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Opportunity For Transformation Is Not Yet Lost

we need to transform the energy market and replace fossil fuels with clean energy sources, improve energy and material efficiency, stop dumping our garbage in soil, rivers and oceans, but instead learn how to reuse materials in a circular economy and grow food in a way that does not destroy the soil and waters we depend on

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Industrial-era innovations and ideas have brought enormous betterments to vast numbers of people around the world. Indeed, never before has humanity enjoyed so much prosperity on such a large scale. And hundreds of million more people stand a good chance of escaping poverty and enjoying the fruits of industrialisation in the years to come.  Yet, we know that our current system is not future-fit. On the contrary, there is now overwhelming evidence that business as usual – the way we produce and what and how we consume – will with scientific certainty destroy the very foundations that support life on earth as we know it.

We know what is required to change course and we already have the means to make it happen: we need to transform the energy market and replace fossil fuels with clean energy sources, improve energy and material efficiency, stop dumping our garbage in soil, rivers and oceans, but instead learn how to reuse materials in a circular economy and grow food in a way that does not destroy the soil and waters we depend on. At the same time, we need to embed universal principles of humanity such as those  advanced by the UN Global Compact into strategies and operations to protect the thin blanket of civilisation.

There has already been encouraging progress in some areas, often led by corporations and supported by concerned citizens and civil society organisations who understand the writing on the wall: outsourcing unethical or hazardous work; treating workers only through the cost lens; externalising environmental impacts; and ignoring digitalisation and transparency or fundamental ethical standards is not a foundation for success. But the transformation of markets is slow. Take the example of energy: yes, we have seen quite a spectacular rise of renewable energy sources and a steep decline in the cost of solar and wind energy (70 per cent for solar and 25 per cent for wind between the years 2000 and 2016).  And it is encouraging that for the second consecutive year, new investments in clean power generation have been higher than new investments in fossil fuel power generation. Nevertheless, given the growing demand for energy, the slow spread of new solutions, and the long life cycle of capital stocks, the latest projections by the International Energy Agency are truly sobering: fossil fuel is predicted to account for 75 per cent of total energy consumption by 2040 as compared to 81 per cent today. Just in Southeast Asia alone, over 350 coal-fired power plants are under construction. A similar picture emerges in other critical areas where, according to scientists, the human impact on the natural environment has been causing irreversible damage. Despite many good efforts to the contrary, we are on track for depleting much of our water reserves, poisoning oceans and soil, destroying forests, and killing animals and biodiversity on an unprecedented scale.

The big race to transform markets is not yet lost.  As the impact of climate change is increasingly felt, we can expect governments to change their policies, to phase out support for fossil fuel, and to put a price on carbon high enough to redirect investments towards future-fit solutions. They will ultimately recognise that building carbon dictatorships and walls that protect the wealthy is short-sighted and ineffective. Ultimately, climate change will force humanity to focus our attention, resources, and ingenuity with a clear purpose. This may well unite humanity and help us overcome the dark forces of militarism and ethnic chauvinism. People will change their life styles and value systems. For example, they will embrace healthier, plant-based food and no longer eat animals or waste water and dump garbage into oceans and rivers.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Georg Kell

The author is Founder, United Nations Global Compact and Chairman, Arabesque

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