Global Sustainability Pathways Unveiled in Expert Survey
University of Eastern Finland
The majority of sustainable development researchers believe that in affluent countries, it is necessary to look beyond economic growth to achieve sustainable development, a recent study from the University of Eastern Finland suggests. The study, published in the scientific journal Ecological Economics, investigated the preferred future paths for countries at different income levels among 461 sustainability scholars. The survey results shed light on the strategic choices necessary for achieving global sustainability. The study focused on green growth and post-growth economic strategies. The green growth strategy aims to enhance both societal and environmental well-being as the economy grows. On the other hand, post-growth paths question this approach and advocate for a shift beyond growth, focusing on environmental and societal well-being instead of economic growth.
“This research reveals that an overwhelming majority of sustainability scholars, over 75 percent, support post-growth pathways for affluent countries already this decade. For less affluent countries, the majority of scholars favoured either green growth or post-growth pathways,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Teemu Koskimäki from the University of Eastern Finland, who conducted the study.Different paths are needed in countries with different income levels.In the study, scholars were asked to choose which pathways should be pursued in different country income groups in the 2020s and 2030s in order to achieve sustainable development globally. A comparison of the responses revealed that support for post-growth paths increased over time, while support for green growth declined in all contexts. Koskimäki emphasizes that the research results challenge the prevailing green growth-focused approach.“Currently, global Sustainable Development Goals are based on green growth. However, researchers emphasize the urgent need to consider post-growth strategies, particularly in affluent countries.”Koskimäki stresses the critical importance of understanding the views of sustainability scholars on suitable paths for countries of different income levels.
“Policy-makers at various levels and sectors may rely on these experts as they implement the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Although sustainability scholars favour post-growth paths, the study shows they are not as familiar with this approach as they are with green growth.
“In my study, I address the challenges that this gap in knowledge and skills can create for achieving global sustainability,” Koskimäki says.
GDP is an insufficient measure of societal well-being
The study also found that most sustainability scholars who responded to the survey consider Gross Domestic Product, GDP, to be an inadequate measure of societal well-being.
“This underscores the need for a broader discussion of progress indicators, especially for wealthier countries, where the costs of continued consumption growth exceed its benefits,” says Koskimäki.
Based on the study’s conclusions, research, education, and policymaking should pay attention to targeted transformative change, with a particular focus on facilitating post-growth strategies in the wealthiest countries.
The study offers critical perspectives on the equitable and efficient implementation of various sustainability strategies and underscores the need for targeted approaches that take economic disparities between countries into account. According to Koskimäki, this recognition could facilitate the equitable and efficient achievement of sustainability, both locally and globally.
“The study reveals a potential contradiction between those sustainability paths addressed in sustainability reports and by political decision-makers and those favored by scholars. A broader, more inclusive conversation is needed to ensure that we are targeting the right transformations and implementing them in a controlled manner,” Koskimäki concludes.
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A circular economic model can help solve the environmental challenges created by our built environment – water, waste and power systems, transport infrastructure and the buildings we live and work in. A circular economy involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling materials and products for as long as possible.
Circular economy principles have gained recognition from all levels of government in Australia. But there’s a big gap between acknowledgement and action. Progress towards systemic change has been very limited.
A new report by university and industry experts lays out a roadmap to a circular economy. Those working in the sector reported the top three barriers as: a lack of incentives, a lack of specific regulations, and a lack of knowledge. The top three enablers were: research and development of enabling technologies, education of stakeholders, and evidence of the circular economy’s added value.
So what are the world leaders doing?
Extensive research for the report drew on real-world experiences, including a survey and interviews with stakeholders. The report offers practical recommendations to drive the transformation to a circular economy, with examples from global front-runners.
The first recommendation is to learn from these nations. Most are in Europe.
A leading example is the Netherlands’ “Cirkelstad”. This national platform connects key players in the transition to a circular economy in major cities. It provides a database of exemplary projects, research and policies, as well as training and advice.
Cirkelstad highlights the importance of broad collaboration, including research organisations. One outcome is the City Deal initiative. It has brought together more than 100 stakeholders with the shared goal of making circular construction the norm. They include government bodies, contractors, housing associations, clients, networks, interest groups and knowledge institutions.
We rarely see such collaboration in Australia. Connections between government, research and industry practices have been weak. Our universities compete fiercely.
In Denmark and Sweden, rigorous regulations have been effective in promoting circular practices. Denmark has incentives for the use of secondary materials such as recycled brick. It also promotes designs that make buildings easy to disassemble.
In Canada, Toronto is notable for its proactive approach. Measures include a cap on upfront carbon emissions for all new city-owned buildings.
Test beds and pilot projects have proven effective, too. A good example is the UK’s Waste House.
Waste House was built using more than 85% waste material from households and construction sites. Yet it’s a top-rated low-energy building. The project is an inspiration for architects and builders to challenge conventional construction methods and embrace circular practices.
Much of the focus of Finland’s circular economy initiatives is on construction and urban planning. Various policy tools and incentives encourage the use of recycled or renewable materials in construction. The renovation of Laakso hospital in Helsinki is a notable example.
Strategic zoning of public spaces can also be used to bolster circular economy activities. An example is the repurposing of urban land for activities such as waste sorting.
How can Australia create a circular economy?
Australia has been slow to adopt such measures. There are voluntary schemes, such as Green Star, that include emission caps for buildings. However, Australia lacks specific, well-defined requirements to adopt circular economy practices across the built environment sector.
Our report’s recommendations include:
develop metrics and targets to promote resource efficiency
adopt measurable circular procurement practices for public projects
provide incentives for circular practices
establish technical codes and standards that foster the use of secondary products.
The report finds funding for collaborative projects is badly needed too. Regrettably, the Australian built environment is not seen as a research funding priority. But more funding is essential to foster the innovation needed to make the transition to a circular economy.
Innovation can help us reconcile the public demand for spacious homes with sustainable construction practices. We can achieve this through a mix of strategies:
moving towards modular construction techniques
creating incentives to adopt circular design principles
making adaptive reuse of existing structures a priority
designing multi-functional spaces that makes the most of resources.
Integrating circular economy principles into education and training at universities and schools can embed a culture of innovation. Equipping students with this knowledge and skills will enable the next generation to drive change in our built environment.
Currently, there are few Australian-based training programs that focus on the circular economy. And available courses and programs overseas are costly.
There is also a need to promote inclusivity in the built environment sector. Circular solutions must incorporate cultural considerations.
By embracing the above strategies, Australia can foster a harmonious balance between cultural values, environmental sustainability and efficient resource use.
Collectively, these initiatives will lay the foundation for a circular economy in the built environment sector. The growing need for housing and infrastructure underscores the urgency of achieving this goal in Australia. Ultimately, consumers, industry and the environment will all benefit.
Children in Albania rehearse their play, “The Windmill”, about the climate crisis. Photo by Plaku Production/Save the Children. More content available here
NEW YORK, Monday 5 June – From touring theatre plays, to letter-writing, to radio shows: thousands of children in 24 countries across the world are marking World Environment Day by launching a “week of action” to draw attention to issues of the climate crisis and inequality.
Supported by Save the Children as part of its Generation Hope campaign to support children to raise their voice, the young people involved hope that their calls for change will be heard by leaders and policymakers as they prepare for the review of progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN General Assembly in New York in September.
In Albania, a group of child campaigners recently undertook a survey looking into the impact of air pollution across four major cities and found it had negative impacts on children including asthma, headaches and lack of concentration at school[i]. Now, those same children have been inspired to produce and perform a play to educate older generations about why change is needed.
Martina, 15, is one of the children involved in the play “The Windmill”, being picked up again this week after attracting an audience of 300 people back in December. The 12 children involved, aged between 10 and 16, aim to reach a total of 300 more people before the SDG summit in September.
Martina plays the part of a girl named Sara who is taking part in a community project to install a windmill in her village to generate renewable energy. She said: “Our show addresses climate change and economic inequality, which are important issues because they affect our daily lives and the sustainability of the planet.
“These issues affect my life and that of many other children because they cause natural disasters, negatively affect the planet and economic inequality brings crises in health care and access to education. With this show we hope that people will become aware and act against economic inequality and climate change.
“In my opinion, adults should listen to children because we have unique ideas and perspectives that will help us move forward.”
Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, children are using the week of action to write letters to leaders about how the climate crisis is already taking its toll on their lives. In Uganda, 13-year-old Doreen will send a letter saying: “There is no rain and crops are not growing because they’re not watered. We shall not have food. What is going to be done to solve this problem?”
Last year, Save the Children reported that the hunger crisis in Uganda, caused largely by extreme weather events, had led to parents sending toddlers of pre-school age to school with their older siblings to share their free school meals.
In Nepal, a giant white teddy bear that is two month into an epic six-month journey around the country to raise awareness of air pollution is going into schools to meet children and record their concerns.
And in Peru, Save the Children is facilitating dialogues between child-led organisations, including from migrant and ethnic minority communities, to discuss how the climate crisis and inequality are affecting their rights, and how they can try to effect change. These children are now sharing these concerns with leaders in a variety of ways that speak to the diversity of languages and cultures in Peru, including writing their hopes and demands in letters, and recording audio and video of themselves. Some are also meeting with authorities directly to voice their demands.
Inger Ashing, CEO at Save the Children, said:
“For years now we have seen children and young people all over the world take to the streets, march, and demand that their leaders take action to tackle the climate crisis.
“This year marks the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon seven years ago – it’s a critical point to reflect on where we are and determine the steps we need to take for children around the world. As we approach the SDG summit in September it is compelling to see children express creative ways to demand change.”
“The climate crisis has an impact on almost every aspect of children’s lives, from having enough food on the table to having a safe and secure home to being able to concentrate in the classroom during scorching heatwaves. And it is the children most affected by inequality and discrimination who bear the brunt of climate change, time and again. This World Environment Day, we hope that leaders across the world will listen to what children are saying and step-up climate financing to create a greener, fairer planet for and with children.”
Building nature positive into the energy transition
Published by wbcsd on 2 June 2023 and written by: Pete Jones, Manager, Nature, Diana Ferrari, Manager, Energy & Mariana Heinrich, Director, Energy, this following insightful view of our world of today appears to be a soft-spoken description of the diverse but global and uniform maltreatment of our mother nature.
Nature is the backbone of the world economy. Industries from agriculture to energy impact and depend on the natural world to thrive. Global populations and economies continue to grow, as do their demands on nature and natural resources. Future resilience and prosperity demand that these needs are managed sustainably.
Wildlife populations have decreased by 70% in the last 50 years,1 which puts multiple ecosystems at risk of collapse. The energy sector accounts for 10% of the pressures causing biodiversity loss,2 with oil & gas and utilities having a particularly high impact, largely due to pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on species and their habitats. Even renewable electricity technologies can have unintended effects on nature. For example, the total amount of land and sea area required to generate the world’s renewable energy requirements is circa 1 million km2, equivalent to almost twice the size of France.2 Any development close to this figure will result in the loss of natural habitats and undermine nature’s resilience to climate change effects. Therefore, we need a holistic framework as part of the global energy transition to address these impacts and, simultaneously, realize opportunities for nature restoration.
The good news is that in December 2022, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework was adopted, providing the ambitious global aim of halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030. While delivering the targets set out in the Global Biodiversity Framework will be a shared task between governments, businesses, financial institutions and civil society, we need more investment, particularly from the private sector, to scale up efforts. This insights piece describes what businesses can do now to take action as required by the Global Biodiversity Framework.
At WBCSD, we are helping companies navigate and manage their nature-positive journeys by providing guidance for consistent and credible business actions, including for specific value chains. Our Roadmaps to Nature Positive are mapping the key nature impacts and dependencies and are identifying priority actions across three high-impact global value chains: land-based (Food & Agriculture and Forest), built environment, as well as energy. This is aligned with broader efforts to map sector transitions to nature-positive in collaboration with Business for Nature and the World Economic Forum.
Our team will lead a workshop at the Reuters Global Energy Transitionin New York on 7 and 8 June. Learn more about what we will cover at the bottom of this blog!
Nature Positive Roadmap for the Energy System
The Nature Positive Roadmap for the Energy System will provide tools and guidance for companies to implement nature-positive transition plans using the globally agreed high-level actions for nature: ACT-D, i.e., Assess, Commit, Transform and Disclose. In addition, it will support companies in setting science-based targets for nature (in line with the Science Based Target Network (SBTN)) and applying the Taskforce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework to nature disclosures.
Emerging insights so far include that:
The energy system will play a key role in contributing to the Global Goal for Nature: it has broad and significant impacts on nature, including water use, air pollution and emissions, land intake, habitat fragmentation and disturbances during construction and operation. But it also has massive potential to drive nature-positive change within its value chain and beyond as an essential component of the supply chains of almost all public and private entities, as well as final customers.
It is key to consider trade-offs between impacts on nature, climate and people: especially in the energy system, climate impacts have been at the forefront of company actions so far, but the increasing momentum around nature offers an opportunity to rebalance and consider the overall implications for all three topics.
We need deep collaboration along the entire value chain to be able to implement impactful transformative actions at a global scale. To enable this collaboration, transparency is required on KPIs, baselines, disclosure and targets so that these can be embedded into each step of the value chain. New metrics are needed for that, and developing and testing these new metrics will take time, as will building partnerships within the value chain that catalyze nature-positive innovation.
TNFD pilot project with WBCSD members
Alongside the roadmap development, six WBCSD member companies have been involved in our TNFD energy system pilot, testing its draft version and providing feedback to the TNFD as well as on the Nature Positive Roadmap.
Key findings to date:
The piloting companies already have policies and processes in place to manage and monitor impacts, risks and opportunities associated with nature. Most of them focus on addressing their own impacts, e.g., through converting habitat, using water or via emissions. Some pilot companies are already applying concepts such as “net-positive impact” or “net gain” to individual projects, particularly for biodiversity.
To capture the wider nature-positive agenda beyond biodiversity, pilot companies are now undertaking gap analyses between their existing commitments, practices and management tools and what working toward nature-positive requires. Such analysis is necessary to integrate nature-positive aligned approaches more explicitly into strategic business planning and management processes, as well as identify any capacity/skills needed to implement them.
New for many companies is the need for a deeper focus on nature impacts and dependencies arising in upstream activities and, for some companies, in their products sold downstream. One possible approach explored during the pilot is to do an initial, qualitative assessment to prioritize those business units for a more detailed assessment.
The overall work on the Roadmap for the Energy System will continue through 2023 and most of 2024, releasing outputs for companies to use along the way – the first ones in Q3 2023. WBCSD is also setting up an SBTN Preparer Group and scoping a TNFD Preparer Forum. These will help companies to get ready to set science-based targets for nature and TNFD-aligned disclosures.
Join us at the Reuters Global Energy Transition Conference for a deep dive into energy and biodiversity
Our team will be leading a workshop at the Reuters Global Energy Transition 2023. As one of Reuters’ flagship events, the conference will gather 750+ executives in New York on 7-8 June to shape and deliver the energy systems of the future. At our workshop, the attendees and us will share advice on how to accelerate nature-positive action via three focused break-out groups:
How to apply the 2022 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) to your business – what targets and metrics are needed?
How to implement the TNFD to help your business – how to integrate biodiversity into enterprise strategy and risk management processes?
How to take Nature Positive action on the ground – what actions are other companies already taking to reverse impacts and restore biodiversity?
The purpose of the workshop will be to provide attendees with ideas and examples of approaches already used, or proposed, to address the questions above. Attendees will leave the workshop better equipped to drive nature action within their businesses.
Mariana Heinrich (WBCSD Director, Energy Pathway), Pete Jones (WBCSD Manager, Nature and secondee from ERM) and Margaret O’Gorman (President, Wildlife Habitat Council) will run the workshop. We hope to see you there! Register here to attend.
Top 5 ways to slash carbon emissions in the construction industry
As public concerns are mounting, governments are taking action, bringing in environmental targets designed to thwart runaway global warming, for the Certainty of hitting new temperature highs is nowadays unquestionable.
By Dr Abdullah Alnuaimi
The construction industry represents one of the world’s biggest causes of environmental degradation, and is currently on course to derail vital emissions targets.
Globally, the sector contributes around 23% of air pollution, 40% of drinking water pollution, and 50% of all landfill wastes.
Meanwhile, the built environment as a whole is responsible for 30% of total global final energy consumption and 27% of total energy sector emissions, according to the IEA.
Populations around the world are already grappling with the impacts of climate crisis and environmental breakdown, from melting permafrosts and ice in the polar regions, to increases in extreme weather across the globe, creating greater risks of wildfires, floods and droughts while rising sea levels and worsening storms threaten coastal communities.
As public concerns are mounting, governments are taking action – bringing in environmental targets designed to thwart runaway global warming and help turn the tide on ecological destruction.
To stay ahead of the forces driving global business, construction firms must re-evaluate the pivotal role in how our species interacts with the planet.
Five key ways they can do this include:
1. Not building
Instead of resource-intensive new-builds, retrofitting existing building stock must play a much bigger role.
Older buildings tend to be less efficient than newer ones, with refurbishment improving insulation and reducing energy usage.
Last year the International Energy Agency called for 20 per cent of all existing building stock to be retrofitted by the year 2030 in order for the world to meet its climate targets, and said it should be a “key” focus of the construction industry’s decarbonisation efforts.
The organisation has called for an annual “deep renovation rate” of over 2% from now to 2030 and beyond.
2. Planning for long-term environmental gains
If new building works must go ahead they should start with a wholesale consideration of their form, function and impact on society, and how these impacts can be mitigated. This starts with planning.
Urban planners can make the built environment more environmentally friendly by adopting eco-friendly design approaches at an early stage.
This includes minimising land use, prioritising connections to public transport networks and walking and cycling routes to discourage private car use, and increasing access to green and blue spaces such as parks and bodies of water, which can enhance air quality, protect some natural resources and boost the health and well-being of the people in the environment.
Furthermore, the importance of implementing high Environmental Social Governance (ESG) standards within the industry is growing rapidly. As pressure for the construction industry to clean up its act grows, so too is the requirement for ESG standards, which should one day become a compulsory and universal system for evaluating the sustainability of both new developments and retrofitted buildings.
3. Incorporating passive design and renewable energy
Passive design features combined with renewable energy can dramatically lower the carbon footprint of a completed building when it is in use.
This starts with selecting suitable building locations and orientations to make the best possible use of the natural environmental conditions.
Then, layout of rooms, window design, insulation, thermal mass, rain collection, shade and ventilation, all play significant roles in making a building as efficient as possible.
With the addition of solar panels or wind turbines for power generation and water heating, energy demands – and therefore environmental impacts – can be even lower. A new generation of photovoltaic solar-tiles promise even greater levels of flexibility and enhanced returns on investment.
Meanwhile, geothermal heat pumps and air-source heat pumps have enormous levels of efficiency in comparison to traditional gas boilers.
4. Cementing a concrete lead
Concrete is the most widely used man-made material in existence and is second only to water as the most-consumed resource on the planet.
Described as “the most destructive material on earth”, the production of cement, which is used to make concrete, is responsible for up to 8% of global CO2 emissions and would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world if listed as a country in its own right, causing up to 2.8bn tonnes of CO2 a year, surpassed only by China and the US.
Reduction in cement use is vital. This can be done by using recycled materials in the mix, reducing the amount of cement used, and using alternative materials such as fly ash or slag.
5. Choosing sustainable building materials
As well as reducing usage of concrete or mixing less damaging kinds of concrete, there are also various alternatives to concrete which take a much lower environmental toll on the planet. These include hempcrete, which is made from hemp plants mixed with a lime-based binder. This forms a lightweight, breathable construction material with excellent insulation properties.
Another alternative is rammed earth, which is made by compressing soil into a formwork. It is durable, low-maintenance, and has excellent thermal mass properties.
Other exciting modern breakthroughs in construction materials include straw bale construction, cross-laminated timber (CLT), and bamboo, all of which can often be produced with low impacts to the environment, and match existing construction materials for strength and practicality.
For companies to thrive and survive, embracing the health of our planet is a must. With the Cop28 summit in Dubai on the horizon, and the hosts warning that the IPCC has already “made it crystal clear that we are way off track”, the importance of adopting ambitious targets to achieve sustainable building has never been greater.
Universities must take “heroic action” to address the sustainability crisis after helping to lay its foundations by failing to take action sooner, Arizona State University president Michael Crow has claimed.
He said the sustainability emergency – which the GSDC is meeting to discuss urgent solutions for – was caused by the relationship between the built environment and the natural systems on which we are dependent.
Professor Crow told delegates at the event in Saudi Arabia that sustainability was “critical to our success as a species”.
“We in academia have contributed mightily to the designed environment, and hold much of the responsibility for the lack of sustainability of that built environment and its increasing disruption of the natural environment,” he said.
Professor Crow warned that the world was entering an “unbelievably challenging moment where everything is accelerating”, and that there were many things higher education could have done already but had not.
The sector’s inability to be “more conscious of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it” helped lay the foundations for the sustainability crisis today, he said.
“A lot of groups have been responsible for our lack of sustainability, but at the heart of all of them has been the academy, [and] the universities,” he added.
“It’s time for universities to really step up for heroic action in the way that universities did around some other issues in the past.
“It’s time for new types of knowledge to be produced, new ways of thinking.”
He called for universities to broaden the way they organised themselves because working in isolation would “not get us there quickly enough”.
The summit, held in the Middle East for the first time, is aiming to challenge the usual thinking on what higher education, with the support of governments, businesses and society, must do to help society meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“It’s time for us to mount up, to begin working together, to begin aligning together, to begin working across institutions and across the world to take on this notion of global sustainable development,” added Professor Crow.
Also speaking at the summit, Tony Chan, president of KAUST, said the world was in a state of crisis that imperiled all of humanity, and universities across the globe should act with resolve.
“Our required response to the present crisis must be of a scale and sense of urgency akin to how we must respond to major world wars,” he said.
“Our universities must cease to be exemplars of unsustainable practices and we must become the transformative enablers of sustainability for others.”
Those outside higher education took their cue not just from what universities preached, but from what they practised, said Dr Chan.
“If academics are serious about tackling sustainability challenges, we can’t wait for the cavalry to show up,” he said. “We are the cavalry.”
Originally posted on HUMAN WRONGS WATCH: Human Wrongs Watch (UN News)* — Disinformation, hate speech and deadly attacks against journalists are threatening freedom of the press worldwide, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday [2 May 2023], calling for greater solidarity with the people who bring us the news. UN Photo/Mark Garten | File photo…
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