Big changes are needed to achieve a sustainable economy

31 May May 2016 1728 31 May 2016

In the closing plenary session that wrapped up three days at the EFC Aga 2016 annual general assembly conference in Amsterdam, the show was stolen by those who advocate the notion that sustainability is no longer a choice.

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EFC Amsterdam
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In the closing plenary session that wrapped up three days at the EFC Aga 2016 annual general assembly conference in Amsterdam, the show was stolen by those who advocate the notion that sustainability is no longer a choice.

Over the past few decades economies and technologies have changed rapidly and profoundly, and the next few decades will see continuing transformation. New economic models, such as the sharing and circular economies, along with new actors, technologies and funding mechanisms have emerged and are being tested. As a consequence, panelists attending the “The changing economy – New opportunities to cooperate and contribute” debate at the final day of the EFC Aga 2016 annual general assembly conference in Amsterdam, were answering questions like: What are the new roles for philanthropy in this changing environment? What are their responsibilities in keeping up with change?

“The economy as we currently run it is not sustainable. Everything must change. We need big, systemic change, not incremental change” said Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, WBCSD. Mr Bakker presented aspects of “Vision 2050”, a report published by the WBCSD which lays out a sustainable pathway for nine billion people by 2050. The document, which is the result of an 18-month combined effort involving over 200 companies and external stakeholders in some 20 countries, spells out the “must haves” – the things that must happen over the coming decade to make a sustainable planetary society possible. In this vision, it was foreseen that the period until 2020 would be what was called the “turbulent teens”. The Turbulent Teens are unfolding to be a society-shaping toxic mix of economic crisis, refugees crisis, food shortage and severe climate change related events.

Sustainability is no longer a choice. On Friday, September 25, 193 world leaders adopted the SDGs at the UN General Assembly. The 17 goals are far-reaching and aspirational, and after three years of global consultation and negotiations, their adoption is a tremendous achievement. A set of goals to end poverty, feed everyone, combat inequalities and promote prosperity while protecting the environment by 2030.

As the world shifts from words to action, Bakker pointed out three big systems where foundations can make change, developing solutions that will have significant impact against key challenges by 2020: Energy,globally there is growing awareness that increased deployment of renewable energy is critical, not just for addressing climate change, but also for creating new economic opportunities”; urban development, rethink cities by creating better and more viable places to live; lastly , reduce food loss, restore degraded land and improve livelihood of small hold farmers.

Every six seconds a child dies of hunger – 18,000 per day – and yet 2 billion people in the world are obese, and a third of all food is lost or wasted. “Statistics like these make it clear that there is an urgent need for systemic change, and Philanthropic institutions can enlighten positive solutions in making the transition to a sustainable and low-carbon economy. An example? Invest in behavioural science. This will lead us to solutions for pressing issues, like climate change”. Bakker said.

The second panellist, Teresa Ribera, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), pointed out that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humankind to a new affirmation. Paris offered a global framework to boost consistent climate action. Business and investors look differently at their strategic agendas and people are more confident in society’s ability to transform their future. But the success was due to a repudiation of the “fear mood” that had surrounded the climate and development debates. “People were waiting for a tech solution to climate change but the breakthrough in Paris in 2015 was confidence and overcoming fear. Therefore, real success is yet to be proven”, she said.

According to Ribera, to achieve the SDGs by 2030, development will have to occur at twice the rate it has in the last 50 years. And foundations have an opportunity to guide the transition phase in the smartest possible way. For example, the shift from “brown” to “green” industries goes along with the need to anticipate the reconversion of territories where old industries constitute a significant share of jobs and activities for a post-coal economy. But foundations can’t do this alone.

Regarding refugees, Katherine Watson, Director of the European Cultural Foundation, shared a statement on behalf of all delegates that called for a united response to addressing the human tragedy and challenges experienced by the millions of people being forced to leave their homes and countries, due to violence, persecution, war, the effects of climate change and economic inequality. “Our Conference, entitled “Imagining and Investing in our Future”, reflects that philanthropic institutions are well-positioned to take a long-term and strategic approach to the ongoing and evolving situation of displaced people and to shift the paradigm on how we deal with migration globally”.

Finally, Ewa Kulik-Bielińska, Executive Director of the Stefan Batory Foundation and Chair of the European Foundation Centre, gave a sneak preview of next year’s conference, set to take place from 31 May to 2 June 2017 in Warsaw, and encouraged all present to mark their calendars for the event.

Photo credits: European Foundation Centre

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