to a fortress world or complete breakdown.

Our best choice from here is one of policy reform, defined by growth and environmental equity achieved through stewardship, better technology and management. The framework set in place through the Paris Agreement, as well as the Sustainable Development goals, is the first step toward policy reform in a Conventional World that might lead to the Great Transition of a new sustainability paradigm.

World Bank Group Climate Action Plan: policy reform for favorable transformation?

Earlier this month the World Bank Group announced its Climate Action Plan. The plan builds on the foundation of the Paris Agreement, reinforcing the ambitions of individual countries and the global community toward new policies for every sector of society.

Through capacity building, leveraging resources and creating a framework of transparency, the World Bank’s Climate Action Plan is an example of how we can get from here – a conventional world committed to policy reform – to there – a Great Transformation rooted in human solidarity and global social evolution.

Of course, it can be difficult to hold in our mind’s eye what this transformation will look like, and this is only a small step on the road to get there. But we must look at each step as part of the whole and keep in our hearts and minds the ambition and vision set forth in Paris.

Featured image credit: Stephan Ridgway, courtesy flickr

This post first published in our blog GlobalWarmingisReal.com

The Future of Sustainable Development : A Citizen Journalism Project

Beacon is a crowdfunding platform for journalists. For more than two years Beacon has supported hundreds of worthwhile projects, adding a perspective to journalism free from the internet echo-chamber or vagaries of the advertising business model (here’s one we recommend and support).

We’ve just launched our own campaign on Beacon to help fund a series of articles and interviews exploring the future of sustainable development. The capstone of this series is one-on-one discussions with global leaders in government, business and academia at the GRI Global Conference in Amsterdam this May.

We’ll look at the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN last year as well as the Paris Agreement signed at COP21. We want to examine how these frameworks create a platform for progress, not only as aspirational goals but by defining steps for real action on the ground.

The revelations last week from release of the Panama Papers is clear evidence of how a lack of transparency leads to increased economic and social disparity.  It’s no surprise that the among the world’s most wealthy and powerful people, including top business and government leaders, use whatever means at their disposal to protect their wealth from the vagaries of economic, social and policy constraints.

On the other hand it is a stark reminder of the need to redouble our efforts to align our values with our functioning global economy if there is any hope of achieving the aims of our higher aspirations. 

The importance and nature of the “socially conscious enterprise” is changing rapidly and along with it sustainability reporting. Information exchange is opening up opportunities for sustainable investment and increasing corporate and government transparency.

Is all this just pie-in-the-sky rhetoric to greenwash us into believing such a change is possible? Can we possibly “consume” our way out of the challenges we face? Is the “Triple Bottom Line” (people, planet, profit) an effective business strategy? 

Help us find out!

From my previous conversations over the years with business leaders, scientists, engineers, NGOs and policy wonks, one thing is for sure: business-as-usual is fast becoming untenable. But as we acknowledge this urgent need for change, we need to define a clear and sustainable path forward. 

Help my colleagues Andrew Burger, Richard Matthews and I explore the changing business and public policy landscape in an ever more crowded, resource-constrained world. 

Support citizen journalism!

Contribute to Making Sustainable Development a Reality today!

Carbon Tax Explained

With the international commitment in Paris calling for the decarbonization of the global economy by the second half of this century, the task we now face is transforming that commitment into reality.

There is no magic bullet that will deliver a decarbonized, net-zero emissions economy. What is required of us stretches across all aspects of human society, from economics and technology to our relationship with each other and with nature herself.

If there is a common thread that can set in motion action on all fronts, it is arguably putting a price on carbon. In a very real sense, we already pay the cost of carbon emissions, but those costs are spread throughout society as an economic externality manifesting as damaged crops through droughts and floods, increased health care cost from heat waves or risk to communities from extreme weather and rising sea level – to name but of few of the impacts of continued and increasing carbon emissions. Quantifying a price for carbon brings the cost back to those who are responsible at the source of emissions.

Pricing carbon is about more than just climate change, it is an important step toward economic health, social justice and environmental sustainability.

How do we put a price on carbon?

Throughout this series we will explore the various mechanisms, either proposed or already implemented in some parts of the world. One of these strategies is a carbon tax, as implemented in British Columbia, Ireland, Sweden, Chile, Australia and other nations around the world.

The reflexive opposition to environmental policy initiatives in our polarized political discourse (especially here in the U.S.) is misleading and doesn’t reflect the real potential benefits of pricing carbon through a carbon tax or other potential pricing strategies. An approach actually endorsed by many conservative thinkers, a carbon tax can bring with it not only emissions reductions but increased energy efficiency and a stronger economy.

This video produced by the Carbon Tax Center introduces how a carbon tax could work to effectively reduce carbon emissions, without destroying the economy, and other “myths” as we so often hear opponents to any form of carbon mitigation or pricing.

There are many avenues we can take on our journey toward a decarbonized economy. In subsequent posts we will explore in more depth strategies for carbon pricing  and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

This post first published in GlobalWarmingisReal.com
Featured image credit: Georgie Sharp, courtesy flickr