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Introduction

Global Trends to 2030:
How do we drive change to achieve a more sustainable planet?

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 17 goals build on the Millennium Development Goals, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice.The objective is to achieve the SDG target by 2030 but success clearly depends on governments, private sector, civil society and citizens, alike working together.

In July 2018, a report prepared by The World in 2050 Initiative was published. entitled 'Transformations to achieve the sustainable development goals'. This report looks at the current trends and dynamics that might enable or put at risk the achievement of the SDGs. Importantly, it presents the TWI2050 framework, the integrated pathways which harness the synergies and multiple benefits across SDGs, and approaches to governing this sustainability transformation. In doing so, TWI2050 identifies six exemplary transformations which they believe will enable the achievement of the SDGs and long-term sustainability to 2050 and beyond. These are i) Human capacity and demography; ii) Consumption and production; iii) Decarbonization and energy, iv) Food, biosphere and water; v) Smart cities and vi) Digital revolution. Finally, the report provides policy recommendations on how to achieve integrated pathways to implement these transformations.

You can read the report here or by clicking the image.

The Ideas Network 2030 believes this report to be an important contribution to the ongoing discourse on the achievement of the SDGs and would like to invite network  members and other stakeholders to share their perspectives on it - along with other available research - which addresses one of the most important, if not contentious, geopolitical trends. In addition, we would particularly like to stimulate a discussion on the United Kingdom's role, in a post-Brexit world, in responding to this trend. In particular, we invite comment on:

  • How can the U.K. continue to contribute politically, both in Europe and globally, to shaping and strengthening of the governance of these transformations to achieve the SDGs, along with the development and implementation of international standards that support them, in a post-Brexit world?
  • What are the economic opportunities for the U.K. in developing and promoting innovative solutions that enable the achievement of the type of transformations foreseen in the TWI report?
  • Or will the United Kingdom, need to recalibrate its current economic model, in a post-Brexit world, in ways which will be less favourable to the achievement of the SDGs, and what would the implications of that be at home and abroad?

There was a stimulating discussion on this topic at the launch of the Ideas Network 2030 on September 22nd, 2018. A summary is given below.


Session summary
Global Trends to 2030
How do we drive change to achieve a more sustainable planet?

Chair – Mark Titterington

The panel session was informed by The World in 2050 Initiative Report which, along with other important contributors on this geopolitical issue, urged action from, and a collaborative way of working by, governments, business, and civil society, to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This latest report, which can be found here is an important addition to the increasingly compelling body evidence that highlights opportunities of rising to the challenge of finding more sustainable ways to live on this planet as well as the extremely serious risks of failing to do so.

The panel addressed this and also considered what role the United Kingdom can play, in a post-Brexit world, of exploiting the opportunities and mitigating the risks.

General comments on the panel

  • There was a general agreement that meeting and going beyond the UN Sustainable Development Goals is one of the most important geo-political issues of our time;
  • Meeting the challenge requires collaboration at all levels of government, business, and civil society, and all must consider bolder action and, where appropriate, ceding sovereignty in order to develop a global systemic, rather than a tactical local, approach to the challenge.

UK as a leading political influencer and economic innovator

  • There was a general agreement that the UK had been and still can be a leading influencer and economic innovator in meeting the challenge posed by climate change and sustainable development.

The panel then focused on two particular aspects of the debate - energy and agriculture & food.

Energy

  • With respect to energy, the point was made that the UK has been very successful in shaping EU energy policy and setting ambitious goals for decarbonisation, (with a national binding target of 80% by 2050);
  • The UK has also been an economic or fiscal innovator in driving this effort through the introduction of a carbon tax and being one of the first countries to adopt an emissions trading system;
  • Looking ahead, there was a view that progress is being made with respect to renewable sources of energy, (not withstanding the trade offs between crops for food or fuel) and the decarbonisation of the electricity sector;
  • It was felt, however, that greater focus will need to be put on both heating, (80% dependent on gas) and transport (90% dependent on oil);
  • The UK, along with its European and global partners, will therefore need to look at how they can incentivise innovation for transport powered by renewable sources, (going beyond the ‘fine tuning’ of conventional engines) and, where necessary, the extension of constraint policies such as congestion and low emission charging zones;
  • Finally, the greater use of carbon capture to decarbonise heating will be critical but in this respect, the UK may have a competitive advantage, compared to its European counterparts, (given the fact that it does not regard it as dangerous compared to others, like Germany for example). In this respect, it was felt that the UK needed to do more in seeing the North Sea as a good place to store CO2 and this may prove to be an upside of Brexit.

Agriculture

  • With respect to agriculture and food, there was a strong feeling that the UK had been at its most innovative in trying to put forward proposals to reform the EU's Common Agriculture into a long-term policy for driving a more sustainable food and agriculture system;
  • Reference was made to the necessary transition, which the UK can lead, to a system whereby farmers and growers are rewarded for the public goods they deliver in agriculture production, (including biodiversity enhancement, environmental land management, and nature conservation);
  • It was felt that the UK could, if it can make it work, be a standard setter for the EU and offer a model for the reformation of the CAP;
  • Numerous references were made to the ingenuity and environmental consciousness of British farmers but a belief also that they needed to be supported, financially, (either by the market or by government), if they are expected to contribute to a more sustainable food and agriculture system.

Role of UK consumers, citizens and business

  • There was a general agreement that the biggest agents of change can be consumers and whilst their awareness and activism is growing, it has not yet reached a critical mass that can help arrest climate change and/ or drive sustainability positively;
  • On the supply side, there was a view expressed that too many companies have typically pursued profitability and shareholder value, and not properly accounted for their externalities, resulting in a conflict between financial gain and sustainability;
  • There was, however, a feeling that this was beginning to change, with both consumers and companies acting differently as the link between the challenge and the action required is conceptualised, for example:
    • In the U.S., there have been examples of employee activism, where employees have taken a petition to the CEO about working for specific clients;
    • In terms of reputation, the work of the Reputation Institute was cited having found that what impacts a brand most is what an organisation stands for and the extent to which its actions are consistent with the mission;
    • More conscientious investors were also seen as a part of the solution rather than the problem, with many more of them now starting to recognise that long term value can only be realised through a clear alignment with a company’s role in society;
    • And Regulators are also beginning to see their broader role with the UK Companies Act specifically referring to the interests of both shareholders and stakeholders. It was also said that sector based regulation is now looking not just at the economic rent but a broader sense of companies going beyond that in contributing to society;
  • All of this says that the span of responsibility is shifting and broadening, taking on different dimensions;
  • There was also a link here to the earlier panel in the IN2030 launch event on digital transformation, with a clear view that this inflexion point in consumer and business awareness is being driven by the transparency and speed of reaction enabled by digital technologies;
  • Companies are, and therefore need to, respond using three broad approaches based on a commercial strategy aligned with a clear sense of purpose and long term sustainability and underpinned by a culture which supports all three;
  • This requires a mindset shift from seeing these are competing forces to the opportunities and competitive advantage for those who get this right;
  • In this respect, it was felt that the UK can really drive this agenda because of the concentration of so many global businesses in this country and - assuming this does not erode (and is even enhanced post-Brexit), - the country could find itself well placed to drive economic behaviour change in this area but that it also requires working hand in hand with government to establish the right policy and regulatory framework.

Role of millenials and Generation Z

  • Finally, the panel considered the role which millennials and Generation Z, as the most globally diverse and well-educated generation we have ever seen, , can play in meeting the climate change and sustainability challenge, (75% of them will be leading the global workforce by 2030);
  • Panellists argued that because of the world they have grown up in they have come hardwired with specific attitudes such as being open, creative, innovative, and collaborative;
  • There was a strong view that we need to harness this in the drive for a more sustainable planet because their entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to try-fail-learn can deliver solutions with greater speed, flexibility, and agility, than is often possible by governments or big corporations;
  • They are also motivated as much by the purpose as by the pay check and have a focus an ability to think and act across different systems;
  • The Panel thought that Millennials and Generation Z are therefore well placed to make the critical contribution but they need to be supported and invested in, in order to solve the SDGs;
  • The UK Government therefore needs to consider how its education system can support this from an early age, as well as capitalising on the diversity of its higher education institutions and links with business, which are considered to be second to none in Europe,… but this also requires a truly open, collaborative and outward looking country, (because one that looks inward won’t be attractive to millennials or Gen-Z)

Conclusion

In conclusion, there was a feeling that whilst there are clear downsides in leaving the EU, it could also be an exciting time for UK environmental policy if the opportunity is grasped and the U.K. does not turn in on itself, or succumbs to the temptation of pursuing a low regulation economy on the Singapore model.


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