Time for a New Social Contract

Desperate times call for desperate actions, and the German Advisory Council on Global Change (Wissenschaftliche Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen) thinks that in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, people need to transform the way they live and embrace a new global social contract.

24 January 2012 | Desperate times call for desperate actions, and the German Advisory Council on Global Change (Wissenschaftliche Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltverí¤nderungen, WBGU) thinks that in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, people need to transform the way they live and embrace a new global social contract.

The organization delves into the details in “World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability”, a 424-page report that looks at everything from governance structure to the importance of change-agents for what they call “a   great transformation” to a low-carbon sustainable society.

Rather than focusing only on needed changes, the report looks at the systems and transitions already underway, including political, technological, and financial structures and individual efforts.   Then it provides strategy recommendations to move these developments forward.

Two of the key needs for the transformation, according to WBGU, are proactive states and individual responsibility.   Proactive states will need to place long-term global sustainability goals over short-term nationally focused goals.   The report provides tools for these proactive states and the international governance structures to support the dynamics of transformation already occurring—including the essential ever-growing sector of the population that understands the importance of protecting the natural environment.

Individual responsibility is really the foundation of WBGU’s approach.   Everyone has a responsibility to take actions to avert climate change—and this is where the social contract is involved: “This is, in fact, all about a new global social contract for a low-carbon and sustainable global economic system.”  

Though the report is positive about the transformations that are already happening, it does caution that the needed transformation will be challenging.   As it says, “The council also describes how the requisite transformation encompasses profound changes to infrastructure production processes, regulation systems and lifestyles, and extends to a new kind of interaction between politics, society, science and the economy.”  

One of the largest challenges is the tension between the need for the change and the desire to maintain the current systems.   The report points out that, unlike changes of the past, this transformation will be not part of a natural evolution.   Instead, governments and people need to change now to avoid disaster in the future.  

With these challenges and key points in mind, the report details 10 “measure bundles” that they believe will have major impact and accelerate the transformation to sustainability.   These range from improving the proactive state to advancing global carbon pricing to “Steering the World’s Rapid Urbanisation towards Sustainability.”  

As bilateral agreements continue to proliferate and international talks run into significant barriers, WBGU offers an alternative that relies heavily on individual responsibility to address this global process.   Instead of the governments charging ahead, they focus on governments embracing what is already happening.

Read the Full Report here

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Hannah Kett is an editorial assistant with Ecosystem Marketplace and a free-lance journalist focused on the non-profit sector.  She can be reached at hkett@ecosystemmarketplace.com.

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