3.4 Building the new ecological future

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The one thing we know for sure about the future is that it will be different from the past. It better be. More-of–the-same development is unsustainable in every sense. It is undermining the long-term prospects for growth and prosperity, and harming the lives of the poorest people right now.

Over the next decade we need a very rapid transition to a new model of prosperity, which delivers growth, which respects planetary boundaries and has equity at its heart. The outlines of the new model are already clear, but our political leaders must overcome the inertia and vested interests that could strangle it at birth.

This transition will only be possible with clear global commitments and frameworks for action, and effective policy at national and regional levels that mobilises investment and shifts the behaviour of businesses and consumers.

Equitable distribution of scarce resources

The journey to the future has begun. But we must change gear now if there is to be a happy ending. The soaring rhetoric from global summits on climate change, biodiversity and the green economy is not enough to fuel this transition. Our success or failure in making the transition to the new prosperity will depend on whether our political leaders set clear global targets on climate change, biodiversity, water and other issues, and adopt global frameworks for action that ensure a speedy and equitable transition.

The UNFCCC remains the forum to set the global framework for action on climate change, the most pressing challenge to the new prosperity. An ambitious and binding deal there will confirm that the transition is underway. The G20 can develop a consensus and use its economic and financial might to shift investment and mobilise the necessary finance. But it does not have the global membership or the structures to deliver the transition alone. The ‘Rio plus 20’ Summit in Brazil in June 2012 may provide just the opportunity required.

In the aftermath of Copenhagen, a fair, ambitious and binding global framework to tackle climate change looked a very long way off. But as climate change continues to gather pace, the momentum for a deal is growing again. It is apparent in the breathtaking speed of Chinese investment in clean energy, the determination of major European countries to unilaterally increase the EU’s greenhouse gas targets, and the important steps made to establish a global climate fund at the 2010 UNFCCC Summit in Cancun.

But the pace of the negotiations remains too slow, and their ambition too low. Many leaders in Europe, in particularly vulnerable countries, and in China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, have acknowledged that an early shift to a low-carbon economy is the low-cost path to long-term international competitiveness and environmental sustainability. The ‘Cartagena Dialogue’,154 which brought together developed and developing countries to build bridges for the UNFCCC, has mobilised countries to move together to a low-emissions future. The EU and China are in close dialogue on low-carbon pathways, building on the ambition of China’s five year plan.

Our challenge is to bring ever greater pressure to bear on these and other countries, to overcome the business lobbies that have stifled progress to date. On climate change and in other areas, we need clear global targets for action, and binding frameworks that give certainty and confidence to make these goals a reality.