It's time for fundamental rethinking on sorting of waste (Article China Daily)


Here is an article that I was fortunate enough to get published on the front page of China Daily the 25th of July 2019.

It is inspired by a report on the theme of circular economy that will become official later this year.

Role: Author

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An experience that is becoming increasingly common around the world is the sorting of waste.

It may seem like a trivial activity, but it has slowly moved into the center of conversation on the future of business and sustainable development.

Waste sorting is a complex phenomenon that can be an important step toward a global circular economy. Maybe it even will be something we will look back on as one of the first steps toward an ecological society.

But sorting of waste could also mean participating in an activity that undermines sustainable development by allowing unsustainable companies to use recycling as a way to pretend they are sustainable.

When Royal Dutch Shell, a British-Dutch oil and gas company, wanted to dump an oil rig in the ocean in 1995, many people in Europe had just started to separate glass bottles and newspapers. The company's plan was viewed as a sign of arrogance. The incident led to an important meeting, after which many companies started including environmental factors in their risk assessment.

The situation is different today. It is no longer clear if the kind of waste sorting done in Western nations is part of the problem or the solution. There are areas where the sorting of waste is working reasonably well, for example the glass and metal industries. But at a time when we are looking at a transformative system change and global sustainability, there is a need to fundamentally rethink waste sorting.

In the coming decades, the world needs to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, become more resource-efficient, lift billions out of poverty and ensure greater equity. In order to ensure this, we need a resource-efficient circular economy, and waste sorting can play a key role. But that would be a very different kind of waste sorting.

People around the world have begun to realize that much of the waste they sort is not integrated in sustainable material flows, but instead shipped to poor countries, where it is not handled in an appropriate manner. As more countries refuse to become dumping grounds for the unsustainable lifestyles of rich countries, a healthy discussion about global sustainability has begun to emerge.

Out of the waste that is recycled, much of it is turned into low-value goods in a way that does not result in a radically reduced use of natural resources. Instead, recycling initiatives are used by companies selling low-quality goods that are not made to last.

A waste sorting system for the 21st century should build on the opportunities that digitalization provides and allow citizens to track what is happening to the waste they are sorting and also provide information about the companies they have purchased products from.

It should also require companies to show how resource-efficient their solutions are, allowing consumers to compare options.

It is time to understand that Western recycling systems, to a large extent, are used by unsustainable companies that produce everything from fast fashion to unhealthy fast food.

China could initiate the next generation of waste sorting systems - those that support hyper-transparency and move away from the systems in the West that are contributing to reduced transparency. Such a waste sorting system would be a driver for innovation and extreme resource efficiency and a true step toward ecological civilization.

The author, who contributed this article exclusively to China Watch, is a senior adviser at the Research Institutes of Sweden, senior associate at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and fellow at the Research Center of Journalism and Social Development at Renmin University. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Link to article

What do we want technology to do for us? (Chapter in China Daily Report for the G20 meeting)

This chapter is from the report “Working Together to Build an Open Global Economy” that is jointly compiled by the editorial team of China Watch Institute, China Daily’s communication-led think tank, and the Institute of World Economics and Politics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

By completing a report on open global economy ahead of G20 leaders' arrival in Japan soon to forge consensus on challenging global situation, 16 experts worldwide have teamed up to explore how the world should respond at a time when globalization is at risk.

The Osaka Summit will be held on June 28-29.

The report will be launched on June 25 in Osaka when China Daily and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) hold the International Forum for Open Global Economy. Supported by several other international institutions and think tanks, the pre-summit forum is co-organized by the Asian Development Bank Institute and Japan-China Science, Technology and Culture Centre.

For more information please follow this link

My chapter is also available on the China Daily webpage and China Watch.

The full report can be found here.


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What do we want technology to do for us?

By Dennis Pamlin | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-05-30 07:18

We urgently need a conversation about the role of innovation in relation to what kind of society we want

With the accelerated uptake of new innovations all around us, the opportunities and challenges they present are enormous. We are facing technologies and innovations that can disrupt the very fabric of society, from AI and genome editing to brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and nanotechnology. All of these technologies are very powerful on their own, but when they converge and are combined with new business models significant disruptions on a global scale will happen.

Many companies, policymakers and journalists oscillate between hope and despair in relation to the new generation of technologies. It is easy to feel confused as different experts seem convinced that these technologies will either solve all our problems, or be the end of our civilization. The truth is however that they can be pretty much what we want them to be. They are tools, powerful tools, but still only tools.

There will be unforeseen consequences and complexities that will make it hard to guide technology exactly in the direction we want it to go, but nonetheless people are choosing how to implement the technologies and the frameworks that will guide innovation. The challenge is that innovation driven development in the first decades of the 21st century will take place in a historically-unique situation.

For more than 300,000 years human innovation has mainly focused on developing technology to enhance and extend our bodies to make us stronger, faster and more efficient with the help of machines and tools. The reason for this has been the urge to survive, to reduce material scarcity. We needed "more", more food, more shelter, more medicines, and so on. We created tools like GDP to measure progress based on "more", and we became used to viewing growth as something generally positive.

This focus on "more" has resulted in unprecedented material progress. Humans on average live longer, are healthier, and have access to better food, medicine and shelter. We can and should celibate this progress. Few of us would like to live in a time when we do not know if we will be able to have enough to eat next day, or whether a simple infection will kill you. But, as with all things in nature, unlimited growth is neither possible nor desirable, in our own bodies unlimited growth is called cancer.

When it comes to everything from food to medicine, we have arrived at a point where we need to move beyond more and ask deeper questions, and in no other field this is more true than innovation.

As we are closing in on, or in many cases have already passed, the point when we do not need or can have "more", there is a need to direct our innovation skills to the structures guiding innovation. Inclusion is one of the most discussed challenges of the rapid innovation-driven development. With AI and robotics in particular we can create a future that will not require many humans to produce the material goods we need. In a similar way many of the services that humans provide today AI and connectivity will be able to do better, faster and cheaper. The inclusion challenge is often framed around unemployment, but it is much more than this.

It is a question of what role people will have in society. A universal basic income or similar measure will ensure that people do not starve to death, but it will not make sure that people have something meaningful to do. Instead of framing the question of inclusion as a question of income, or right to work, we need to ask how we guide innovation in a way where everyone has the opportunity to make an important contribution to society.

And with technologies that are not just about making us stronger and faster, but also smarter, it becomes important for everyone to be able to discuss what kind of values these technologies are based on. Who has the right to data about us and who has the right to filter and guide what information we can access are core questions that must be discussed.

We need a conversation about the role of innovation in relation to what kind of society we want.

It is not an exaggeration to say that much of the innovation is providing trivial or even meaningless contributions to society. If you open the app store on your smartphones and compare that to the most important challenges facing humanity it is hard to see much overlap.

A discussion of what sort of society companies are creating and how governments use technology is urgent.

Last, but by no means least, we must redefine our relationship with nature. Currently we are destroying the very fabric of life that we all depend on, and to a large extent we do this with innovations aimed at delivering us more of stuff we don't need or really want. Instead of a reactive or negative approach where we try to put a price on nature, or find boundaries for how much we can destroy, we should explore the opportunities for positive visions.

The Half Earth proposal - that half of the Earth's land should be designated a human-free natural reserve to preserve biodiversity - could help us broaden our ethical horizon and move away from a simple anthropocentric perspective to a future where innovation is guided by structures where nature also has an intrinsic value.

The upcoming G20 Osaka Summit where innovation is a key theme provides a great opportunity for leading stakeholders to take the next step for innovation driven development. It is time for governments, companies, universities and others to start discussing what sort of society we want our innovations to help create.

The author is a senior adviser at Research Institutes of Sweden, a senior associate at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and a fellow at the Research Center of Journalism and Social Development at Renmin University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Roadmap for a fossil-free Sweden (World): By the Digitalisation Consultancy Industry

Role: Lead-Author and project leader

More than 30 leading firms in the digitalisation consultancy industry have joined forces behind this roadmap and we are united in our ambition to help society recognise and tap the potential of digitalisation for a fossil-free future. We believe it is critical that the digitalisation that is providing some of the most powerful tools humankind has ever created is given a framework for contributing to a smart and sustainable future.

The contents of the roadmap were developed in parallel with and largely based on the strategic long-term vision for a climate-neutral Europe presented by the European Commission on 28 November 20181 and the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 C that describes

pathways to achieving the 1.5 C target by implementing new and smarter solutions (products and services) that lead to steep reductions in energy and resource consumption.

Digital solutions can help reduce emissions in three ways. First, existing systems can be optimised. Second, the uptake of sustainable solutions can be accelerated. Third, transformative changes can be achieved.

A transformative change that results in radical and rapid reductions of GHG emissions occurs when the impacts of digitalisation at various levels work together, i.e., when novel technical solutions, business models, economic incentives, new legislation, social planning, new financing models and methods for assessment and creating transparency, etc., are brought together.

One serious challenge is that the less significant contributions of digitalisation (optimisation of individual products) are relatively easy to explain, measure and support politically, while the greater, transformative and systemic changes are often more difficult to explain, measure and support politically.

The transformative and systemic changes demand numerous interacting measures that often require collaboration among government ministries, public agencies and sectors in a way that seldom occurs today. Consequently, focus is apt to end up on the minor contributions of digitalisation, with risk that the major contributions will be ignored.

Link to report here

From the Silk Road to the stars (Article in China Daily)


Below is an article published in China Watch. The original article can be found here


By Dennis Pamlin | 中国日报网 |

Updated: 2019-01-24 10:17

With its successful Jan. 3 moon landing -- the first ever on the “dark side of the moon” -- China helped humanity take another step toward becoming a space-faring civilization.

In the world we live in, the successful moon landing was unfortunately not only celebrated, but was seen by many from a confrontational perspective. US President Donald Trump has already declared that he wants to create a new “Space Force” by 2020. The plan is to make that space force the sixth branch of the military. Without leadership, space could become the next major conflict zone and any space activity seen as a provocation by competing forces.

With many global challenges, we can and should not waste resources on a military space race. Current weapon technology means the consequences of a future space war could also be fatal for humanity. At the same time, it is obvious that the resources for military expansion into space would be much better used if they were invested for peaceful purposes -- as well as addressing urgent global challenges such as world poverty, growing inequity and the accelerating ecological collapse due to biodiversity loss and climate change.

With the successful moon landing, China now has the attention of the world and thereby an opportunity to help shape the direction of global space exploration. A new direction for space exploration could also help set a new standard for global collaboration. Clarifying that the space exploration should be peaceful is a good first step. However, the current situation provides us with a unique opportunity and China should consider establishing a three-pronged approach to sustainable space exploration that would be integrated into an eco-civilization agenda.

First, a new set of global goals for space exploration should be presented. The international Space Station (ISS) where the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada collaborate, has demonstrated that international space collaboration is possible. A global action plan to develop the technology to prevent future asteroid impacts through the capacity to detect, track and deflect asteroids could be one of humanity’s greatest collaborative achievements, which would reduce one of the main long-term threats to human civilization. China could also propose a global approach to the first human settlement on Mars, and help ensure that the settlement is built on sustainable technologies. These initiatives should be science driven with total transparency and a research agenda where people all around can collaborate.

Second, the excellent work by United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, which demonstrates the benefits of space exploration for global sustainability, should be accelerated. China could challenge all countries and companies active in space exploration to make relevant solutions for key global challenges available for free. An even stronger link between space exploration and global sustainability would help strengthen peaceful collaboration.

Third, it is time to integrate global infrastructure development on earth with peaceful space exploration. The establishment of the first permanent colony beyond Earth is within reach. This generation could be the first one to experience how we as Homo Sapiens became a space-faring species. A long-term plan for equitable and sustainable space exploration is an important part of such a journey.

By exploring how all major infrastructure investments on earth can help accelerate and guide space exploration in a sustainable direction, we can ensure that space becomes a shared project that is about increased benefits and knowledge for all. Technology development on Earth and in space should support each other so that they can help us move beyond our destructive industrial civilization and focus on the transition to a global eco civilization.

As the largest infrastructure project on the planet the Belt and Road Initiative could lead the way by integrating not just traditional sustainability goals, but also by helping develop and deliver on sustainability goals for an emerging space civilization.

We already see leading thinkers arrange events such as UN Industrial Development Organizations’ “BRIDGE for Cities - Belt and Road Initiative: Developing Green Economies for Cities”. During the BRIDGE event in 2018, links between the Belt and Road Initiative, space exploration and sustainability were discussed with representatives from both China and Europe. Hopefully, we will see more meetings in 2019 at which a peaceful space agenda can be discussed in the context of global sustainability goals.

It will take some time getting used to thinking of humanity as a space civilization. However, many of the children born today will be alive 2100 and by then, we will most certainly be a space civilization. The question is: What kind of civilization will that be? Let us do what we can so that those alive in 2100 will be able to look will back at 2019 as the year when, despite many conflicts and problems, the world took the first significant steps towards a spaced based eco-civilization.

Dennis Pamlin is a senior adviser at the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE). The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.

All rights reserved. Copying or sharing of any content for other than personal use is prohibited without prior written permission.

A three-step approach to support and assess low-carbon solutions (Report)

A three-step approach to support and assess low-carbon solutions.png

Role: Author

The purpose of this work is to better identify and support solutions (including technologies, products, services and business models) that enable us to do things in a different way to today, and which result in significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than would occur under a business-as-usual scenario. Examples include the use of teleconferencing to displace business travel, replacing a motor with a more efficient alternative, or offering an advisory service to help customers reduce emissions.

Businesses, investors, governments and legislators are today familiar with the commonly-used and generally accepted approaches and methodologies for measuring the greenhouse gas emissions associated with organisations, products, services, and other activities. Effective use of these measurement tools allows for reductions in emissions to be readily tracked from a baseline, supporting better target setting and risk management, identifying cost reduction opportunities and supporting good policymaking.

However, there has been far less consistency around measuring the impact of solutions that can help to avoid emissions. The approach and methodology outlined in this document has therefore been developed to provide a robust and coherent way to measure, assess, and compare the current and potential impact of solutions that

help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is hoped that this will support greater levels of innovation, as well as unlocking growth and new revenue opportunities for the solutions that will be necessary in addressing the challenge of climate change and achieving the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

Link to report here

Disruptions for the future: A new chapter for Sino-EU climate change cooperation (Article in China Watch)

Preview Policy Report.png

Role: Author

Short context
Here is my article about a new disruption approach to climate change that was published as part of China Watch first "Policy Review Report" for the China-EU Summit. Download the full Preview Policy Report here. Or see a web-version of my article here.

Full text
All major studies clearly indicate that current climate measures are far from enough. Still, most of the discussions about climate action revolve around more of the same. This makes little sense, as we need radical reductions, have just entered the fourth industrial revolution, and will see major changes in all parts of society. We have a unique opportunity to leapfrog current obstacles and focus on paths toward an ecological civilization by supporting the disruptive and exciting changes needed, rather than incremental improvements in existing systems.

To move beyond more of the same will require us to rethink first, why we need to reduce emissions; second, what we want to achieve;and third, how we can achieve it. The standard answers to the above questions are:

1. We need to reduce emissions in order to avoid a 1.5°C, or at least a 2°C, warming.

2. We want to achieve a zero-carbon economy sometime between 2050 and 2100.

3. We can achieve what we want by engaging the big polluters and help them reduce their emissions.

Let’s start with why we need to reduce emissions. Over the years the 2°C goal, and lately the updated 1.5 °C goal, has become the way to express the dangerous climate change that we must avoid. There is no doubt that a 1.5°C , let alone a 2°C, warming is likely to result in extremely severe suffering and irreversible damage to the world's ecosystems. Still, for the vast majority of both citizens and decision makers the 2°C goal has not been enough to move them outside their comfort zone.

If we instead answered the question why we need to reduce emissions by saying: To avoid the end of human civilization, and even the end of the human species, we are likely to get a fundamentally different response.

We can expect an initial period of doubt where many would initially dismiss climate change as an existential threat as hyperbole. This is understandable, as we live in a time of exaggerations. In this case, however, it would become clear that theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC)and leading scientists for a long time have provided probabilities for extreme warming that potentially could end human civilization.

The latest assessment report by IPCC indicated, for example, that the exceedance probability for 5°C is more than 1 in 100 for the current amount of emissions in the atmosphere. If we reach 600 PPM, something that is highly likely looking at current trends, the probability of more than 5°C warming is above one in four and the probability for more than 10°C warming is 1 in 100. This kind of extreme and rapid warming would threaten human civilization as no meaningful adaptation measures exist.

If we compare the acceptance for other events such as fatal flight crashes (approximately one in a million probability), the probability for 10°C warming that could mean the end of human civilization, is magnitudes higher. It is worth noting that the uncertainty regarding these numbers are significant, a fact that makes rapid action even more urgent.

With climate change understood as an existential threat we could move from a discussion about how much we can still emit, so called carbon budgets, to how fast we must reduce emissions in order to keep the probability of catastrophic events as low as possible. New groups, with a focus on large-scale disruptive solutions and unafraid of ambitious projects, could emerge as the next generation of climate action leaders.

Some people will argue that talking about an existential threat is too scary, and that people need inspiration, not fear. Let’s start with the argument that the information is too scary. What should matter is if the information is true or not, not if it seen as scary by some people. Many of those who are objecting to discuss climate change as an existential threat are those afraid of rapid change, both in business and in the environmental community.

What these groups see as only scary, a new generation of policymakers, business leaders, entrepreneurs and climate activists, also view as scary, but also inspirational. The urgency is a call to action, to explore new ideas and try new things, and to do this in collaboration on a global scale. Many individuals and groups have begun to base their whole way of working around the need to deliver what is actually required.

This brings us to the second question, what we want to achieve, a question that also addresses the need for inspiration. The current goal – a zero-carbon world – is important but is only an absence of a bad, not a positive, vision of the future. With rapid technological development, emerging new business models, values in support of global collaboration and greater understanding about the complexity of nature, we have the opportunity to establish a much more exciting and ambitious vision.

A seed for such an inspirational vision could be the idea of a global eco-civilization by 2100 with a focus on science, natural beauty and art, where everyone has a flourishing guaranteed income and society is based on what half of the earth can provide (to leave room for other species to thrive). Solving the urgent climate challenge would then be an important step toward the next era for humankind. Instead of different groups addressing different problems in isolation, we would likely see different groups come together to help accelerate the change toward an eco-civilization from different directions.

Now for the third question, how we will achieve this? If we view climate change as an existential threat and have an attractive vision for the future, it becomes obvious that the kind of tinkering with carbon prices, transparency in relation to emissions and attempt to get big emitters to reduce emissions, might actually be part of an incremental problem-based approach. Instead we need to embrace disruptive change and promote the tools and initiatives that support such change. A global network of solution accelerators for zero-carbon solutions in support of an eco-civilization should be launched as soon as possible.

If the Sino-EU annual summit makes progress in at least one of the areas above it would be an important contribution to a new chapter for global climate action.

Dennis Pamlin, founder and CEO of 21st Century Frontiers and senior adviser at the Research Institutes of Sweden. The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.

Download the full Preview Policy Report here. Or see a web-version of my article here.


UNDP and RISE Research Institutes of Sweden launch ‘SDG Trend Scanner’


Role: Project supervisor

Link to webpage: 

Press release
New York, July 17 – The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the RISE Research Institutes of Sweden today jointly launched ‘SDG Trend Scanner’— a new initiative to explore ways to harness rapid and disruptive trends to help advance the 2030 Agenda and deliver on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Disruptive trends are becoming increasingly important because they change the way we think, behave or do business. They uproot traditional thinking and alter the way we go about our day-to-day activities, as many of the technologies underpinning them are more powerful and interlinked than ever. The SDG Trend Scanner initiative will enable companies, the public sector, and other stakeholders to strategically use trends as drivers for accelerated progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, including by catalyzing scalable innovations and opportunities for public-private partnerships.

“Disruptive trends in technologies, business models and values, sometimes perceived as threats, can be harnessed and leveraged to empower people and countries to pursue their development aspirations. We look forward to working with RISE and explore the opportunities that our joint SDG Trend Scanner initiative provides,” said Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support.

Through this joint initiative, UNDP and RISE will engage with key stakeholders such as the industry leaders, international organizations and academia to help facilitate a platform for collaboration and partnerships. The initiative will also explore ways for different stakeholders to leverage disruptive trends through collaborative research, innovative pilots in specific areas, development of new tools or expansion of existing tools to leverage trends for global sustainability, and capacity development of policymakers and relevant stakeholders towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. Kajsa B Olofsgård, Sweden’s Ambassador for the 2030 Agenda, stated, “We live in times with fast technological and societal changes; with a need to understand and adapt in a pace we are not accustomed to. The challenges raised by climate change, conflicts and increasing amounts of people in vulnerable conditions are also more imperative than ever. We must be capable of finding solutions and actions that not only present a short-term relief but takes us in the direction of the world we want to create for ourselves and for coming generations. The SDG Trend Scanner initiative will provide us with better basis for wise decisions.”

“Global sustainability and the 2030 Agenda are rapidly emerging as key drivers for innovation. For RISE this collaboration is an important step towards our goal to become a stronger innovation partner for businesses and society. We will bring decades of innovation experience and look forward to use different parts of our organization in collaboration with UNDP to ensure a successful outcome of the SDG Trend Scanner initiative,” said RISE CEO Pia Sandvik.

Media Queries:

At UNDP: Sangita Khadka, Communications Specialist, UNDP Bureau for Policy and Programme Support,, Tel: +1 212 906 5043

At RISE: Dennis Pamlin, Senior Advisor, RISE: +46 10 516 60 07,

Disruptive Trends for Global Sustainability (Concept Note) UNDP-RISE

Role: Project Supervisor

This project explores different ways of identifying and understanding disruptive trends, so that they can be used to deliver on global sustainability, starting with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): the 17 global goals set by the United Nations.

Rapid changes in society triggered by disruptive trends, including rapid technological development, new business models and shifting values, provide a window of opportunity for a platform that explores how these disruptive trends are understood; and how they can be leveraged to accelerate progress towards global sustainability goals.

Disruptive trends are becoming increasingly important as the pace of change in society is increasing and many of technologies underpinning them are more powerful and interlinked than ever. By better understanding different disruptive trends, including their likely impacts, probabilities, uncertainties, links to each other, time horizons, etc, we
can support strategic decisions that can help deliver on our global sustainability goals.

The project will initially identify the potentially disruptive trends and their relation to the SDGs by analyzing leading trend assessments. In a second phase AI/machine learning will be used to gather additional information about potential disruptive trends.

New ways to visualize, collect and process information, as well as tools that allow for interaction with large data sets, make it possible to present complex information in ways that can be understood and used by more stakeholders, eg they can be tailor-made for different users depending on need.

In summary, in order to ensure global sustainability there is an urgent need to ensure that disruptive trends can be used strategically by all relevant stakeholders.

Link to concept note leaflet

Digital Sustainability (full report)

Role: Author

This report is an introduction to digital sustainability and a net-positive approach.

Digital sustainability is the means by which digitalisation,
as a key part of the fourth industrial revolution, can deliver on
the global sustainability goals. In this report, when we refer to ICT solutions, we mean any solution that is enabled by digitalisation: not only classical ICT solutions such as teleworking, but also many of the new innovative solutions, including most new business models based on services rather than products, as these require ICT systems.

In a net-positive approach, the focus is on how an organisation can provide the sustainable solutions that are needed in various different parts of society, beyond its own operation. This differs from a traditional sustainability perspective, in which the focus is on philanthropy and the
organisation’s negative impacts over its life cycle.

Link to full report 

Digital Sustainability (abridged version)

Role: Author

This is an introduction to digital sustainability and a net-positive approach for companies, as well as an overview of how Cybercom is working with clients to deliver sustainable solutions. Net positive is an approach in which the focus is on how a company, primarily through its goods and services, can provide the sustainable solutions that are needed in various parts of society. This differs from a traditional sustainably perspective, which tends to consider only the company’s negative impacts over the lifecycle.

Link to the abridged version

Belt and Road Initiative's 'new vision' (article in China Daily)

Role: author

Op-ed in China Daily

Full text
The Belt and Road Initiative is one of the most important initiatives on the planet right now. Not because of its economic and geographical magnitude, but because of its potential to create something new and much needed. The initiative has the potential to take a significant step toward a 21st-century sustainable network that connects all countries in a way that benefits everyone on more equal terms.

In order for Belt and Road to be the first major infrastructure project to integrate a digital sustainability perspective for the 21st century, and actually deliver on the ground, global collaboration is needed.

At China's 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last month, the Belt and Road Initiative was included in the Party's Constitution. There now can be no doubt about the long-term commitment on the Chinese side. Minor delays and setbacks are therefore less important, but partnerships that support the initiative's ambitious agenda, especially the sustainability and digitalization agenda, are needed. Here, the European Union could play an important role, especially in central and eastern areas where significant investment will occur.

At the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in May, President Xi Jinping summarized the sustainability and digitalization aspect of Belt and Road in the following way:

For sustainability, "we should pursue the new vision of green development and a way of life and work that is green, low-carbon, circular and sustainable. Efforts should be made to strengthen cooperation in ecological and environmental protection and build a sound ecosystem so as to realize the goals set by the (United Nations') 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."

For digitalization, "we should pursue innovation-driven development and intensify cooperation in frontier areas such as digital economy, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and quantum computing, and advance the development of big data, cloud computing and smart cities so as to turn them into a digital silk road of the 21st century."

An infrastructure project with such an approach to sustainability and digitalization is very different from what we see today around the world, including in the EU and China.

In the same way as we cannot any longer only think of paper books in a world with e-books, or CDs in a world where it is possible to stream music, we cannot think of roads, bridges and tunnels only as physical constructions. We need to include all-new sustainable ways that can provide the service the old infrastructure used to provide.

Today, people can have meetings virtually and work remotely, and we are just in the beginning of a revolution with additive manufacturing. Rapid technological development in key areas allows goods and people to move in new ways, from drones to ultra-high-speed trains. The combined result of trends like these is the possibility of a radically different infrastructure, one that can be globally sustainable.

We must ask what goods must move physically, what can be produced more efficiently locally, what can be dematerialized, and what can use new smart means of transportation, in order to ensure global sustainability and fair economic development.

Further, the physical infrastructure must merge with the digital. A smart resource-efficient and fossil-free physical infrastructure can even be a net producer of renewable energy in many cases.

For international collaboration to happen, it is important that the vision and goals of the Belt and Road Initiative are communicated; a dedicated webpage would be appropriate. On this webpage, different aspects, including digitalization and sustainability, but also peace, prosperity and innovation, could be reported in close to real time. This would allow interested stakeholders to help improve and access relevant information.

A global sustainability filter should also be developed and implemented in all strategic projects. Such a filter would increase the probability that all infrastructure projects, not just Belt and Road projects, support a sustainable global economy in 2100. This future world is likely to include at least 11 billion people, must emit no greenhouse gas emissions, and must be based on a sustainable and equitable use of natural resources.

If the Belt and Road Initiative contributes to such global sustainability, it will be a physical and digital road toward an ecological civilization.

The author is founder of Sweden-based consultancy 21st Century Frontiers. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily European Weekly 11/24/2017 page9)

Link to the article 

Without US, progress still possible (Article in China Daily)


Role: author

Full text
The retreat by the White House from the international sustainability debate could free rest of the world to find solution to daunting environmental challenges

There was an unprecedented outcry from many leading sustainability experts - especially in the United States - when Donald J. Trump was elected as president. Several challenges exist, but his lack of understanding when it comes to climate science and other environmental challenges, as demonstrated during the campaign process, is deeply troubling.

There are many other difficult challenges, but from a global perspective there could also be a number of interesting opportunities. If the next US government continues with the campaign's disrespect for science, lack of interest in climate change, reluctance to engage in global challenges, etc., the US will find itself isolated.

Such a situation presents an opportunity - one could argue a responsibility - for countries like China to take on a much more active role in global sustainability.

Before we consider the opportunities, let's remember that while the US is still a very important country, it is still only one among many on the planet. US influence is also dwindling as a new generation of countries are emerging (and re-emerging) on the global scene.

So, in some ways Trump's lack of interest in global sustainability issues could provide a situation similar to the one we would be likely to face anyway in a few years, where global leadership will come from outside the US.

It is easy to forget that more than 7 billion people, 94 percent, of the global population, are living outside the US. Even from an economic perspective, 75 (nominal) or 87 (PPP) percent of the global economy is found outside the US.

Given the current situation, the world is likely to be presented with an opportunity for significant improvements on a global level in three areas.

First is the role of science in society. There is a significant opportunity for the rest of the world to strengthen the status and role of science. There is now room for a global science initiative with a huge budget and a mandate to begin the work to create new institutions. Such an initiative could be launched by the G20 and include all interested countries. This initiative could explore how we can increase collaboration around key future issues, from space exploration to the next generation of particle accelerators.

Equally important is to strengthen the level of general education in society. Here, the media, both old and new, have a significant role to play. For the first time in human history, we could see a global science initiative by all major news organizations around the world.

To ensure engagement from the younger generation, stakeholders like the Kahn Academy and leading science communicators, such as Derek Muller of Veritasium and video journalist Brady Haran, could help develop new ways of communicating science and support global scientific education.

Not only is scientific knowledge important for many future jobs, it is increasingly important to understand the world as a citizen. Without an understanding of science, the assumptions, methodologies, probability estimations, uncertainty, global challenges like climate change and pandemics are difficult to understand.

Second is global governance. With the withdrawal of the United States, the rest of the world could potentially see the first attempt at real global governance. This might be the most significant opportunity from a long-term perspective. We need to move from an international to a global perspective; we need to move from a reactive to a proactive agenda; we need to move from global competition to global collaboration. Perhaps most important, we need to move beyond an international perspective to a global perspective because members of the next generation see themselves as global citizens to a much larger degree than today.

The urgent need to work together as a global community to solve global sustainability challenges has never been greater. There are at least 12 global risks that threaten human civilization, and it is only a matter of time before the old structures need to be replaced or fundamentally reformed if we are to avoid a global catastrophe. When structures fundamentally change, old stakeholders tend to cling on to what they have. With the US potentially becoming uninterested in proactive global governance, the probability for a smooth transition might now be higher than it ever will be.

Third is city collaboration. For many issues we need concrete action all around the world. Climate change, for example, requires that emissions all around the world must be reduced, and that must start now.

Slow progress in international multilateral negotiations so far will only be slower with a reluctant US. However, much of the actual implementation falls on local governments, mainly cities. New tools for city collaboration should be a global priority, as this could accelerate the uptake of sustainable solutions as well as strengthen global collaboration.

In all three areas above, China has a leading role to play. China is one of the most, if not the most, science-driven society on the planet. Few governments have the scientific skill set or culture that China has. Its society is also supported by media, including initiatives like ScienceNet. It's a population that has significant understanding and respect for science.

China, together with other emerging countries, has also made significant progress when it comes to new international financial institutions. The G20 presidency demonstrated China's capacity and interest in long-term global policy-making.

In China, there are also several leading cities, such as Baoding, Hebei province, that are already leading providers of sustainable solutions. The country's network of low-carbon cities could become a core part of a global network of zero-carbon cities with global exports.

In conclusion, we are likely to see some significant challenges and frictions over the coming years, but we should not ignore the unique opportunities for historic changes that lie before us.

The author is the founder of 21st Century Frontiers in Sweden. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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Zero-Carbon Transition Index (ZTI) 2016

Role: author

As the world moves into implementation of the Paris agreement, an agreement that is notoriously vague even by international environmental agreements standards, it is important to understand the broader context for a transition to a zero-carbon society. One of the most important factors that will decide the outcome of the Paris agreement is the kind of stakeholder that will influence the international agenda.

There are many ways that different stakeholders can influence the international agenda in many different ways, but based on historic experience international media, leading policy makers, key academic institutions, international organizations, etc. will act very much in line with the companies that are the most powerful and the agenda they promote.1 These companies does not only have significant investments in R&D and enormous PR /lobby budgets, they are also overrepresented in key fora, including industry groups and agenda-setting processes such as OECD, B20, and WEF.

Currently, and perhaps surprisingly, the domination by pro-fossil companies among the world’s top-50 companies is record high. The situation today is even worse than back in 1996, when the Kyoto protocol was negotiated. In other words, 20 years of negotiations, discussions and actions to reduce global carbon emissions have failed to deliver a new generation of proactive zero-carbon companies on the same scale as the old fossil companies. What we have today is a situation when the top-50 companies on the planet are dominated by fossil friendly companies on an unprecedented scale.

The zero-carbon transition index (ZTI) is a tool to enhance transparency regarding how biggest companies on the planet are likely to use their influence. The ZTI uses the revenue data from Fortune Global 500 to select the top-50 companies in the world as measured by revenue.2 These companies are then divided into five categories depending on how they invest, communicate and lobby with regards to the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

The five categories are “very obstructive”, “obstructive”, “neutral”, “supportive”, and “very supportive”. The companies in the category very obstructive are given the value -100, the obstructive -50, the neutral 0, the supportive +50, and the very supportive +100. The values are added together and then divided by the total number of companies to get the ZTI.

The ZTI for 1996 was -38, for 2008 -27 and now for 2015 it is -39.

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Beijing’s plan shows path to the future (article China Daily)

Role: author

Full text
Unhampered by old vested interests, the 13th Five-Year Plan is a good guide for how the world can support global sustainability

Different parts of China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) have been discussed intensively in recent months. Now, after the National People's Congress has approved the plan, it is time to put the full final document in a global context.

This five-year plan is probably one of the most important documents on the planet when it comes to long-term global security and sustainability. There are many aspects that deserve further elaboration, but three parts are of particular importance for governments, companies and NGOs around the world that want to support global sustainability.

Before discussing the three key sustainability areas of the plan, a historic perspective is needed to fully understand its importance.

From a Chinese perspective, this might be the most important five-year plan ever. For all previous plans, China could draw on inspiration from other countries. Now, China is moving so fast into uncharted territories that it is hard to use any country as inspiration to any significant degree. The transition from an old industrial economy to a new and sustainable service economy also requires the kind of systemic overview that the plan provides.

From a global perspective, this is also a unique five-year plan. If implemented successfully, the 13th Five-Year Plan would position China as the global leader when it comes to the next economic revolution. On the research side, it is now on the same level as the European Union, Japan and the United States. But when it comes to actually ensuring implementation for the transition, the five-year plan is ahead and is a global reference document.

This leadership when it comes to strategies for implementation is not because China has better experts, but rather because its planning processes are not held back by old vested interests in the same way as in Western countries. The result is a strategy in which, instead of setting the old economy against the new, China focuses on how the old industries can help and be helped in the transition to the connected and sustainable service economy.

From a global perspective, three areas are especially important to support and ensure positive development in China that will be crucial for global sustainability.

First, promote new business models that support sustainability. These new models will be based on concepts such as connectivity, sharing, circular economy, networked solutions, transformative transparency, and global sustainability. For new business models to be sustainable they must deliver solutions that are so resource efficient that 10 billion people or more can use the service without destroying the planet.

Such solutions tend to require new clusters of companies, and these need support. Among the actions needed in China and abroad are a review of current incentive structures, new guidance for public procurement, smarter taxation, and a review of old laws that today support old unsustainable companies while holding back new sustainable clusters of companies. New business models often are much more resource efficient, using information and communication technology together with new materials and robotic solutions, so it is important that the benefits are shared within society. If sharing is not ensured, inequity on the national and international levels is likely to explode, given already unsustainable levels today.

Second, open international innovation platforms for global public goods should be established. Support for the establishment of a permanent international coordinating body for global public goods is one important aspect. It could also include strategic support for smart city development in China that supports an accelerated uptake of a new generation of sustainable solutions around the world.

Third, it is time to ensure that we can turn global catastrophic risks into drivers for innovation. There are already a number of challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and nuclear weapons where better collaboration is needed. But there are also emerging challenges in areas such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology and artificial intelligence. All these areas have many things in common and a coordinated approach is needed. The sooner it can begin the better.

As acknowledged in the five-year plan, the transition from an old industrial economy based on traditional drivers to a new service economy based on new drivers will be difficult and sometimes painful. However, there is no realistic alternative. The old economy is destroying the planet and is not resource efficient enough to allow the approximately 10 billion people that will live on the planet by 2100 to live a good life.

Action in the three areas above will not cost very much, but will be crucial to secure a strategic transition to a sustainable economic system globally and establish a new generation of international collaboration. The international support for global sustainability that the 13th Five-Year Plan can deliver must begin now.

The author is an entrepreneur and founder of 21st Century Frontiers in Sweden. He works with companies, governments and NGOs as a strategic economic, technology and innovation adviser. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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12 Risks that threaten human civilisation (Executive Summary)

Role: author with Stuart Armstrong

This is the executive summery of a report about a limited number of global risks that pose a threat to human civilisation, or even possibly to all human life.

With such a focus it may surprise some readers to nd that the report’s essential aim is to inspire action and dialogue as well as an increased use of the methodologies used for risk assessment. The real focus is not on the almost unimaginable impacts of the risks the report outlines. Its fundamental purpose is to encourage global collaboration and to use this new category of risk as a driver for innovation.

The idea that we face a number of global challenges threatening the very basis of our civilisation at the beginning of the 21st century is well accepted in the scientific community, and is studied at a number of leading universities.I However, there is still no coordinated approach to address this group of challenges and turn them into opportunities.

Link to the Executive Summary
Link to the Full Report


12 Risks that threaten human civilisation (Report)


Role: author with Stuart Armstrong

This is a report about a limited number of global risks that pose a threat to human civilisation, or even possibly to all human life.

With such a focus it may surprise some readers to nd that the report’s essential aim is to inspire action and dialogue as well as an increased use of the methodologies used for risk assessment. The real focus is not on the almost unimaginable impacts of the risks the report outlines. Its fundamental purpose is to encourage global collaboration and to use this new category of risk as a driver for innovation.

The idea that we face a number of global challenges threatening the very basis of our civilisation at the beginning of the 21st century is well accepted in the scientific community, and is studied at a number of leading universities.I However, there is still no coordinated approach to address this group of challenges and turn them into opportunities.

Link to report

From a risk perspective the most important in the new IPCC reports are numbers that are not included, i.e > 4 °C (Paper)

Role: author

GCF welcomes the new AR5 summary for policy makers (SPM) from WGII on Impacts, Adaptation, and vulnerability, and from WGIII on Mitigation as scientifically indisputable and therefore incredibly robust reports that clearly show how serious the impacts for humanity would be already at 2 °C warming, and the devastating impacts at a 4 °C warming. They furthermore clearly show the urgency for global concerted collaboration in order to ensure a world transition to a low-carbon world economy by 2050, only 36 years away.

GCF in particular welcomes that WGII and WGIII emphasise that “assessment of the widest possible range of potential impacts, including low-probability outcomes with large consequences, is central to understanding the benefits and tradeoffs of alternative risk management actions”1, and that “risks associated with the full range of outcomes are relevant to the assessment of mitigation” 2.

While WGII clearly state the need to assess low-probability high-impact outcomes there is no information included about impacts beyond a 4 °C warming. This is unfortunate as the WGI report showed that already 450 ppm concentration can result in more than a 4 °C warming. Similarly, WGIII emphasizes the necessity to consider risks associated with extreme climate change and in particular low probability high impact “tipping points” that could trigger new climate regimes

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Meetings and mobility in the 2000s (Feasibility study)

Role: author with support from Jeanette Hemmingsson (SIC) and Annika Bondesson (SIC)

This feasibility study proposes the creation of a web-portal for optimised meetings and mobility. By using new information technology in an easy to understand way that helps government agencies to make strategic choices based on scientific fact, a portal of this kind will contribute to significantly more efficient and less expensive meetings. The portal could also contribute to achieving the environmental objectives formulated by the Government and the EU.

The procurement investigation (Swedish Government Official Reports 2013:12) has identified meetings and mobility as an area where there are many new opportunities and where the goals require transformative changes.1 The starting point for the procurement investigation was that the coming years will involve major changes for government agencies. Technological development, for example, provides entirely new opportunities in a range of areas, from virtual meetings to tools that make it easier to analyse the consequences of different choices. At the same time, the government and the EU's ambitious goals when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions require transformative solutions.

The feasibility study indicates that the portal could contribute to more transformative solutions that can help government agencies to optimise their meetings and mobility. This could allow the government agencies to achieve their goals and reduce their costs by, among other things;

  1. That government agencies receive scientifically verified data when it comes to various environmental and economic consequences of the meetings.

  2. That government agencies can obtain customised information when they need it in the format they require.

  3. That the platform can connect to existing initiatives at the government agencies and build on existing systems for the collection of data enabling the platform to reduce the workload of the agencies.

  4. The platform makes it easier to develop strategies for an increased share of virtual meetings.

  5. Creating a better understanding of all the elements of an agency by allowing customised information to be generated can clarify the consequences of individual choices.

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Offentlig upphandling: Möten och mobilitet på 2000-talet (Förstudie)

Role: author with support from Jeanette Hemmingsson (SIC) and Annika Bondesson (SIC)

Denna förstudie föreslår att en portal för optimerade möten och mobilitet etableras. Genom att använda ny teknik som på ett lättförståeligt sätt underlättar för myndigheter att göra strategiska val baserade på vetenskapliga fakta kan en sådan portal bidra till betydligt effektivare och billigare möten. Portalen skulle även kunna bidra till att de miljömål som regeringen och EU formulerat uppnås.

Upphandlingsutredningen identifierade möten och mobilitet som ett område där många nya möjligheter finns och där mål finns som kräver transformativa förändringar. Utgångspunkten för upphandlingsutredningen var att de kommande åren innebär mycket stora förändringar för myndigheter. Teknikutvecklingen ger t.ex. helt nya möjligheter inom en rad områden, från virtuella möten till verktyg som gör det lättare att analysera konsekvenserna av olika val. Samtidigt har regeringen och EU ambitiösa mål då det gäller minskade utsläpp av växthusgaser som gör att transformativa lösningar krävs.

Förstudien indikerar att portalen skulle kunna bidra till fler transformativa lösningar som kan hjälpa statliga myndigheter att optimera möten och mobilitet. Detta skulle kunna resultera i att myndigheterna kan uppnå sina miljömål och sänka sina omkostnader genom bl.a.

  1. Att myndigheter får vetenskapligt verifierade underlag då det gäller olika miljömässiga och ekonomiska konsekvenser av möten.

  2. Att myndigheter kan få skräddarsydd information när de behöver det i det format som de önskar.

  3. Att plattformen kan knyta an till existerande initiativ på myndigheter och bygga på existerande system för insamlande av data vilket gör att plattformen minskar arbetsbördan för myndigheter.

  4. Att plattformen gör det enklare att utveckla strategier för en ökad andel virtuella möten.

  5. Att skapa en ökad förståelse inom alla delar av en myndighet genom att skräddarsydd information kan genereras som tydliggör konsekvenserna av enskilda val.

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