In 2013 concentrations of carbon dioxide increased at their fastest rate for 30 years, and we have seen rising shocks and stresses such as drought, flooding, pollution and land degradation damaging people’s lives and livelihoods. While the problem is clear, the solution is less so, and the lack of faith that anything meaningful can be done has bred pessimism amongst the public, and perhaps a feeling on the part of politicians that being seen as ‘green’ is now a vote-loser.
The problem needs to radically reframed. Rather than being seen as a cost we will have to bear, a ‘green transformation’ the process of re-structuring economies and societies to be sustainable – is an opportunity to invigorate economic and social life and enhance wellbeing, particularly at the community level. This could be a big vote-winner, where the debate is moved beyond old arguments that pitch private against public sectors, developed against developing nations and economic growth against sustainability.
As well as being more compelling, a positive story can also draw on real innovations that are happening now in many countries across the world. Many of the most exciting examples of change are taking place in low- and middle-income countries and there is a real opportunity for us to learn from these experiences, adapting the best and most promising to the UK context. We need to acknowledge that there are no easy answers and remain cautious about ‘blueprints’, ‘models’ and easy ‘transfers’ from ‘success’ stories. Nevertheless, examples from around the world show what greener, fairer societies and economies could look like, how they could deliver for their citizens, and how a politics of alliance building could help make these a reality.
In 2015 a new climate change framework and set of global sustainable development goals (SDGs) are due to be agreed. A window of opportunity exists to re-set the world on a more sustainable course. The chances of this happening will be much greater if the debate is reframed in terms of positive change that emphasises the potential benefits for employment, local economies and wellbeing. As a traditional leader in the global debate on the environment, the UK has a critical role to play in both areas.