Category Archives: system change

SPEECH: ‘Successful Sri Lanka in a sustainable world’

At the end of November, I had the honour of giving the Keynote speech at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Awards 2017. I was there as an affiliate of Good Karma, a Sri Lankan consultancy I’ve had the pleasure of working with this year. You can read my speech below on why economic transformation is inevitable, the best way to win the future is to invent it; and, that Sri Lanka can choose to grow towards a sustainable future.

“Rather than burden our children with our mistakes, we can inspire them with our example.”

 

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Reform vs Revolution vs Restoration approaches to sustainability

What do we mean when we talk of ‘sustainability leadership’? This is addressed by Jem Bendell et al in a new paper, who use critical theory to unpack both ‘leadership’ and ’sustainability’. After reading it, I find myself framing sustainability as about shared dilemmas (not problems), regretting managerialist capture, and pursing a restoration approach (rather than reform or revolution). I also suspect we need to find a pragmatic, fundamental approach to change, though I’m not sure what that will be.

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10 things I learnt at Oxford Energy Day on ‘Growing Economies’

Last week I was at the annual Oxford Energy Day, which focused on Energy in Growing Economies. Here are ten things I learnt (any errors are mine!).

  1. ’Growing economies’: new name for ‘emerging economies’
  2. Bilions lack access to affordable energy, and that hurts their lives
  3. Decarbonised, Decentralised and Digitalised will make for Democratised energy systems – which we’re not ready for.
  4. Energy is not just electricity, and best to focus on final energy use, not primary production
  5. China assumes it will decouple economic growth from environmental impact
  6. India: a new emphasis on markets and clean energy
  7. Africa: big projects face challenges; distributed more viable; charcoal as quick win
  8. Energy access: from a development problem of basic services to an untapped market opportunity of commercial users
  9. Reaching the ‘under-serviced’ will be highly context specific, and that’s a two-way challenge.
  10. What to do: systemic view crafted for local action, aware of incumbency power.

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DRAFT CHAPTER: A path to sustainable 2050: positioned to thrive, and unprepared to struggle (a work-in-progress)

Below is the current draft of a chapter for Fast Future’s ’50:50 – Scenarios for the Next 50 Years’. They’ve given me permission to test my thinking so far. I’d love your thoughts – positive or negative – and connections to other, better thinking.

It is an attempt to imagine the world in 2050 as if what we do now matters. The speculative vision below will be wrong, but hopefully it will be useful. It is one path I can imagine to a sustainable footing. I don’t like all of it, and I don’t necessarily think it’s the most likely future. There’s so much more I’d like to add (links to culture or knowledge production, for instance) – but I’m already twice the word count! It applies some of the analysis from my work on industrial strategy, which you can watch here or see a rough cut here.

Please do let me know what reactions, comments below or via email!

Introduction

Here in 2050 we ask: given how uncertain the world looked in 2020, how is it that most people are thriving? How did we deliberately and rapidly reduce our impacts on the Earth so nature to thrive? (Gaffney and Steffen, 2017) And, how did that lead to us becoming a two-speed world?

The short answer: back in the 2020s one group of countries tried ‘good growth’ as an open and future-facing strategy – and were able to renew as crises happened. These countries are now the Primary World, where people are thriving in ways that work in synergy with nature. Another group wanted security by preserving the past – and, when the crises came, weren’t able to adapt. This Secondary World is not in sync with nature, but at a much reduced pace and scale that nature can cope with.

Now for the long answer.

  • Late 2010s: Many eras ending
  • Early 2020s: ‘Good Growth’ vs ‘Security For Us’
  • Late 2020s: ‘Renew For Climate Safety’ vs ‘Protect What We Have’
  • 2050: the thriving Primary World and the struggling Secondary World

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People-powered knowledge production and ‘Transformations 2017’

 

Last week I was at Transformations 2017, the biennial academic conference on transformations towards sustainability, hosted by Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience (CECHR), University of Dundee. I had an excellent time, including presenting my paper on industrial strategy (rough cut here). In this post, I reflect on the importance of people power in knowledge production that is in the service of transformation to a just and sustainable world.

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Let’s be inspired by Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope.

‘Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope’ by Bill Sharpe is a tremendous book for anyone who works on profound change. Below I hope I can give you a flavour of it, and why I was inspired. My key takeaway:  rather than aiming for distant, definitive visions, we would be better to act from a shared awareness of the future potential in this present moment. Continue reading

Gigatonne Lab: Why? What? How can you help?

Climate change is one of the most profound challenges we face today. We need to reduce emissions urgently and our progress was too slow – even before the election of President Trump. I’m part of creating a Gigatonne Lab, the brilliant idea of the brilliant Zaid Hassan, because I think it would accelerate our shift to a low-carbon world. Here’s the why, what, how of the Gigatonne Lab – and an invitation to help.

WHY?

Climate change is widely acknowledged to be one of the most profound challenges we face today.

  • The Paris Agreement sets a welcome, and hugely stretching, target: “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.”
  • What is needed now is implementation. To even get close to the ambitions of the Paris Agreement we need emission reductions urgently, and we need all society to play their part.

unep-emissions-gap-2016
UNEP Emissions Gap report 2016

But too little is happening.

  • Even if countries deliver on their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs, the emission reductions they volunteered in the run-up to Paris), then it is estimated we will see ~3.7C warming.
  • We risk living in a world of run-away climate change, with devastating consequences for many parts of the world, especially the Gulf nations and countries in tropic regions.

There are a host of brilliant initiatives…

Here are just a few:

  • Accelerating research and development:
    • Missions Innovation aims “to accelerate the pace of clean energy innovation to achieve performance breakthroughs and cost reductions to provide widely affordable and reliable clean energy solutions that will revolutionize energy systems throughout the world over the next two decades and beyond.”
    • Breakthrough Energy, which has $1b from Bill Gates, “is committed to investing in new technologies to find better, more efficient and cheaper energy sources.”
  • Addressing systemic barriers in US electricity sector:
    • eLab “focusses on collaborative innovation to address critical institutional, regulatory, business, economic, and technical barriers to the economic deployment of distributed resources in the U.S. electricity sector.” through three annual working group meetings, coupled with on-going project work.

…but there is still a gap on implementing rapid decarbonisation.

  • We believe that there are too few efforts at deploying existing solutions across many sectors that will have an immediate impact on global emissions.
  • This is a particular need right now, as the Trump Administration acts against addressing climate change.

Now is the time to make rapid decarbonisation happen.

  • We believe there is a needed for a new vehicle that:
    • tests and then invests in solutions that can make a significant difference now.
    • attracts attention through its ambition and impacts
    • provides lessons on what does and doesn’t work.
    • that demonstrates to others that they can reduce carbon emission where they are.

Enter the Gigatonne Lab.

WHAT?

An international collaboration to identify and launch a portfolio of initiatives to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) by one gigatonne within a two-year timeframe.

  • Goal. Ignite emission reductions at the scale and urgency required to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels by demonstrating how to take 1GT out of the global economy in a short-time frame.
  • Outputs.
    • A portfolio of solutions which cumulatively reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) by one gigatonne (a billion tonnes) within a two-year timeframe.
    • A database on insights into technologies, solutions and efforts to diffuse them, so that others can apply what does work and avoid ones that don’t.
    • Many people inspired and equipped to pursue emission reductions at scale and with urgency, because of the high-profile example of the Lab and the specific insights it has generated.

What the Gigatonne Lab would do

There are many possible configurations, and the specifics would vary depending on who gets involved. The current design can be summarized as:

  • Five teams. Each multi-disciplinary team of approximately 35 people would have a focus, either regional (e.g. US) or sectorial (e.g. shipping). They would be tasked with abating 200 MT in 2 years in that domain.
  • An open innovation pipeline. Each team would have a database of the most viable solutions for their area of focus. There would be an open invitation for others to suggest additions.
  • Fast stress-testing. The team would select the best remaining solution, and stress test it. What would need to be true for this solution to make a good-enough contribution? Are those conditions met? After a solution has passed or failed a stress-test, the team would move on to the next one.
  • Swift move to investment. If the solution passes the stress-test then a sub-team would move to implementing.
  • The Lab Fund. The Lab would have a fund of suitable size available to invest.
  • Wide pool of participating organisations. The solutions would be implemented within the wide pool of participants, who would be big corporations, cities, and other public bodies. These organisations would benefit from the finance to address climate change, and the lower risk profile of stress-tested solutions.
  • The secretariat. The five teams would be supported by a secretariat, who make sure guide the teams, make sure that lessons are being learnt and acted on, communicate and engage with the wider world as well as connect with the funders and other key stakeholders. 

HOW?

How can we get started?

Over the last few years, Zaid has spoken with tens of possible partners around the world. The typical reaction is: ‘wow, too ambitious; if it happens we’d love to join in’.

Now, a couple of things have shifted since those conversations.

  • The science is telling us more bad news about climate change.
  • The Paris Agreement has committed the world to a more aggressive reductions trajectory.
  • The Trump Presidency threatens to suck momentum out of action across the world.

I sincerely believe that the Gigatonne Lab will be much more challenging to start than to run. Once we have a big enough fund then the struggle will be dealing will the applications from people wanting investment. No, getting to that momentum will be tougher.

So, the key question is: how can we get to that position? My answer is to make a simple first step:

  • A global investigation. We believe we could run a series of workshops in different parts of the world which would aim to get the ball rolling.
    • Test our key hypotheses:
      • There are solutions that are can be unblocked through the vehicle of the Gigatonne Lab.
      • There are sources of funding which want to accelerate decarbonisation (and take the wind out of Trump’s sails).
    • Identify the best 5 segments (sectors, regions or technologies) to the GTCO2e.
    • Create the starting database of possible solutions.
    • Identify team members and participating organisations who bring the required expertise and attitude.
    • Create excitement and anticipation.
    • Estimate the size of investment Fund and operating costs required.

How can you help?

There are several ways you can join in:

  • Funding. So, we need cash. Obviously. There are small and large versions of what global investigation could be. The first dollop can bring in the next.
  • Brand. Credibility attracts others. Your brand could help us bring in other partners or more money.
  • Expertise. Our expertise is in running innovation processes that have systemic effects – not cliamte change solutions. We will need partners and people who can help us choose the right 5 foci, and then discover, test and scale the best solutions.
  • Insight. You can help us improve by giving us feedback. You can show that it is not needed (rather than needed but difficult). Or you can have suggestions on how to go forward from here.

How would you benefit?

Well, the long-term benefit is reducing the risk of runaway, civilisation-undermining climate change. In the short-term how about:

  • Early access to the innovation pipeline. You would know about which solutions are ready (and which not) before others, giving you a possible first-mover advantage.
  • Proof of high-ambition climate action. Many companies have made bold promises but struggle to make the internal investments to fulfil those promises. Supporting the Gigatonne Lab would demonstrate that you are a leader on climate action.
  • Financial eturns on climate solutions. We anticipate the fund will be run to give investment returns. You could make money on this deal.

 

Personally, I know that the Gigatonne Lab is a risky venture. But what is the point of working on climate change if you are not going to take risk? And, realistically, will we be able to address climate change without a range of highly-ambitious, individually-risky efforts? This is one of my high-risk, high-return projects in my portfolio. It could never get started, but with incredibly interesting insights along the way.

Or, it could start – and be part of putting human civilisation on a sustainable footing. That’s worth a bit of risk. THat’s why I’m delighted to be an Affiliate of Zaid’s business, Roller Strategies, trying to make the Gigatonner Lab happen.