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by Rabia Abrar

Over the years, I have committed to ‘do my part’ to help the world ‘fix’ the effects of inequality and the climate crisis.

I have joined passionate youth in supporting the work of vitally important organisations which address the downstream effects of inequality and the climate crisis: fundraising to build libraries or to create children’s bed kits, supporting community food drives, becoming a reducetarian and campaigning to share the ‘how to’ for individual climate action in a personal 100-Day challenge and in my work at Hubbub

And yet, I always held frustration about why these issues exist in the first place. Why do we need to redistribute income after poverty has reached crisis levels, why are we having to fund clean ups of oil spills and why are individuals expected to ‘consume responsibly’, when producers are not also mandated to produce responsibly? 

Joining the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) has helped articulate my long-held beliefs: business, politics and economic activity should exist solely to deliver collective wellbeing – a.k.a social justice on a healthy planet.

We should only pursue growth in those areas of the economy that contribute to collective wellbeing and shrink those areas of the economy that damage it. And this shift in the purpose and functioning of the economy requires systems change.

The Wellbeing Economy and A Healthy Planet

As Dr. Katherine Trebeck described in a recent interview with the Herald, 

“The wellbeing economy agenda … comes from a recognition that, if we don’t transform how the economy operates – who wins, who loses out of the economic system, how we price things, what we incentivise, how businesses operate, how we build our infrastructure – we won’t have a chance of delivering that goal: social justice on a healthy planet.

Crucially, a wellbeing economy will only ever have been achieved if we have delivered environmental sustainability, addressed climate breakdown and regenerated our environment.

That’s what today’s Global Climate Strike is about. In at least 3500 locations around the world, youth are striking as part of the Fridays for Future movement, to reinforce the urgency of the climate crisis even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and to demand more urgent action on the climate and ecological crisis by governments. Young people are taking action both online and in the streets where COVID-19 regulations allow.

Social Injustice Drives Environmental Breakdown

Katherine explains that, 

“the environmental crisis is [actually also] a social justice issue and the two of those are bound up in how we design our economics.” 

And further, much of our environmental breakdown is actually rooted in social injustice.

Fascinatingly, research shows that:

  1. High levels of inequality drive huge amounts of consumption and hence emissions, especially by the very wealthy
  2. Inequality actually undermines political mobilisation on these issues, which is why those countries that are less unequal are more likely to be more proactive on addressing environmental issues. 

Redesigning our Economy

“If we transform the economy towards a wellbeing economy, this will help us deliver on the social justice side of things and on the environment.”

The Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) is a collective of organisations, alliances, movements and academics operating collaboratively across many different sectors to redesign the economic system – including place-based hubs, which are working with governments across the globe to test out new narratives, policies, ideas and models to make the wellbeing economy a reality in their own localities. 

This work is crucial, especially now, as we all discuss how to ‘Build Back Better’ beyond COVID.

As the brilliant (and terrifying) Metronome’s reprogrammed digital clock illustrates – we have a short window of time to make this economic systems change – and the clock is ticking.


But I agree with Katherine when she says:

“What keeps me optimistic is the young people … around the world who are so passionate, so articulate and so bright. Climate breakdown is something they don’t question because they’ve grown up knowing that it’s a reality . . . and so they’re rolling up their sleeves and being collaborative.” 

Want to get involved? 

Join the conversation and action around the Global Climate Strike or WEAll Youth network, a global movement of regional youth communities  collectively taking action towards a creating a wellbeing economy.

Do you remember wanting to create change in the world, but not knowing how to achieve this through your career?

Promoting Economic Pluralism wants to give young people 25 and under a say in how we use the recover to Build Back Better.
That’s why they are holding the virtual Festival for Change, which offers expert career guidance for youth on how to help shape a better future through their career – for free! WEAll Youth is proud to be a festival partner.
From July 27th, people from around the world can enter a competition and enjoy a series of online events to change the economic outlook of the world, post pandemic.
1. Develop a proposal to shape new economic landscapes in a Challenge.
2. Join an Explore Workshop to discuss how to widen your thinking
3. Watch Provocation Sessions led by world-renowned speakers on new ideas and approaches to global issues.

Register here.

As world leaders met at the UN this week, a small country was making a big decision about its approach to tackling climate change.

On 25 September, the Scottish Parliament voted to approve an ambitious new Climate Bill. With a target of net-zero emissions by 2045, the Bill stretches Scotland further than the UK as a whole and sets it apart as a world-leader in terms of targets. The 2045 target is legally-binding, meaning any remaining emissions would have to be entirely offset with measures such as increased tree planting and carbon capture and storage technology. In addition the bill sets a target to reduce 75% of greenhouse emissions by 2030 (on 1990 levels)

Úna Bartley, Director of WEAll Scotland said, “These new targets are to be welcomed and celebrated, especially given the role of civil society in driving up ambition in the bill’s final stage. However, setting targets is only the beginning; the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government must now take swift and bold action to drastically reduce emissions and ensure a just transition to a wellbeing economy begins as soon as possible.”

The bill also incorporates the UNFCCC principles, and a statutory duty to regularly report on Scotland’s consumption emissions, In addition, the bill pledges to hold Citizens Assemblies, which is a very exciting step towards more democratic ownership of climate policy and action. WEAll Scotland looks forward to engaging in these Assemblies, sharing ideas for economic transformation and helping connect our network to the Parliamentary process.

Scotland’s approach to climate change is a critical component of its contribution to the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative. Nicola Sturgeon declared in her recent TED talk that in the context of climate emergency, “the argument for the case for a much broader definition of what it means to be successful as a country, as a society, is compelling, and increasingly so.”

Achieving Scotland’s new climate change ambitions in a way that is inclusive and sustainable simply will not be possible without a transformation of our economic system. Young people are taking to the streets (and many of us not-quite-so-young people are joining them) demanding system change: targets are not all that we are asking for. We need policies and incentives to drive a complete redesign of Scotland’s economy. Check out this blog series that WEAll edited for Bella Caledonia with some of the ideas to make that happen.

Next year Glasgow will host COP26, and all eyes will be on Scotland as the world reckons with its progress on climate change five years after the Paris Agreement. The meaningful work for Scotland to live up to its climate leadership ambitions starts now: Scotland is on its way to having a leadership story worth telling at the COP.

Image – Andrew Cowan, Scottish Parliament

Reposted from Club of Rome 

New York – September 24th. 

As national leaders meet in New York for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, the Club of Rome has issued a statement proposing nations declare a planetary emergency for climate and nature in 2020. The statement – the Planetary Emergency Plan – makes the case for immediate and wide-ranging action to protect the global commons – the rainforests, ice sheets, oceans and atmosphere. At the same time, the authors say, the global economic system must undergo an equitable transformation in order to properly value a stable planet.

Download the press release here.

The Planetary Emergency Plan, issued by the Club of Rome with the scientific support of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), sets out 10 urgent commitments to save our global commons and immediate underpinning actions for the necessary social and economic transformations needed to secure the long-term health and well-being of people and planet.

The action countries are taking is utterly inconsistent with what the science is saying. We need to reduce risk of dangerously destabilising our planet. Our school children deserve better from this generation of leaders,” said Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Co-President of the Club of Rome.

In 2020 we have a unique moment on the 75th anniversary of the United Nations to rethink our relationship with our planet,” she added.

Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a co-author of the plan said, “Scientifically we can say with confidence that this is an emergency. We have a narrow window to reduce risk of triggering irreversible changes that would commit all future generations to a destabilised planet with potentially catastrophic consequences.”

For 10,000 years, human civilisation has grown and thrived because of Earth’s remarkable climate stability and rich biological diversity. These are our essential global commons, yet we are dangerously undermining them.” he added.

Dixson-Declève said, “We can see this as opportunity to not just avert disaster but to rebuild, improve and regenerate economies. We can emerge from emergency to a world that benefits all species, within planetary boundaries and leaving no one behind.”

WWF International supports the need for an emergency declaration for people and planet.

“Leaders meeting in New York will have the chance in 2020 to secure a sustainable future for people and nature. The decisions they make in the next year will continue to have impacts for decades to come. Most urgently, leaders must recognise today’s planetary crisis we now face by working to secure an ambitious and science based emergency plan for nature and people.” says Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International.

The ten 10 commitments included in the plan are.

TRANSFORMING ENERGY SYSTEMS

1. Halt all fossil fuel expansion, investments and subsidies by 2020 and shift investments and revenues to low-carbon energy deployment, research, development and innovation.

2. Continue the doubling of wind and solar capacity every four years, and triple annual investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies for high-emitting sectors before 2025.

3. Set a global floor price on carbon (>30 USD/ton CO 2 and rising) immediately for developed countries and no later than 2025 for the most advanced transition economies, that internalises high-carbon energy externalities in all products and services.

SHIFTING TO A CIRCULAR ECONOMY

4. Agree in 2020 to halve consumption and production footprints in developed and emerging economies and close loops in inefficient value chains, by 2030.

5. Internalise externalities in unsustainable and high-carbon production and consumption through targeted consumption taxes and regulation, as well as consumption-based accounting, by 2025.

6. Develop national and cross-national roadmaps for all countries towards regenerative land-use and circular economies, including a reduction in global carbon emissions from basic materials to net-zero, by 2030.

CREATING A JUST AND EQUITABLE SOCIETY FOUNDED IN HUMAN AND ECOLOGICAL WELL-BEING

7. Introduce economic progress indicators that include socio-ecological and human health and well-being by 2030, recognising that the latter depends on the flourishing and stewardship of natural ecosystems.

8. Provide legal tools by 2025 that allow indigenous, forest and tribal communities to secure their rights to traditional land, recognising their vital role as stewards of these lands in mitigating climate change and ecosystem degradation. Such mechanisms must include funding and legal aid to guarantee that these communities have access to justice.

9. Shift taxation from labour to the use of all natural resources, final disposal, emissions to land, air and water by 2020.

10. Establish clear funding and retraining programmes for displaced workers, rural and industrial communities by 2025.

The manner and priority in which these actions are implemented will vary from country to country and between developed economies and economies in transition, but the overall objective of rapid carbon emissions reduction and nature regeneration should be a common goal over the next decade,” said Dixson-Declève.

2018 and 2019 launched a wide range of dire warning about the fragility of our planetary systems, notably David Attenborough’s speech at COP 24 on climate change and another dire warning about the alarming loss of planetary biodiversity from the UN’s biodiversity chief, Christiana Pascal Palmer. All of which cries out for a global call for action to exert immense pressure on our governments to set ambitious global targets.

Yet our political systems seem incapable of responding at scale and urgency to this existential crisis.  Our government was one of the first to sign up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) in 2015. The 17 Global Goals and associated targets represent an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the root causes of climate change, biodiversity loss, eliminate extreme poverty and put the world on a more sustainable path. And yet three years after the goals were agreed, the UK government does not have a compelling and coherent plan on how the UK is going to achieve them. The government has made a commitment to report on the UK’s progress at the UN in New York in July 2019. This is closely followed by the UN SDG Heads of State Summit on the 24 and 25 September. The UN SDG Summit will be one of three high-level events taking place in September, along with the 2019 Climate Summit and the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development. These events will be mutually reinforcing in identifying areas for action to accelerate the progress towards sustainable development.

Growth in all of its forms is one of the greatest conundrums facing humanity in the 21 century. It can improve our living standards and health and well-being. Yet as a recent global photographic competition (www.prixpictet.com) has depicted in graphic detail the dizzying growth of our cities and their dependency on scarce resources along with the relentless growth of the world’s population, all of which now threatens our very existence. We face a global environmental catastrophe in land use, food production and resource use which could undermine existing fragile economies and the sustainability of our civilisation.

And our politicians search relentlessly for solutions which will re-energise economic growth, with little evidence to date that their interventions are making any fundamental difference. So it’s not surprising that some of the worlds’ so – called sustainability experts have also found it impossible to reach any consensus on whether sustainable consumption and economic growth are compatible

But some recent analysis of the UK’s Material Flow Accounts for 2001-2009 suggest we are using less stuff now than the previous decade (Guardian 1/11/11- The Only way is Down http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/nov/01/peak-stuff-consumption-data ).

It seems that the grand total of stuff we use (minerals, fuel, wood etc) in the UK amounts to roughly 2 billion tonnes per year about 30 tonnes for each and every one of us. For our former London Mayor’s benefit that’s as heavy as 4 Route Master buses!

This data is potentially good news because it implies at least as I read it that we may have “decoupled “economic growth from material consumption. Genuine decoupling has been seen by many of us as unachievable. But is this really de-materialisation and hence the emergence of a Green Economy or as others have suggested is it the dawn of de-growth?

Whatever the answer our unsustainable lifestyles and commitment to perpetual economic growth are major political and social obstacles because they have become the major drivers of climate change on Earth. Jason Hickel recently suggested that the solution is “about changing the way our economy operates” (Guardian: 5 March).

Encouragingly, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form a new roadmap for our future that in principle aligns the economy with the Earth’s life support systems.  Yet a recent report by the Stockholm Resilience Centre[1] shows that attempting to achieve the socio-economic goals using conventional growth policies would make it virtually impossible to reduce the speed of global warming and environmental degradation.

The research team tested three other scenarios and the only one that met all goals was the one that implemented systemic transformational change. A key element in the model was reducing inequality by a redistribution of wealth, work and income, including ensuring that the 10% richest people take no more that 40% of the income. A huge challenge for many of our wealthy political elite!

We need immediate action and committed leadership now from our government to create a movement for change that embraces and actions the Global Goals: why is it so rare that we encounter in our political leadership the qualities needed to enable sustainability: humility, respect for all forms of life and future generations, precaution and wisdom, the capacity to think systemically and challenge unethical actions? And more worryingly on the basis of current performance, what hope of improvement is there for our collective future?

We have an unprecedented and immense challenge before us – with little choice but to engage.

[1] https://www.stockholmresilience.org/publications/artiklar/2018-10-17-transformation-is-feasible—how-to-achieve-the-sustainable–development-goals-within-planetary-boundaries.html

Guest blog by:

Dr. Stephen Sterling is Emeritus Professor of Sustainability Education at the Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth, UK. A former Senior Advisor to the UK Higher Education Academy on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and a National Teaching Fellow (NTF), he has worked in environmental and sustainability education in the academic and NGO fields nationally and internationally for over four decades, including as a consultant and advisor on UNESCO’S Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) programmes.He is currently co-chair of the UNESCO-Japan Prize on ESD International Jury, and a Distinguished Fellow of the Schumacher Institute.  He has a reputation as a thought leader in ESD and is widely published in this area, including The Sustainable University – progress and prospects. His most recent book is Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education: Remaking Education for the Future,  (co-edited with Bob Jickling, Pivot/Palgrave, 2017).

Professor Stephen Martin: Hon FSE; FRSB; F.I.Env Sci is a passionate advocate for learning for sustainability and has spent nearly 40 years facilitating and supporting organisations and governments in ways they can contribute towards a more sustainable future. For nearly a decade he was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Further and Higher Education with national responsibility for Environmental Education and served as a special advisor to the Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment in drafting the education and training sections of HM Government’s first white paper on the Environment-Our Common Inheritance. More recently he was the founding Chair of the Higher Education Academy’s Sustainable Development Advisory Group and a former member of the UK‘s UNESCO Education for Sustainability Forum. He has held visiting professorships at the Open University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Gloucestershire and  currently, at the University of the West of England Over the past 15 years he has been a sustainability change consultant for some of the largest FTSE100 companies such as BP, Barclays, Tesco and Carillion as well as Government Agencies such as the  UK National Commission for UNESCO,Environment Agency, OFSTED, the Higher Education Academy and the Learning and Skills Council. He was formerly Director of Learning at Forum for the Future.

Please see this recent publication from Stockholm Resilience Centre for more on the themes explored in the blog: Transformation is feasible – How to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within Planetary Boundaries

 

Members of the WEAll Amp Team offset flights with atmosfair when we need to travel – so we asked Julia to explain more about what they do and explore the tricky subject of offsetting carbon.

By Julia Zhu, atmosfair

In a recent article for WEAll, Jennifer Wallace of the Carnegie UK Trust talked about different dimensions of wellbeing – personal versus societal – and pointed out how they sometimes sit uneasily atop each other. Nowhere is this more urgent than when it comes to environmental preservation and climate change. Fundamentally, wellbeing for humans depends on having intact natural surroundings, both to enjoy and to provide essential services such as clean air, water, and nourishment. Move up Maslow’s pyramid, however, and wellbeing is also informed by a sense of autonomy, of being able to choose one’s own way of life. For many people in Western countries, this includes visiting faraway countries, experiencing other cultures, keeping in touch with friends and family scattered across the globe.

It is deeply ironic that the technologies that allow us to admire the richness of our earth also actively poison it, making it less likely that future generations will have a chance to enjoy what we now have. When someone in Germany flies to the Maldives to experience beautiful nature, they also contribute to the sea level rise that endangers the islands. And the damage doesn’t stop there: a round trip flight from Berlin to Malé has the warming effect of 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per passenger, on average – that’s more than twice the per capita emissions in India. A country whose inhabitants mostly have never flown and never will, but who are impacted by climate change anyway. From heatwaves to droughts, floods, and cyclones: the most severe dangers of global warming will hit those countries the hardest which have contributed least, and they have the least resources to protect themselves.

Offsetting: the second-best solution is the best we have

Let’s be realistic: it might be the best option, ecologically, but we will not stop flying altogether. Even with technological advances that will make aviation climate-friendly in the future, we have to do something now to keep the earth from overheating. Offsetting offers a temporary and limited way out. What is meant by offsetting is a fairly simple principle: if carbon emissions go up in one place and down in another, the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere remains the same. By enabling another person to cut their carbon emissions, I can mitigate the effects of my own increase. Let’s return to our example of the Maldives tourist: the environmentally best solution is that they spend their vacation at a destination close to home. But who are we to say they can’t take the vacation of their dreams? In the second best scenario, the traveler will visit www.atmosfair.de to calculate the amount of carbon emitted by their flight and pay a suggested amount of money, which will be spent in one of our climate mitigation projects to reduce emissions.

These projects tap into potentials for carbon savings that are easy and cost-efficient to realise, mostly in developing countries. This comes with the perk of combining climate action with sustainable development. At atmosfair, our preferred technologies are efficient cookstoves and micro biogas plants that replace or reduce the use of fire wood for cooking. Users enjoy benefits on multiple levels: they need less wood to cook, and thus less time and money to buy or collect fuel. The stoves are much cleaner than open fire, which improves respiratory health. On a larger scale, reduced demand for wood means less deforestation, land degradation, and carbon emissions. Moreover, our stoves and biogas plants are assembled locally, creating jobs and transferring know-how to host communities.

By the way: you might be wondering why we talk about wood as a non-renewable source of energy. That’s because in many regions, it’s exactly that. 98 percent of trees that are cut down in Rwanda are not replanted – they are permanently lost, releasing carbon dioxide into the air as the wood is burned, and turning once-lush forests into steppes and deserts.

The not-so-subtle differences and why you should care

Some critics argue that offsetting just buys a clean conscience and lets us off the hook too easily. But the moral high ground won’t save anyone from drowning when the sea level rises. For a flight that you have already taken, the best option is to offset.

For a flight you’re yet to take, the best option is to not take it, followed by offsetting. In both cases, the worst option is to do nothing.

That doesn’t mean that you should stop thinking about climate change at this point. Apart from cutting down on flying, there are many ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprints, including switching to electric cars, public transport or bicycles to get around, eating less meat, using heating and warm water more wisely, etc. Offsetting is the last resort when there really aren’t any viable alternatives. Think of it as a Band-Aid: when you have cut yourself, it might be the best option to keep the bleeding in check. But you still want to go see a doctor and maybe get stitches.

Let me continue with the metaphor: if you hurt yourself, you’ll want to make sure the Band-Aid is clean and safe. Likewise, you should care for the quality of your carbon offsets and that your money is actually working to improve the climate and living conditions. This is where atmosfair has a leg up on other offsetting providers. We run our climate protection projects ourselves, cooperating with organizations in the host countries to make sure we meet the needs of the families we’re working with. The technologies we use are tested and high quality, so they continue to save carbon for a long time. And while anyone can claim that their product is the best, we have it in writing: we have consistently been ranked as the No. 1 offset provider in all industry benchmarks. Our projects are reviewed yearly by auditors who vouch for their quality. And we are extremely efficient – 9 out of 10 donor dollars go towards projects.

Another key aspect that makes for an effective carbon mitigation project is that it’s additional – without funding from offset contributions, those projects would not have been implemented. So any offset money going into large scale wind parks or hydroelectric plants is likely to just improve the developers’ bottom line, as they were almost certainly already planned and funded anyway, with climate change mitigation projects providing another stream of revenue. Likewise, we do not invest in afforestation projects. One issue is that due to the inherent economic value of timber, it’s very hard to guarantee that the newly planted trees won’t be cut down before they start storing enough carbon dioxide. That is especially true when the trees are grown in large plantations. Another risk is human rights violations and displacements frequently associated with afforestation.

Tl;dr: avoid, reduce, offset – and look out for quality

Offsetting carbon emissions is part of a general strategy that strives to mitigate the negative effects of our lifestyle on the climate. While it is effective at preventing earth from overheating even faster, we like to think of it as a bridge leading to a future in which sufficiency and technological advances will allow us to live more sustainably. To make sure your financial contributions towards climate change mitigation actually make a difference, be aware of the differences between offset projects. For more information on quality criteria and to see our projects at work, visit www.atmosfair.de/en.

Image: atmosfair