SwissECS 2018: Climate Action Isn’t a Walk, It’s a Mountain Hike.

When you hear the words climate change, do you think positively or negatively about the future?

This question, asked by UNEP Champion of the Earth 2016, Leyla Acaroglu, brought home a number of core discussions at last week’s Swiss Energy and Climate Summit (#SwissECS18) in Bern. EIT Climate-KIC was among the 600 participants in SwissECS, Switzerland’s main conference for energy and climate issues, discussing the role of climate change communication and framing, digitalisation and just how radical our political roadmaps need to be for effective climate action.

According to Acaroglu, that most people think about climate negatively brings problems. Fear messaging only triggers a reaction in a small number of people. For example, when humans are put in a situation of fear they usually show three reactions: They overreact. They get numb. They run away.

Acaroglu wants, therefore, to reconfigure how we communicate about climate change, as typical reactions like, “I’m so small, the problem is so big”, are not helping anyone or solve the world’s climate problems.

Thinking about about new forms of communicating climate action might be crucial for achieving global climate targets, but it will certainly not be enough. “Today’s problems are often yesterday’s solutions”, said Acaroglu, stressing how we have  designed addictive systems (and energy is mostly their “heroin”) or how we measure success with misleading numbers like GDP (GDP goes up when there’s a hurricane and goes down when happy families don’t need to purchase anything). So, how do make sure that we don’t create tomorrow’s problems with solutions we are currently developing?

Think in systems. Collaborate. Love the problem.

Acaroglu made clear that people, organisations or legislators need to embrace the work in complexity and think in systems when it comes to effective climate action. Biofuel, for example, sounded like a good idea to many state legislators.

What did not occur to them is the world food crisis in 2017, that partly resulted in crops being sold to biofuel producers instead of the food market.  “Actually, everything is based on systems, (…) [therefore] the intersections between industrial systems and natural systems need to be carefully designed”, says Acaroglu.

A reconfiguration from a linear to a circular economy that creates business models and accounts for ecosystem services, will require lots of conversations and collaboration to be successful. And as not every solution for this new world system will be a low hanging fruit, we need to see the search for efficient technologies and policies, positively framed, as a problem we love, not a burden.  

Love the problem? Love Brexit? Love Trump?

“Love the problem. Love Brexit. Love Trump. I struggle with it,” said British sustainability leader John Elkington, who sat down with Anders Wijkman, Co-President of the Club of Rome and Chair of the EIT Climate-KIC Governing Board, to “rethink the economy” in front of a 600-strong audience, who seemed to relate with Elkington’s comment.

Elkington, who leads “Project Breakthrough” with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), a platform offering promising examples of sustainable innovation, sees communication about climate action as shifting.

While in the past the discussion was focused on costs of climate action, it now seems to be switching to the return-of-investment of climate action. Although businesses cannot be held solely responsible for making the transition to a more sustainable, net-zero carbon economic system, they have to rethink their business models, which until now seem to be based on an empty world. “As long as we earn more when we sell more, this system will fail. That’s why the circular economy approach will be important”, says Wijkman in Bern, a topic that was discussed later in a deep dive session of EIT Climate-KIC.

Understanding the long-term benefits for climate action through digitalisation (see Exponential Climate Action Roadmap) or machine learning and artificial intelligence (check out DeepMind) will be crucial to making this transformation happen. Building upon Acaroglu’s remarks on the need of systems thinking in relation to climate action, Wijkman referred to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which he believes will not be enough, if looked at one by one. We need to leave the silos and enable ministries, companies and citizens to have a new mindset that allows a systemic approach to climate action.

Anders Wijkman and John Elkington. Copyright by SwissECS

Forced radical climate action?

Fortunately, we are making progress in creating a better mindset for climate action. Twenty years ago a climate conference like the SwissECS in Switzerland would be unthinkable, said former German Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer. He added, “[translated from German] When I was born there were 2.5 billion people, when my grandchildren will be my age there will be 11 billion. We don’t think radically enough, but the development will force us to think radically.” He’s convinced that countries like China will radically change their economic systems, to benefit political and social stability. 

Put on your hiking boots. The road (map) will be rocky.

Although the SwissECS seems to be a local conference in an idyllic Swiss city, the issues and actions discussed clearly had an international scope, as the problem (that we love) has. Radical, systemic thinking and climate action is now not only something you might hear in New York-based think-tanks, but has arrived in the general discussion about the future of our planet and an effective road map towards sustainability. Because, as the President of SwissECS has framed it: “Climate action is not a walk, it’s a mountain hike.” So put on your hiking boots, climb onto that step, rocky road towards a sustainable world system and don’t overreact, don’t get numb, don’t run away.

Images: Copyright by SwissECS

 
Location
Switzerland
Related Goal
Goal 7: Recast materials production
Articles you may be interested in
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC and partners launch Massive Open Online Course on e-waste

EIT Climate-KIC, together with its partners the UN, the...

EIT Climate-KIC and partners launch Massive Open Online Course on e-waste
In The News
Five EIT Climate-KIC innovators featured in Global Cleantech 100

Five EIT Climate-KIC supported innovative ventures included in the...

Five EIT Climate-KIC innovators featured in Global Cleantech 100
In The News
The journey to zero-emissions transport – part three

The transport sector already accounts for a quarter of...

The journey to zero-emissions transport – part three
In The News
The journey to zero-emissions transport – part two

The transport sector already accounts for a quarter of...

The journey to zero-emissions transport – part two
In The News
The journey to zero-emissions transport – part one

The transport sector already accounts for a quarter of...

The journey to zero-emissions transport – part one
In The News
Malaysia and Estonia win Climathon Global Awards at ChangeNOW summit

The city of Penang, Malaysia, and a team of...

Malaysia and Estonia win Climathon Global Awards at ChangeNOW summit
Opinion
Redesigning venture capital (part III): A hypothesis
Dominic Hofstetter Transformation Capital, EIT Climate-KIC
Redesigning venture capital (part III): A hypothesis
Opinion
The Long Time
Beatrice Pembroke & Ella Saltmarshe Co-founders, The Long Time Project
The Long Time
In our community
Mariana Mazzucato on big-picture, high-ambition innovation missions
Mariana Mazzucato on big-picture, high-ambition innovation missions
In The News
Circular Cars Initiative launched at WEF Davos

The Circular Cars Initiative (CCI), supported by EIT Climate-KIC,...

Circular Cars Initiative launched at WEF Davos
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC CEO selected as a top expert to advise the European Commission

Yesterday, the European Commission announced EIT Climate-KIC CEO Kirsten...

EIT Climate-KIC CEO selected as a top expert to advise the European Commission
In our community
Net zero requires just, inclusive and radical transformations
Net zero requires just, inclusive and radical transformations
In Detail
New report: Is Germany ready for the future?

E3G´s new report “Is Germany ready for the future? The case for action in a climate-changed world.”, supported by EIT Climate-KIC, finds that Germany...

New report: Is Germany ready for the future?
Opinion
Redesigning venture capital (part II): A blueprint
Dominic Hofstetter Transformation Capital, EIT Climate-KIC
Redesigning venture capital (part II): A blueprint
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC’s work in Slovenia

Last November, the Slovenian parliament passed a motion to...

EIT Climate-KIC’s work in Slovenia
In The News
Slovenia adopts EIT Climate-KIC Circular, Regenerative Economies Deep Demonstr...

The Slovenian parliament passed a motion to adopt an...

Slovenia adopts EIT Climate-KIC Circular, Regenerative Economies Deep Demonstration
In our community
Cities in a 1.5 degree world: What is there to learn from Leuven’s May...
Cities in a 1.5 degree world: What is there to learn from Leuven’s Mayor Ridouani?
In our community
Slovenia adopts EIT Climate-KIC circular economy proposal: Q&A with Kirs...
Slovenia adopts EIT Climate-KIC circular economy proposal: Q&A with Kirsten Dunlop
Innovation Spotlight
Elemental Water Makers’ solar desalination an asset as climate change ...

EIT Climate-KIC supported Elemental Water Makers is a water desalination scale-up that’s transforming water systems by enabling...

Elemental Water Makers’ solar desalination an asset as climate change threatens clean water
Innovation Spotlight
Zolar’s household solar kit is democratising the energy sector

Energy production and consumption are the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union, accounting for 80 per cent...

Zolar’s household solar kit is democratising the energy sector
In our community
Interview with policy and governance innovation experts at Madrid and Basque...
Interview with policy and governance innovation experts at Madrid and Basque Country Universities
In The News
COP25: Measurement and attribution of climate contribution to financiers

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP25: Measurement and attribution of climate contribution to financiers
In The News
COP25: Madrid city side event

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP25: Madrid city side event
In our community
Interview about Futures Literacy with Riel Miller, Head of Foresight at UNES...
Interview about Futures Literacy with Riel Miller, Head of Foresight at UNESCO
In The News
COP25: Climate leader insights

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP25: Climate leader insights
In The News
OpenSurface land-use tracking platform launches at COP25

Pioneering AI, satellite and ground-sourced data technology drives more...

OpenSurface land-use tracking platform launches at COP25
In The News
COP25: Towards the systemic transformation

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP25: Towards the systemic transformation
In The News
Helsinki launches Climate Watch to track city’s emission reductions

The City of Helsinki recently launched the ‘Climate Watch’,...

Helsinki launches Climate Watch to track city’s emission reductions
Opinion
Moments matter*
Michelle Zucker Director, Community Activation, EIT Climate-KIC
Moments matter*
In The News
Naked Energy secures €6.17 million in funding

Naked Energy, an EIT Climate-KIC supported solar energy startup...

Naked Energy secures €6.17 million in funding