Innovations for sustainability in a post-pandemic future

July 12, 2020

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Innovations for sustainability in a post-pandemic future

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the world into turmoil and disrupted the status quo, but it is also providing opportunities for innovation in the way we live and work. According to the latest report released by The World in 2050 (TWI2050) initiative, the crisis can provide an opportunity to create sustainable societies with higher levels of wellbeing for all.

The third report released by the TWI2050 initiative assesses the positive potential benefits innovation brings to sustainable development for all, while also highlighting the potential negative impacts and challenges going forward. The document outlines strategies to harness innovation for sustainability by focusing on efficiency and sufficiency in providing services to people, with a particular focus on human wellbeing.

What the researchers say: “The transformation to a sustainable future is achievable—we have the knowledge, means, and capacity, despite the magnitude of the challenge and the current unsustainable direction of development, additionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the lead researcher. “We believe that this report will provide policy and decision makers around the world with invaluable new knowledge to inform action and commitment toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in these interesting and challenging times.”

According to the authors, there is a general lack of political will on the part of many governments across the globe to mobilize the necessary resources and make the required policy and structural changes to achieve the goals set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs.

The new report highlights the need for better governance for integrated SDG implementation, inclusive political institutions, and the importance of science, technology, and innovation in providing possible solutions for achieving a sustainable future for people and the planet.

The authors point out that small-scale, granular innovations can be expected to have faster adoption and diffusion, lower investment risk, faster learning, more opportunities to escape lock-in, more equitable access, higher job creation, and larger social returns on innovation investment, which are all advantages that could enable rapid change.

Unfortunately, most money goes into larger and more politically visible projects.

The six transformations required for sustainable development laid out in the initiative’s 2018 report: human capacity, demography and health; consumption and production; decarbonization and energy; food, biosphere, and water; smart cities; and the digital revolution, are also emphasized.

“The current rate and direction of innovation is insufficient, in part due to a relatively narrow focus on technology innovation without also addressing societal, institutional, cultural, and governance innovation,” say the authors. Amen to that!

The report further states that transforming service-provisioning systems is about safeguarding human needs and sharing available resources fairly within planetary boundaries. The central question is which types of technological and social innovations can contribute to decreasing inequalities, increasing resilience and society’s collective ability to deal with crises, while also decreasing the pressures on natural resources.

“Achieving accelerated change will depend on the world moving away from a supply-driven model of development to one that is low-demand and services-driven, based on efficiency and sufficiency, while also focused on providing wellbeing and decent living standards for all,” said one of the co-authors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated system-wide weaknesses in implementing an early and effective global response. However, if the right lessons are learned, it provides significant opportunities to accelerate the societal consensus and political reforms needed to achieve the transformation toward sustainability.

The report is based on the voluntary and collaborative effort of more than 60 authors and contributors from around 20 institutions globally, who met virtually to develop science-based strategies and pathways toward achieving the SDGs.

So, what? We have relearned two things from the present pandemic:

  • It is important for world leaders to take note of and rely on what scientists say, and
  • No country is an island—things like pandemics, climate change, population growth—affect all parts of the globe both directly and indirectly. There can be no fortress America, or Australia or EU or China.

Will our leaders apply these lessons? Probably not. We’ve, in all likelihood, lost the climate change battle; the next pandemic will see the same totally uncoordinated approaches; we’ll do nothing about population growth (preferring economic growth) and so on.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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