for the NGO Major Group E-Consultation on advising the 2019 High Level Political Forum regarding SDG 13: to be reviewed at the HLPF 2019 under the auspices of ECOSOC. (Note: questions 1 to 5 were for identification.)
6. Based on the evidence, and keeping the regional/local context in mind, what are the most effective ways to accelerate progress towards SDG 13?
The truth is, to speed up our climate response we need to see the barriers to it we let develop. The crisis snuck up on us as we tried to live in the past as we managed our world to change ever faster.
I’m a senior physicist and architect with a lifelong specialty of original research on the designs and behaviors of complex naturally evolving systems. The way I discovered to study them is to focus on how their self-organizing growth also creates their environmental place. Growth is observed in the building process of new organisms, cultures, movements, and storms, as well as businesses, economies, and even the climate crisis. The first step is simple, just to ask: “What’s growing?” That is where you will find the changing *organization* of the system you will need to work with.
It does NOT pay to treat growth systems as your theory. It ONLY pays to recognize the working parts of the natural system itself. We have not done that with climate change. That led to the terrible mistake of assuming climate change is a technical problem,… as if the economic growth system accelerating it could be “decoupled”. The real solution lies in INFORMING AND TRUSTING THE NATURAL STEERING OF THE SYSTEM, the “profit motive” that got us in trouble, can also get us out. Once EVERYONE is given the real life-saving cost/benefit data needed, it can then steer the economy to a healthy future.
But,… first look at where climate change really came from:
7. Based on the evidence, and keeping the regional/local context in mind, where are the biggest shortfalls/gaps towards making progress towards SDG 13?
I mentioned our great mistake in #6, assuming climate change is a technical problem, and… hoping economic growth can be “decoupled”. The graph (https://bit.ly/2VZGq9r) shows Atmospheric CO2 PPM growing at ~1.48%/yr from 1780 up to WWII, and then after WWII quickly accelerating to ~2.15%/yr. We “upgraded” the growth system. How that is coupled to GDP growth is not just statistical. We actually built our whole complex world economy around growing fossil fuel use, making the system and its growth *organizationally* coupled to fossil fuels.
What fully confirms that is tracing the growth of some structurally coupled dimensions of the world economy, from 1971 to 2016, see below. The proof is simpler than studying the system organization that links these seven curves. It relies instead on this demonstration that for at least the past 45 years these seven variables have been 1) *growth constants* of the world economy, and 2) that despite all efforts to “decouple” some of those constants from growth, they have had ZERO effect. The effort to pursue sustainability in that time despite local benefit, largely by improving efficiency, has a) produced NO EVIDENCE OF EFFECT GLOBALLY, and b) even shows ZERO displacement of fossil fuels despite our also huge effort to develop renewables. As a result the economy’s many increasingly disruptive impacts, along with climate change, keep rapidly accelerating.
We very much need to rethink.
8. How can one best leverage the interlinkages between SDG 13 and the rest of the 2030 Agenda?
How SDG 13 efforts can foster “the Nexus of the 17” is by find inspiration from learning to rethink in the middle of a crisis. That is something all our lives are increasingly facing globally, because of the compound acceleration of change in how we live that is driven by the economy. Demonstrating how to respond to that will help the nexus of the whole pursue healthy global cultural and economic development, reviving the original vision in the spirit of Rio and in drafting the SDGs
The likely struggle will first be for people in too much of a hurry to consider our mistakes. Our cultures define our views of reality and they’ve made mistakes. We certainly do need our cultures to guide us too, but need to BOTH patience AND impatience with the tendency for cultures to be slow to open up and slow to learn once open. Why is that there are also very good reasons for cultures to cling to the past, as well as to adapt and lead in the future. It is generally very much in their interests to resist arbitrary change, and even to react with fierce opposition to being pushed in the wrong way. So learning to speed our learning without “stepping on toes” for climate change will also help many others see how to do it in their own struggles.
The world is just working out differently than expected, as with LIFE so often seems to be what happens when planning something else.
9. Can you share examples of effective models of multi-stakeholder engagement for the implementation of SDG 13?
We are surrounded by wonderful working examples of multi-stakeholder partnerships. The ones that work brilliantly, like businesses, collaborative scientific research, architectural design, and natural examples like healthy economies and natural ecologies, have many design features in common anyone can learn to use.
Take the toughest one first, natural ecologies. Living species all understand the world in their own quite different ways, but that becomes the glue that holds ecologies together. What is often overlooked is that niche-making for any species is an active learning process, of finding where to fit. Ecologies overcome differences far greater than people face. The work relationships needed for complex teams provide more accessible examples. The flow of any kind of successful project also displays hints on how to integrate diverse resources and constraints.
One hidden key to success is to start WITHOUT a real plan, simply with an impetus that initiates a process of exploring what’s possible, in which every part needs to fit. In professional teams you might do an exercise of intentional assumption-breaking, to assure that everyone is starting fresh. Every project also has a natural time and budget limit too, forcing a choice between the initial explorations of which one(s) to take to completion.
A quite readable recent paper on how to look at these kinds of learning processes is called “Systems thinking for Systems making” https://bit.ly/2Mr7utW
10. Please, add here any additional comment related to SDG 13.
What we’re after is a *stable world system* for nurturing creative lives, not burning them up.