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24 November 2014

Social innovation and equality: keys to social-ecological transition

social-ecological transition

Europe must adopt new methods of governance that push equity and collaborative modes of consumption if the social-ecological transition is to be successful. This was the message from Olivier De Schutter, distinguished professor and former United Nations' special rapporteur on the right to food, speaking at the third ETUI conference on the social-ecological transition entitled A new climate for the EU’s sustainability transition. De Schutter called on the EU to move beyond GDP and replace top-down governance with bottom-up social innovation.

“Our current models of governance are inappropriate [for a socio-ecological transition],” said De Schutter. The EU should replace the current top-down approach, with a system that “stimulates local experimentation,” he said. This would mean looking, for example, at the best ways of reconciling family and ecological life and reducing the EU’s carbon footprint. De Schutter called for different projects already underway to be linked together, for best practice to be disseminated and for obstacles to ideas on how to realise the socio-ecological transition to be removed.

“Re-inventing EU governance based on social innovations and decentralised municipalities” is for him the best way of helping to address the challenges ahead. These include the need for the EU to rethink its model of growth, which is increasingly unsustainable, producing too much waste and too many greenhouse gases.

Downgrading consumption will make it “easier to shift to the sober lifestyles that we need,” said de Schutter. This is necessary if we are to contain global warming at internationally agreed “safe” levels. Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), demonstrated this clearly and soberly as he explained the findings of the panel’s latest report. Underlining the influence of humans on the climate and the growing risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts,” he showed how all is not yet lost. “We have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous and sustainable future,” said van Ypersele, but he warned that the window for acting is closing fast.

Economist and academic Eloi Laurent expressed his belief in the significant role that inequality plays is causing ecological damage. “Inequality matters,” he said. Only via a genuine socio-economic transition, where scientific, environmental and social movements join forces can solutions be found to the problems outlined by van Ypersele, he said. “Week after week we have new science,” but discussions about these ecological disasters are not accompanied by solutions, said Laurent. “This is very dangerous for environmental concerns because it creates anxiety among citizens who start to hate environmental scientists because they are breakers of bad news with no solutions, and so citizens stop listening,” he warned.

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