Transforming Innovation for Sustainability

This coming week I am giving two talks at conferences that seek to contribute answers to the question “how to feed 9 billion people by 2050”.

The first conference will be in Amsterdam, and is called “Towards an ecology intensive agriculture: learning from nature“. I am giving a Pecha Kucha talk (6:20 minute talk with 20 slides that change automatically every 20 seconds) called “Governing the Doughnut”.

The talk starts from Kate Raworth’s idea of the doughnut of social and planetary boundaries. Then, making use of transformation theory, which highlights the key role of governance in (dis)empowering socio-ecological transformation, I try to reflect (in 6 minutes!!!) on what we can do as scientists to support governance arrangements that can in turn support multiple pathways inside the doughnut (i.e., safe and just operating space).

The argument I make is particularly influenced by the work of:

In preparation, I am re-reading a commentary developed by scholars at the STEPS Centre, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Tellus Institute.

The article is called “Transforming Innovation for Sustainability”.

In the article, the authors argue that the 3Ds of direction, diversity and distribution, along with “sustainability brokering” can help to guide the analysis and decision-making processes we need to ensure a sustainable future.

They make a strong case for equity to be a  “core pillar of of world prosperity in an environmentally constrained planet” and that “business as usual is not an option; even a strong, sustained program of policy adjustments may be insufficient to counter harmful trends.”

They reiterate the urgency for transformation not only in policies and technologies but also across modes of innovation. They highlight that while there is agreement on the urgency of the addressing current planetary challenges, most actors have settled on solutions that rely on combinations of top-down policies (at multiple scales) which rely on “political will”.  They warn that such “top-down” policy proposals are often coupled with particular forms of technological fixes, which are packaged as solutions and rolled out. But they question if such approaches are enough. They call for a reconnection across local initiatives and global processes so as to find a safe operating space for humanity, from the bottom up. They argue this can best happen by embracing local action in multi-scale approaches.

They conclude:

Looking across these dimensions—the “three Ds” of Direction, Diversity, and Distribution—it becomes clear that defining and navigating the particularities of sustainability ultimately reflect political values and choices, as much as scientific and technical ones. … broad calls for integration need to be underpinned by finer-grained attention to what sort of sustainability and development are being pursued, for whom and how, and what this implies for improved stewardship of our planet. This brings further and ultimately more fundamental sociopolitical and justice questions to bear, concerning how such choices are made in relation to what values, by real decision makers in particular social and political contexts, and their implications for ecosystem stewardship and sustainability…

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