Friday, May 20, 2011

The Stockholm Memorandum: Tipping the Scales towards Sustainability

“The Earth system is complex. There are many aspects that we do not yet understand. However, we are the first generation with the insight of the new global risks facing humanity. We face the evidence that our progress as the dominant species has come at a very high price.

Unsustainable patterns of production, consumption, and population growth are challenging the resilience of the planet to support human activity. At the same time, inequalities between and within societies remain high, leaving behind billions with unmet basic human needs and disproportionate vulnerability to global environmental change.”

That was the beginning of a compelling report generated by some 20 Nobel laureates. They were called to Stockhom to draft a warning to the human race: change our ways or perish.

“Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. . . We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence.

Our predicament can only be redressed by reconnecting human development and global sustainability, moving away from the false dichotomy that places them in opposition.

In an interconnected and constrained world, in which we have a symbiotic relationship with the planet, environmental sustainability is a precondition for poverty eradication, economic development, and social justice.

Our call is for fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change and move toward fair and lasting prosperity for present and future generations.”

The group recommended a dual track approach to tackle our sustainability crisis.

“a) emergency solutions now, that begin to stop and reverse negative environmental trends and redress inequalities within the current inadequate institutional framework, and

b) long term structural solutions that gradually change values, institutions and policy frameworks. We need to support our ability to innovate, adapt, and learn.”

Specifically, the group pointed out our problems with

“[u]nequal distribution of the benefits of economic development are at the root of poverty. . . more than a third of the world’s population still live on less than $2 per day. . . Environment and development must go hand in hand."

They recognized our challenges of social inequity and proposed to:

“Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, in the spirit of the Millennium Declaration, recognising that global sustainability is a precondition of success; and

[a]dopt a global contract between industrialized and developing countries to scale up investment in approaches that integrate poverty reduction, climate stabilization, and ecosystem stewardship.”

Let’s not forget that the best way of achieving a global scale sustainability, we need to localize investments to integrate poverty education in a distributed way utilizing social technology – invest locally and connect globally.

The group then proposed some basic steps to cure our climate change and they emphasized again on the importance of energy access in equity on a global scale:

“Keep global warming below 2oC, implying a peak in global CO2 emissions no later than 2015 and recognise that even a warming of 2oC carries a very high risk of serious impacts and the need for major adaptation efforts.

Put a sufficiently high price on carbon and deliver the G-20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, using these funds to contribute to the several hundred billion US dollars per year needed to scale up investments in renewable energy.”

I am glad to see the group focused on a paradigm shift in our consumption – something I think is fundamental and critical to address in any sustainability assessment:

“We must transform the way we use energy and materials. In practice this means massive efforts to enhance energy efficiency and resource productivity, avoiding unintended secondary consequences. The “throw away concept” must give way to systematic efforts to develop circular material flows.”

The group recommended that we:

“Introduce strict resource efficiency standards to enable a decoupling of economic growth from resource use.

“Develop new business models, based on radically improved energy and material efficiency.”

I would like to add that we also implement a labeling standard to let our consumers know just exactly how efficient and sustainable is the product they are buying.

Finally, the group addressed one of the most important problem of our time, the access to food when we seem to have a production surplus:

“Current food production systems are often unsustainable, inefficient and wasteful, and increasingly threatened by dwindling oil and phosphorus resources, financial speculation, and climate impacts. This is already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today. We can no longer afford the massive loss of biodiversity and reduction in carbon sinks when ecosystems are converted into cropland.”

The group recommend that we:

“Foster a new agricultural revolution where more food is produced in a sustainable way on current agricultural land and within safe boundaries of water resources.

Fund appropriate sustainable agricultural technology to deliver significant yield increases on small farms in developing countries.”

I am a home grower, so I also want us to start really think about distributed (localized) farming. Because Lauren and I don’t use chemicals and pesticides, and instead we labor to make sure our produce are health and plentiful. I think if enough people took up a hand to grow, we can exchange some of our labor for pollution reduction and alleviate our food problem. Again, grow locally, impact globally.

There are a number of other important recommendations the group made including: rethink the conventional model of economic development, reducing human pressures and consumerism, reforming multilateral system to cope with “transforming humanity’s relationship with the planet and rebuilding trust between people and nations,” and finally filling public knowledge gaps and deepening our understanding to find solutions.

“We are the first generation facing the evidence of global change. It therefore falls upon us to change our relationship with the planet, in order to tip the scales towards a sustainable world for future generations.”

Click here to download a PDF version of the full report.

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