Translating local practices and perspectives into additional synthesized measures
A substantial portion of solutions did not fit neatly into the four pre-defined categories of measures that had been used in the GEO-6 IAM analysis (see van Vuuren et al 2019), and so a fifth cluster of measure categories (“Additional regional and bottom-up interventions”) was created based on the solutions found in the bottom-up analysis (see “Additional regional and bottom-up interventions” in Figs. 1, 2, 3). These will be further discussed in Sect. 3.5, but a key result of this was that nine new measures were developed and coded as part of the analysis:
Monitoring and reporting: innovations to improve the monitoring and reporting of environmental conditions, including citizen science initiatives.
Circular economy: innovations that involve the increased efficiency of resource use, specifically through new business models that better engage with the issue of waste products of other production processes (see Ghisellini et al. 2016).
Sharing economy: innovations related to the peer-to-peer sharing of goods and services, primarily through information and communications technology (ICT) platforms (see Hamari et al. 2016).
Plastic and solid waste reduction: innovations that help to reduce plastic and solid waste.
Awareness and skills building: education related to sustainability and environmental issues to improve public awareness and build relevant skills.
Gender equality: solutions that promote the fair treatment of all genders, including female empowerment and considerations of gender equity.
Smart cities for sustainability: smart cities use modern digital technologies, such as apps for mobile phones, to engage and connect citizens in addressing their key sustainability challenges, such as city transportation, consumption patterns, energy, nutrition, water and waste.
Ecosystem restoration: the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed. Although this category would fit well under the agriculture, food, land and biodiversity cluster, it is considered as a separate category here due to the emphasis on this intervention in the reports. In future assessments, it could be adapted to refer to nature-based solutions, encapsulating those relevant innovations that draw on indigenous knowledge and ecological infrastructure.
Effective governance: solutions to improve regional cooperation, and harmonization across scales, including to improve the management of interlinkages and tele-coupling between systems to reduce interregional inequalities.
Due to the limits on workshop geography and CoLab submissions (see Appendix 1), the participatory analysis is not representative of all on-the-ground solutions globally. However, it does provide an indication of how this complementarity of online and in-person participatory processes could be more broadly implemented in future environmental assessments.
Findings from participatory workshops
The participatory Seeds workshops and Climate CoLab crowdsourcing highlighted the diversity of solutions found globally. These initiatives were identified as concrete examples of typical solutions in each of the measure categories used by the IAM analysis (see van Vuuren et al. 2019). They also challenged some of the assumptions on how change happens within top-down models by providing alternative mechanisms for achieving impact, and highlighted the interrelated trends of SDGs, their potential synergies, and the role of diverse actors in achieving the 2030 Agenda. Most of the suggested solutions with transformative potential to enhance human wellbeing or promote environmental conservation were focused on interventions and initiatives that could be implemented in the global South, with a focus on Asia and Africa (Appendix 1). Few proposals focused on interventions that could address the cause of some of the drivers of change stemming from the global North (e.g. solutions for curbing high GHG emitting nations, or unsustainable consumption practices) highlighting an imbalance in terms of where the burden for implementing change is suggested to happen.
The analysis of the Seeds contributed during the GEO-6 participatory workshops showed strong representation of the energy, climate and air cluster, particularly linked to SDGs 7, 11 and 13. Specific interventions within the cluster are detailed in Fig. 1, with popular interventions related to low/zero emissions, behaviour change, energy efficiency and (to a lesser degree) energy access (For a more detailed heatmap for individual measure, see Appendix 2, Fig. 1). The Seeds showed strong representation in the fifth “Additional” cluster (i.e. measure not identified in the top-down IAM). The most prominent of these measures included: awareness and skills building, monitoring and reporting, plastics and consumer waste reduction, and circular economy, with the strongest links to SDGs 11 and 12, and slightly less strong links to SDGs 3 and 13 (Fig. 1). There was modest interest in the agriculture, food, land and biodiversity cluster, with the strongest interventions relating to diet change and protection of terrestrial ecosystems.
The Climate CoLab proposals were quite different from the Seed groupings from the GEO-6 participatory workshops. In the Climate CoLab proposals, the Agriculture, Food, Land and Biodiversity cluster was much more prominent (Fig. 2), with many proposals targeting food access and minimizing land damage (For a more detailed heatmap by individual measure, see Appendix 2, Fig. 2). The proposals also focused heavily on poverty alleviation. SDGs 1, 2, 3 and 13 emerge as strongly linked across many proposals (Fig. 2). Comparatively, few Climate CoLab proposals had interventions relating to energy, climate and air despite strong representation of SDG 13 (climate action). Gender equality emerged as a strong intervention in Climate CoLab proposals compared with the Seeds, but it was not strongly related to any other SDG. Awareness and skills building in the “Additional” cluster, was strongly represented in both the seeds and Climate CoLab proposals. Neither the Seeds nor the CoLab proposals produced any substantial focus on the merged cluster for freshwater and oceans, although this gap is partially addressed in the analysis of the regional assessments.
The most frequently occurring interventions in the GEO regional assessments were low/zero-emission technologies, the protection of terrestrial biodiversity, effective governance, skills and awareness building, and monitoring and reporting (Fig. 3 For a more detailed heatmap by individual measure, see Appendix 2, Fig. 3). They highlighted roughly similar proportions of interventions across regions in the energy, climate and air cluster and in the agriculture, food, land and biodiversity cluster. The interventions in the combined cluster for fresh water and oceans shows only slightly less prevalence (Fig. 3). There was a marked absence of interventions that directly addressed the human well-being cluster, especially related to poverty alleviation (unlike the Climate CoLab proposals in which this cluster was strongly emphasized). There was also evidence of gaps across the regions with reference to a sharing economy and gender equality.
Elaboration on additional measures
As mentioned above, nine additional measures (included as the “Additional” cluster) were identified from the participatory GEO-6 processes and the review of the Regional Assessments, which had not been included in the IAM analysis (van Vuuren et al 2019). For Seeds and CoLab proposals, the measures that were coded across both “additional” and at least one of the four main clusters, some preliminary patterns emerged, although the sample sizes were small. For Seeds, the most common cluster to be paired with “additional” measures was energy, climate and air, with Seeds linking this cluster to monitoring and reporting, smart cities, and awareness and skills building (Fig. 4). Gender equality appeared in only two Seeds and neither of these was linked to any of the four main clusters. In contrast, in the Climate CoLab proposals, gender equality, and awareness and skills building emerged as one of the strongest intervention categories and appeared in various proposals paired with all of the four main clusters. These CoLab proposals ranged in their suggestions from a mentoring network for women to female economic empowerment through activities like beekeeping. Agriculture, food, land and biodiversity emerged as the strongest cluster paired with various “other” interventions.
Of the nine additional interventions, two effective governance, and awareness and skills building were highlighted as important interventions across all six regional assessments. The regional assessments indicated the need to involve a diverse range of actors in seeking transformative solutions to achieve sustainable development, and all emphasized the need to develop new collaborations between business, government and civil society. In addition to these commonalities, the assessments strongly reflected region-specific issues.
In North America, the identified governance and capacity-building needs focused on integrated forward-looking approaches that leveraged new technologies and citizen science in monitoring and reporting that would ultimately internalize environmental costs in the economy. Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean emphasized effective implementation and regulation to prevent further habitat loss and land degradation, focusing strongly on policies that strengthen equitable land ownership and sustainable use of natural resources. Europe, and Asia and the Pacific strongly emphasized regional policy integration and cooperation. However, the outlook for Europe focused its policy coordination around encouraging sustainable lifestyles, while Asia and the Pacific emphasized coordination as an adaptation response in disaster risk reduction. In West Asia, the dominant governance issue was peace and security. Only three assessments (Africa, Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean) emphasized the need for global governance in addressing tele-coupling aspects that transfer the impacts of production and consumption to other regions. This limited consideration of interregional impacts, particularly from major regions of consumption such as North America and parts of Asia and the Pacific, is concerning and we suggest should be included as an explicit criterion in future regional assessments.
While monitoring and reporting was a strongly represented measure in Seeds, it was far less prevalent in Climate CoLab proposals. In the regional assessments, it was emphasized by all regions except Europe, with a focus on the use of new technologies and citizen science to monitor future trends and report on sustainable development outcomes. Ecosystem restoration was also important in the regional assessments, but the focus differed in each region. In North America, restoration was considered important for improved water-quality management, while in West Asia restoration strongly focused on coastal marine ecosystems as a strategy to reduce disaster risk. In Europe, restoration was an integrative pathway to realizing multiple goals for biodiversity conservation, reinvigorating abandoned farmlands, reducing nitrogen and GHG emissions, and the mental and physical health benefits of restoring blue-green infrastructure.
Finally, there are clear indications from the bottom-up initiatives that circular economies and smart cities for sustainability represent emerging opportunities that can be leveraged as integrated and synergistic approaches to achieve sustainable futures. The contribution of the sharing and circular economies highlights innovations that boost the energy cluster, and also address production and consumption challenges in the agriculture, food, land and biodiversity cluster. These results also point to the richness of information provided by these bottom-up and participatory approaches that would not have been attained by traditional global assessments methods and associated scenarios.
Commonalities across food and urban systems
Based on the number of interventions that emerged from the bottom-up analysis, it became clear that the food system and urban systems were two very important areas for effecting transformative change. Here we describe cross-cutting interventions for sustainability from all three data collections in these two sub-systems.
The food system is a key cross-cutting issue due to its wide-ranging environmental impacts (Gordon et al. 2017, Willett et al. 2019). A focus on food related interventions, therefore, emerged organically in the stakeholder engagement and crowdsourcing initiatives, in which 27 out of the 156 workshop-collected seeds and 11 out of the 34 Climate CoLab finalists’ proposals related directly to food.
Several of the Seed workshops and CoLab proposals related to dietary change, specifically advocating increased uptake of and support for vegetarian and vegan diets. Such diets are widely understood to demand less land, water and energy than meat-based diets (Pimentel and Pimentel 2003), although regionally appropriate livestock rearing on pasture can be sustainable (Eisler et al. 2014). Others related to alternative farming methods (e.g. urban agriculture, rooftop farms, agroforestry) that could potentially have a positive impact on food security while reducing dependence on land and/or water resources. While the dominant focus of the Climate CoLab proposals was climate change, about one-third were still related to the food system. Proposed solutions ranged from broad-scope, global interventions such as a network of “tens of thousands of food forests” through to targeted interventions such as improving moisture-retention capacity of soils in drought-affected parts of Africa. The prominence of food in these bottom-up scenarios shows a clear willingness to embrace changes in the food system, suggesting a degree of public awareness of the necessity of change implied by top–down modelled scenarios.
Some of the proposed interventions represent game-changers that potentially alter the way model-based food-production scenarios are developed. For example, modelled links between population, meat consumption, average agricultural yields and land use could be reimagined in light of widespread reuse of food waste for nutrient recovery (Cordell et al. 2011), while regenerative, ecological and multifunctional agriculture systems have the potential to both increase and diversify yields (Horlings and Marsden 2011). In addition, radical models of optimized hypothetical diets have also been presented in the literature (Ward et al. 2014), and could alter the conventional specification in top-down scenarios of a rigid relationship between humans and land use.
The participatory results focused to a large extent on improving urban environments, with SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) mentioned often, by 38% of all seeds workshop participants and half of all climate CoLab proposals. Analysis of these results also showed a variety of SDG synergies, supporting the idea of urbanization being a cross-cutting issue in which solutions can have multiple co-benefits. Seeds addressing SDG 11 had large synergies for addressing SDGs 3, 9, 12 and 13. Climate CoLab proposals also indicated several synergies with SDG 11, including for SDGs 3, 12, 13 and 17. These coding results were further reflected in the descriptions of relevant Seeds and proposals, as many spoke of a variety of co-benefits for urban-based solutions.
Urban-related Seeds often focused on empowering citizens using online platforms and smartphone applications (apps). Some apps focused on allowing users to monitor and report their energy usage, air and water pollution, to identify plant species (biodiversity knowledge and awareness), and more. A core aspect of these apps was to enable data-based action in addition to educating users. An app to monitor energy consumption incorporated monetary incentives to change electricity use habits, and an app to monitor water quality connected directly to relevant municipal water agencies. Urban seeds also focused on infrastructure, particularly on developing green infrastructure through green roofs, community gardens and green building standards more generally.
In all four workshops, seeds-based visions often coalesced around sustainable cities or communities. Urban areas were imagined in which buildings are fitted with solar panels and/or green roofs, are built with sustainable materials, and make use of smart technologies to minimize energy usage. Pathways to sustainable futures often included setting aside spaces and providing infrastructure to enable urban agriculture, the products of which could be used for food as well as for sustainable consumer goods such as biodegradable or edible cutlery. One pathway focused specifically on an international cities platform that allows for environmental data and actions to be aggregated internationally, and to be used by citizens to learn and engage in sustainable community actions.
Linking interventions and bottom-up pathways to enabling conditions for transformative change
The results presented above identify the nature of solutions needed, but these solutions do not necessarily imply transformative change. To achieve change at appropriate scale (local, region, nation), solutions need to be cognizant of and address the enabling and disruptive conditions that play a role in system transformations.
Sections 3.6.1. and 3.6.2. introduce categories of enabling and disruptive conditions for transformations based on a framework outlined by Kivimaa and Kern (2016). The categories are described in more detail with further examples from the literature, followed by references to the relevant workshop seeds and Climate CoLab proposals.
Enabling conditions for creating innovation
Establishing and supporting markets for innovations
Governance for transformations should involve establishing and supporting new markets for innovations. This consists of policies like regulations, tax exemptions, deployment subsidies and labelling. For example, agroecological innovations and building markets for indigenous foods are being recognised as increasingly important for meeting food and nutrition security needs whilst improving the sustainability of the food system (Tomich et al. 2011; Akinola et al. 2020).
Some seeds and CoLab proposals mentioned creating and expanding markets such as an ethical fashion industry, and many others looked at innovations related to new and growing markets within the circular and sharing economies. Although there are strong arguments that a focus on a circular economy in the fashion industry risks addressing only material concerns and not taking into account the broader social-ecological system implications (Palm et al 2021). These changes may require market-supporting policies like the labelling of fashion projects that meet certain standards, and subsidies that make niche innovations (e.g. in reusing waste) more affordable for consumers. Policymakers and stakeholders should explore how more sustainable markets related to identified innovations can be supported until they become the norm.
Supporting innovation experimentation and learning
Learning and experimentation includes support for research and development, deployment and demonstration, policies that stimulate entrepreneurship, incubators, low-interest loans, venture capital and supportive regulatory conditions. For example, national contexts for fostering innovation and technology uptake of rapidly emerging phenomenon such as pay-as-you-go digitally enabled business models in Africa that have had significant early success in providing poor people with access to technologies relevant to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) (e.g., for electricity access, water and sanitation, and agricultural irrigation) (Ockwell et al. 2019).
Not many seeds and CoLab proposals specifically addressed experimentation and learning support, although one Seed was an innovation lab focused on sustainable innovations at the local level.
Financial resource mobilization
Financial resource support is the mobilization of financial capital through funding mechanisms, low-interest loans and venture capital. For example, improved information on climate change risks, reforms that recognize the value and benefits of long-term investment strategies, and financial reporting requirements on climate can all help enable increased private and public sector investments (Clark et al. 2018).
A large number of seeds and climate CoLab proposals identified a need for greater financial mobilization including the mobilization of domestic funds; the Inga Foundation’s proposal seeks international funding, Govardhan Ecovillage proposes a Green Innovations Fund, and “Framework for Community-based Sustainable Development” mentions a need for developed countries to transfer financial resources (and technological expertise) to less developed countries (See Appendix 1). Some climate CoLab proposals were more in depth, calling for incentives for the elderly to work, incentives for developing carbon sinks, subsidies for organic farmers, and incentives/subsidies for individuals, cooperatives, and businesses supporting composting of urban solid waste.
Human resource mobilization
Human resource support is the mobilization of human capital, e.g. through education and labour policies. For example, facilitating youth involvement in agriculture and providing skills and resources is important for achieving sustainable development (Metelerkamp et al. 2020).
Human resource mobilization was a salient theme within the seeds and CoLab proposals, particularly the role of educating and engaging people on environmental issues. There were a large number of awareness, knowledge, and skills development solutions, all of which help to mobilize people towards actioning transformations. Seeds-based visions from all workshops also listed public awareness as a key component of realizing the participants’ imagined sustainable futures. Exciting examples of human resource mobilization included educating the youth to work on climate issues through the ‘Youth Climate Leaders’ and “Youth Informing Communities on Climate Change Adaptation through building homes” Climate CoLab proposals, and the many app-based solutions that make environmental engagement accessible.
Disruptive conditions to destabilise incumbents’
Control policies and rules reform
Control policies are taxes, trade restrictions and regulations that can be instituted by government actors to make existing processes less profitable or more sustainable. Rules reform consisting of radical policy reforms and changes in overarching rule structures. For example, control policies such as the EU emissions trading scheme help internalize environmental costs of carbon emissions and help level the playing field for niche innovations (Kivimaa and Kern 2016). It is important to acknowledge that transformations usually have winners and losers (Geels 2014). As such, for every new innovation there are displacements that can be promoted through control policies (and should be explored), although such policies should consider their wider implications as they can have unintended consequences.
Seeds and CoLab proposals related to control policies included introducing limits on plastic, reducing red meat from diets, and bans and taxes on plastic packaging. A few Seeds and CoLab proposals suggested entirely new rule structures to promote sustainability, such as embracing the concept of a wellbeing economy, lowering age requirements for voting for elected officials, introducing new financial systems that incorporate the value of the environment, and expanding the circular economy with extended producer responsibility.
Reduction in existing regime support
The removal of supporting conditions that have allowed for the existing, problematic structures to be successful. For example, redirection of capital towards more sustainable practices: loan covenants, stock exchange listing rules, and shareholder activism could have profound impact on improving the sustainability of the seafood industry (Jouffray et al. 2019).
Solutions that tackled the conditions that make existing systems successful mostly focused on informing and engaging people on why the existing structures are problematic and how to do things differently. For example, many apps looked at education of users for how to improve their lifestyle to be environmentally friendly, and to promote programmes such as ‘No Straw Tuesdays’ aimed to challenge the excessive use of straws and plastics more broadly. Although there is significant potential in using finance to enable systemic change, no specific proposals along these lines were raised by participants, which reinforces the importance of having a wide range of expertise in participatory workshops.
Changes in networks and key actors
The replacement of incumbent actors and the breaking of powerful actor-network structures in favour of new actors and networks more favourable to the desired transformations. For example, redefining social roles within communities and governance structures through novel forms of collective action, cooperatives, and associations; enabling new relationships that create space for grassroot initiatives and bottom-up solutions (Wolfram 2018).
Several seeds pathways and climate CoLab proposal finalists referenced changing current actor relations, specifically through building collaborative environments and new, involved networks of stakeholders. Decentralized power and action in large networks were key components of many Seeds. One climate CoLab proposal, ‘C’SQUARE’ reflected the trend found in Seeds pathways and mentioned the need to empower and mobilize citizens to gather their opinions to improve urban areas. Its success was dependent on strong partners and collaborations.