Promoting ambition towards climate action will never be easy. Everybody wants change, but fewer people want to actually change themselves, and to speak of ambitious change is harder still.

Change is difficult—it implies moving from our comfort zones, our known pathways, our expected trajectories, our traditions; it implies risk, uncertainty. And today we have to internalise that even our expectations from past practices will also be uncertain—so there’s no risk-free way forward, even if we delude ourselves to the contrary. Yet even this is accepting change—in a way that goes against entrenched experience and its understood wisdom.

In our discussions regarding climate change and sustainable development, this is compounded because the issues we’re dealing with are often of enormous scales and very long time frames by our current day-to-day perspectives—so even more questions arise. Will our changes today make any difference to our lives? Can we free-ride instead? Can we do the minimum in one area, and nothing in all other areas? Will we be that much worse off if we just keep doing what we’ve been doing for a hundred years? Will we actually be better off with our effort—so will it be worth the trouble?

How do we create willing participation in a climate action regime if we have no certainty of its beneficial outcomes—although we can sometimes point to economic benefits, job creation, public health, etc., stemming from actions— but do have relative certainty in immediate costs and efforts in similar areas?

It’s clear that non-participation will fulfil the climate disaster prophesy, yet illustration of the risks isn’t deterring societies from postponing or minimising immediate actions—and the long time frames associated with climate change means that the threat of a bad future won’t affect today’s inacting actors, and this inaction today surely exacerbates future people’s problems. So warning of the future disasters simply could underline the fact that the future climate difficulties will be somebody else’s problem—this perspective doesn’t provide hope for action—and we know that the necessary near- and long-term adaptation measures won’t resolve the underlying problem.

To be successful, climate action must promote both participation in the governance-and-action regime, and continued compliance with it.

Stimulating participation and compliance against entrenched interests or common experience can be costly, as perceived risk must be overcome with tools such as subsidies or penalties—”carrots” or “sticks”—to promote participation and compliance. Both of these approaches carry a further challenge of resistance from political and economic actors, or of established supply chain and business practices, which may well be intentionally disrupted by the effects of the necessary changes.

This is complicated by the fact that many people don’t want to re-learn things, or learn a different way of doing things—they prefer reinforcement that what they already know, and the way they do things, is right—and so justify not changing. Efforts to introduce “sticks”, or compliance with “carrots” can be perceived as ways to control their “freedom”.

Independently of this stream of resistance, LbD’s econometric findings suggest that reliance on general carbon markets as a principal lever to move to a net-zero regime can be politically inviable.

In response to these well-understood conditions, LbD seeks to advance dialogue using two tools.

On the one hand, LbD seeks to frame development not with a laser focus on emissions or carbon targets, but on the development of a “good life” for a community. The tenets for “good life” go beyond sustainability and climate, including environmental and natural benefits, but also improvements in quality-of-life; the logic is quite simple—moving to electric vehicles doesn’t necessarily improve our quality of life (although air quality in cities would improve), as we may still be faced with tortuous commuting. LbD seeks to create demand for a changed development pathway not from a coercive approach, but from a societal-demand approach where broader goals beyond climate are addressed.

On the other hand, LbD also engages with participants using visual illustrations to “wind the clock forward”, to help participants visualise, compare, and contrast what a “good life” could look like in 2050, and what a dystopia could look like at that time—an anti-”good life” if you will. This approach brings an immediacy to what sustainable development is about, and broader aims beyond emissions, as illustrations of urban mobility, more convenient urbanism, and appropriate climate adaptation looks like.

Notably, visualisations of an anti-”good life” often had direct lineage to BAU from the present; this generated an important new argument for change from current practices, and motivation to participate.

Both of these elements work to provide an “end picture” determination to sustainable development pathways, which is developed by our econometric back-casting approaches to the pathways, to ensure the effectiveness of the proposed measures. These are developed under LbD processes to describe sectoral pathways and the coordination between them, describing both movements in employment, and environmental benefits—all in a context of stability in the transition that will occur as the world and its economies adjust to the effects of the Anthropocene.

Thus, in LbD we explore a different perspective to the traditional “carrots” and “sticks” approach—we consider it a more bottom-up approach to sustainable development, where broader, more desirable aims are tapped—but always with a view to the imperative of climate action and adaptation. These broader aims in turn allow a more cohesive vision of the final goals of policy, and allow actors to understand their benefits in acting in particular ways, and of a cooperative arrangement moving forward, with metrics and checks to ensure that the necessary achievements are described in advance, targeted, and met—using tools such as capacity-building, orientation, and piloting in order to facilitate demand and mitigating perceived risks.

Gilberto Arias

[email protected]