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

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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.

 

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

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Role: Project supervisor

Link to webpage:
https://sdg.trendscanner.online/ 

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, sangita.khadka@undp.org, Tel: +1 212 906 5043

At RISE: Dennis Pamlin, Senior Advisor, RISE: +46 10 516 60 07, dennis.pamlin@ri.se

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

Role: Project Supervisor

Summary
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