2019 discussion

Trend four: Sustainability

Changes to the global climate, driven by human activity, are likely set to continue to develop and intensify in the coming years. Increased global prosperity and population growth will inevitably lead to increased demand for water, food, energy, minerals and metals, the extraction, production and consumption of which could have profound and potentially damaging and destabilising effects on global climate and weather.

Floods, droughts, storms, heatwaves and rainfall are all expected to become more intense and possibly more frequent. While efforts to contain and limit global temperature rises are underway, the consequences of climate change are likely to become increasingly evident in the short to medium term. Coupled to this, the pressure placed on finite resources by increased population levels may lead not only to increased international tensions, rivalry and competition, but also pollution, habitat destruction, reductions in biodiversity and species loss.

Improved management of natural resources, recycling, agricultural production and water supplies, as well as the application of new technologies and exploitation of renewable energy will therefore be needed to prevent and mitigate the negative effects of increased pressures on the environment. To achieve this, the UK and other nations will need to find ways not only to rise to the challenge of finding more sustainable ways to live on the planet but also to highlight the extremely serious risks of not doing so.

Helpfully, the UN, through its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiative has issued a universal call to protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. With 17 goals, including new areas building on the Millennium Development Goals, such as climate change and sustainable consumption, it provides a new global framework to encourage states to take action across issues relating to consumption and production, decarbonisation and energy, food production, the biosphere and to ensure they implement necessary sustainability transformations.

Meeting this challenge in the UK will require collaboration at all levels of government, business and civil society. Bold action will likely need to be considered, and where appropriate, cross border cooperation to develop a global system, rather than tactical local approaches, should be implemented. Moreover, new and innovative ways of incentivising the adoption of more environmentally friendly technologies and practices to drive the sustainability agenda will need to be developed.

Feedback - Sustainability breakout

Key discussion points

  • Agreement that we stand on the cusp of an environmental breakdown but that we have yet to see that matched with an urgency of action amongst government, business and civil society.
  • We have as yet failed to understand the wider, disruptive implications of climate change on trade and economics, health and well-being, international security, migration, and social justice.
  • We need bold solutions but too many of the political and financial/ business decisions still being taken today would lead to global warming well above the limit foreseen in the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Climate and sustainability issues are a system of interdependent problems, that can result in feedback loops and domino effects, further exacerbating the situation and increasing the speed of climate change.
  • A strong belief that whilst the problem is unlikely to be solved but it can be effectively managed through multi-sector and multi-actor cooperation, which needs to be bottom up, as well as top down, and a far greater awareness of the individual personal responsibility for living more sustainably.

Ideas and conclusions

  • Common goals, vision, and commitment to action are crucial, which includes a cross party commitment to a legislative framework and agenda for managing the climate and sustainable development.
  • Business and civil society must also come together to forge new, pragmatic, and non-ideological solutions.
  • Resilience to environmental breakdowns should be improved and human consumption should be brought within sustainable limits.
  • We value what we measure: we need regional and global cooperation to develop a common approach to climate accounting (e.g. extraction, production, consumption or sharing, or a combination).
  • Financial investors can drive change in the businesses in which they invest – further develop and extend the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance criteria), ensure that investors understand and rigorously apply them and hold companies to account.
  • Best efforts must be made to promote sustainable projects and to pick “low-hanging fruit:
    • Determined drive to phase our petrol-diesel vehicles.
    • Sustainable construction and re-fitting of new and older buildings.
    • Improvement in land use and decarbonisation.
    • Hard commitment from individuals and organisations to circular economy, (reinforced with incentives / penalties).
  • Also consider trade-offs: would the investment needed to achieve net zero emissions in the U.K. have greater impact being spent in supporting sustainable development in the developing world?

To view the outcomes from our 2018 event please click here