Single-track sustainability 'solutions' threaten people and planet

Jun 14, 2012

The targets, indicators and approaches being used to pursue progress towards sustainable development at Rio+20 are counter-productive, say scientists in a new paper. Three renowned sustainability institutes -- the STEPS Centre, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Tellus Institute -- argue in Transforming Innovation for Sustainability that global and grassroots innovations must be connected to avoid breaching planetary boundaries and reversing progress on poverty reduction.

The targets, indicators and approaches being used to pursue progress towards at Rio+20 are counter-productive, say scientists in a new paper.

Goals focussing on one-track scientific solutions to the most urgent sustainability problems fail to respond to the uncertainty and shifting dynamics of today's world. These one-direction approaches risk breaching the already weakened planetary which define a safe operating space for humanity, while undoing past progress on global poverty reduction.

Instead, sustainable futures should be plotted on a of multiple – with their directions confined by planetary boundaries. By allowing diverse types of science and innovation to co-exist, the potential for resilient solutions responding to people's varied social, economic and ecological needs would increase. Distribution - who gains and who loses from particular policies and innovations - is also critical. Fostering grassroots innovations would help to prioritise the interests of the most marginal groups.

Scientists from three renowned sustainability institutes – the STEPS Centre, Resilience Centre and Tellus Institute – argue in Transforming Innovation for that technological solutions appearing optimal from a global perspective rarely prove viable across all localities, condemning many international initiatives to failure. A radical new approach is urgently needed, linking the direction, diversity and distribution of innovation.

"Science, technology and innovation can help avert catastrophic developmental and environmental damage. But only if we move beyond outdated notions of whose innovation counts, to empower the vital contributions of poorer people's own creativity in building green and fair economies and contributing to resilient socio-techno-ecological systems," said Professor Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre.

"Until the connection is made between global and grassroots , the chances of steering away from potential earth system thresholds and keeping global societies within a safe operating space is limited," said Professor Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

The paper offers principles to guide decision-makers and suggests a new role of 'sustainability broker' to help identify grassroots innovations that respond to climate, food, biodiversity and energy crises and connect them to high-level international efforts.

Explore further: Passion for the natural world clears the waters

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

ICSU: Widen world's scientific capacities

Sep 14, 2005

In an unprecedented statement to the U.N. General Assembly, the International Council for Science has urged widening the planet's scientific capacities.

Recommended for you

Dutch unveil big plan to fight rising tides

3 hours ago

The Netherlands on Tuesday unveiled a multi-billion-euro, multi-decade plan to counter the biggest environmental threat to the low-lying European nation: surging seawater caused by global climate change.

Drought hits Brazil coffee harvest

6 hours ago

Coffee output in Brazil, the world's chief exporter, will slide this year after the worst drought in decades, agricultural agency Conab said Tuesday.

Landmark fracking study finds no water pollution

8 hours ago

The final report from a landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has found no evidence that chemicals or brine water from the gas drilling process moved upward to contaminate drinking water at one site ...

Politics divide coastal residents' views of environment

9 hours ago

From the salmon-rich waters of Southeast Alaska to the white sand beaches of Florida's Gulf Coast to Downeast Maine's lobster, lumber and tourist towns, coastal residents around the U.S. share a common characteristic: ...

User comments : 0