The only way that economies can become sustainable is if they manage the growing urgency of climate change and the degradation of the environment. A failure to tackle these threats simultaneously will push millions of people into extreme poverty and heighten social and health inequalities. This is in addition to the obvious impact, that it will have a dangerous effect on the natural environment, such as frequent and powerful weather events including drought, wildfires, and flooding, as well as a depletion of natural resources. Additionally, it will undermine countries’ resilience to unexpected societal challenges in the future.
The planet is on a path to a 2.7°C temperature rise by the end of the century, which is well above the 1.5 °C target set by the Paris Agreement. If this trajectory continues then the total global economic value would be cut by 10% by 2050.
After Glasgow’s COP26 conference, many countries have raised their ambitions, but the latest pledges will still leave a significant gap in emission reductions needed to keep 1.5 within reach by 2030.
Actions taken by governments and oversight bodies now could set the world on a path to a more sustainable future. That future is one that balances economic, environmental, and social outcomes. But the clock is ticking, and rapid progress demands priorities. In this article, we have outlined some ways in which governments and oversight bodies can encourage sustainable development.
They can provide detailed action plans with clear accountability
- It is necessary that these bodies and governments provide detailed, sector-specific road maps, produced in collaboration with industry, that would bridge the gap between short term plans and long-term goals with measurable targets. These should set out specific policy measures and initiatives, desired outcomes, timelines, and necessary resources. By publishing these plans, governments can broadcast how they are working towards environmental goals and set out the roles of the main players.
Being bolder in incentivizing the market and mandating change
- The urgency of the environmental challenge calls for ambitious policies that prioritise climate action and send a clear message about how the market and citizens can achieve radical change. Only through a strong political will can governments overcome opposition and build cross-sector support.
Boosting innovation through increased funding
- Governments have a huge range of policy instruments at their disposal to accelerate public and private investment in new technologies and new infrastructure, in order to meet climate goals. These include early-stage demonstration projects and development.
Improving the design and delivery of green initiatives
- Clear vision, appropriate funding, realistic timescales, and a supportive environment are absolutely necessary in order for green initiatives to avoid the risk of failure. Too often, the design and implementation of these initiatives are not adequately taken into account. Success depends on resources, such as workforce skills and the capacity of the supply chain, as well as being able to consult with key stakeholders so that they can identify barriers to progress and other critical dependencies.
By acting as a role model for other aspects of the economy
- In order to set an example, governments and oversight bodies should compel their departments to place a strong emphasis on identifying and mitigating the environmental impacts of their activities. This is necessary because the public sector is a significant contributor to climate change and environmental harm as providers of services and consumers of resources.
By promoting a people-centred approach
- Collaboration from every single organisation and individual throughout society is needed if we are to face the complex, massive, ever-changing challenge of climate change. For example, the momentum for the energy transition in the Netherlands began in 2013 with the Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth, which brought together industry, trade unions, the third sector, and government to shape the country’s plans. This led to the Netherlands’ 2018 climate commitments, which again worked with a wide variety of organisations, including local authorities, business associations, NGOs, and labour unions, in order to establish their targets.
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It should be clear that for governments and oversight bodies, collaboration is vital. If we are to meet the Paris Agreement targets, international coordination is the only way we can be successful. Every action on this matter has global consequences, as supply chains reach beyond national borders. This requires strong leadership from developed countries’ governments and oversight bodies to strengthen the legal frameworks that govern environmental matters, as well as to provide technical assistance and funding to the less developed nations that are most at risk from a quickly changing climate.