How Nations Can Tackle Environmental Crises By Shifting Priorities To Sustainable Development

How Nations Can Tackle Environmental Crises By Shifting Priorities To Sustainable Development
People work in a rice field in Nepal. (Shutterstock)


Narrated by Marie T. Russell

Video version of this article

In May 2019, a United Nations report on biodiversity made headlines for the bad news it contained: A million species at risk of extinction. The biosphere’s many contributions to people are being degraded by a variety of industrial activities and resource use. Freshwater, soils and a stable climate are all under threat and giving way to droughts, floods, zoonotic diseases and more.

Amid all the bad news, however, were bright lights. I was one of the authors of that report, and we found a way out of the mess, with the seeds of solutions sprouting all over the world. While the report delivered a jarring message that only transformative change could address the climate and ecological crises, it also laid out a pathway to sustainability.

After days of negotiations with 132 nations over the wording of the report’s summary, the other authors and I left Paris full of hope. Yet 14 months later, many nations already seem to have lost their way, focusing on restoring pre-COVID-19 economies rather than building resilient social and ecological systems for thriving sustainability.

There is a way forward, but it entails addressing several inconvenient truths.

Technology and innovation, double-edged swords

In a paper published in the new journal People and Nature, 39 co-authors and I identify what’s needed for vibrant sustainable pathways. Here are a bundle of commonly misunderstood truths.

We are often told we need more technology, innovation, investment and incentives for sustainability. In truth, we actually need to shift all four. And restricting damaging forms of technology, innovation, investment and incentives is often harder — but more important — than boosting desirable kinds.

Technology, for one, is not only a source of good. It is also an enabler of ever-increasing human activity and associated environmental impacts.

In agriculture, for example, there is great scope for enhanced technologies to reconcile tough trade-offs. These technologies can help produce food for humanity while maintaining space for nature and its contributions to people, such as water purification, dust retention for air quality, the mitigation of floods and the esthetic and cultural values associated with pastoral landscapes. Think smart irrigation but also enhanced crop breeding.

How Nations Can Tackle Environmental Crises By Shifting Priorities To Sustainable Development Internet-connected controllers and sensors can help farmers supply their crops with the right amount of water at the right time. (Shutterstock)

Technology has not only improved yields and reduced environmental impacts, but it has also expanded agriculture into marginal lands and increased farmer dependence on other proprietary technologies, such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Thus the answer is not more technology, innovation and investment, but a shift in focus. Evolved regulatory regimes would boost technologies that meet human needs while also benefiting climate, wildlife, soils, water and broader ecosystems.

This is not simply a matter of rolling out low-carbon technology. Technology must also transition away from its reliance on newly extracted materials — which causes habitat degradation — and its production of waste. We need a circular economy, where products end their lives by becoming resources for future production.

Spend more, but also differently

Underpinning innovation, investment and the use of technology are subsidies and incentives. Many have called for more public money to incentivize actions and approaches with smaller impacts on nature, including electric vehicle rebates, solar energy buyback programs and payments for ecosystem services.

Some have called for an elimination of harmful or perverse subsidies. But in governmental and intergovernmental circles, this is rarely accompanied by a specification of what is harmful or perverse, leaving the impression that most subsidies are OK.

Harmful subsidies are actually in the majority. A subsidy is harmful, we argue, if its primary purpose or effect is to enhance production or extraction. And in most contexts, including for fisheries, the majority of subsidies are just that, boosting fisheries catches and the vessels to catch fish.

The same is true for agriculture: most of the more than US$600 billion per year in subsidies is production-oriented, which exacerbates environmental problems. Only a minority of subsidies target improved management and environmental performance.

Fund workers and the transition

Governments struggle to fund incentive programs to cure environmental ills fuelled by harmful subsidies. Throwing good money after bad is inefficient and ineffectual. Instead, governments could re-orient all public funds towards strong and durable environmental stewardship and social sustainability.

How Nations Can Tackle Environmental Crises By Shifting Priorities To Sustainable Development United Nations Sustainable Development 17 Global Goals banner displayed across Dublin’s Rosie Hackett Bridge over the River Liffey. (Shutterstock)

Such a transition can help many workers whose livelihoods depend on current technologies and practices. In many nations, the wealthy co-opt most subsidies and reap the benefits of technological innovation, while the poor get left behind. Globally, small farmers are struggling with debt, droughts and crop failures, with farmer suicides in India providing a dramatic example.

Both people and nature can be served by reorienting subsidies away from producers and distributors of seeds and chemicals, and towards small-farmer loans and ecologically restorative farm practices. Similarly, ending fossil-fuel subsidies can facilitate the transition to clean energy without stranding workers, if those subsidies are reoriented to retool workers in clean technology.

Paradoxically, it’s even harder to stop giving money to industries than to promise new money.

The fate of COVID-19 recovery funding

Our new paper addresses several other inconvenient truths.

It’s inconvenient to recognize that many of us must reduce our material consumption, and that we must collectively rein in human population growth. Or that solving environmental challenges requires comprehensively addressing inequalities in income and power across gender and other lines of social difference. And that effective and sustainable actions and strategies must transparently include diverse stakeholders, especially Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

We now know the components of sustainable pathways, and they have been officially approved via intergovernmental negotiation. Do governments and businesses have the courage to follow them, including in COVID recovery funding and restructuring?

Perhaps if individuals and groups hold them accountable, they will.

The ConversationAbout The Author

Kai ChanKai Chan is a professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. Kai is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented sustainability scientist, trained in ecology, policy, and ethics from Princeton and Stanford Universities. He strives to understand how social-ecological systems can be transformed to be both better and wilder. Kai leads CHANS lab (Connecting Human and Natural Systems), and is co-founder of CoSphere (a Community of Small-Planet Heroes).He is also the lead editor of the British Ecological Society's journal, People and Nature

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Video version of this article:

Related Books

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

by Mark W. Moffett
0465055680If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to explain this: for years, they have held that our biology puts a hard upper limit--about 150 people--on the size of our social groups. But human societies are in fact vastly larger. How do we manage--by and large--to get along with each other? In this paradigm-shattering book, biologist Mark W. Moffett draws on findings in psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the social adaptations that bind societies. He explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how societies develop, function, and fail. Surpassing Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, The Human Swarm reveals how mankind created sprawling civilizations of unrivaled complexity--and what it will take to sustain them.   Available On Amazon

Environment: The Science Behind the Stories

by Jay H. Withgott, Matthew Laposata
0134204883Environment: The Science behind the Stories is a best seller for the introductory environmental science course known for its student-friendly narrative style, its integration of real stories and case studies, and its presentation of the latest science and research. The 6th Edition features new opportunities to help students see connections between integrated case studies and the science in each chapter, and provides them with opportunities to apply the scientific process to environmental concerns. Available On Amazon

Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living

by Ken Kroes
0995847045Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will. The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 


 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.