The Economist Group has announced a new corporate mission: the pursuit of progress for individuals, organisations and the world. We are excited to launch The Sustainability Project as a new kind of platform for engagement, analysis and debate, convening and actively engaging global stakeholders with the power to effect real change. And this real change is urgently needed.
A new sense of urgency
The 2020s are the decade of action: we have “ten years to transform our world” and make decisive progress on the UN’s Sustainable Developments Goals. Action is required on many fronts.
In August 2021 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered its starkest warning yet about climate change. Its latest report found that the Earth is already 1.1°C hotter than during pre-industrial levels. Without unprecedented commitment and coordination across governments, businesses and society, keeping warming below the Paris Agreement’s 2°C target (let alone the more ambitious 1.5°C target) will be unattainable. Moreover, there is still a huge gap in investment in measures to boost adaptation and resilience.
Meanwhile, biodiversity loss is accelerating. The monitored population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians declined by an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity has called nature “our most precious asset."
Beyond the intertwined challenges of climate change and nature loss, the world also faces a growing need to build resilient and equitable economic systems. Unprecedented levels of investment in the post-Covid economic recovery offer an opportunity to shift investment into sustainable development. However, fully circular economies are still aspirational—for example, only 14-18% of global plastic waste is recycled.
The social dimensions of sustainability are increasingly in the spotlight, but they remain neglected. Climate impacts are felt most acutely by communities that are already disproportionately vulnerable to economic, health and related risks. However, there are serious doubts about whether the necessary climate-adaptation finance is actually reaching these at-risk communities, and whether there’s enough local input to make it truly effective.
To help address these challenges, we need to create new models for partnership and collaboration that leverage our collective strengths to create the sustainable future we all believe is possible. Enter The Sustainability Project.
The Sustainability Project comprises five pillars. Progress on these pillars—individually and in an integrated manner—will be central to achieving true transformation during the decade of action.
Net-Zero & Energy: How to achieve ambitious pledges and goals
Resilience & Adaptation: How to get ready for environmental and social change
Circular Economies: How to create sustainable economic systems
Ecosystems & Resources: How to regenerate ecosystems
Social Sustainability: How to strengthen the social fabric, trust and inclusiveness
Realising net-zero by 2050 requires scaling technologies for low-carbon energy, efficiency, industrial-process emissions and carbon removal, as well as transformational change in areas such as skills, green finance and business models.
Climate change and environmental degradation are already a fact of life. Investing in resilient infrastructure, nature-based solutions and capable warning systems can help the world adapt to a changing climate today, while managing rising instances of extreme weather. Investments of US$280bn-500bn are required annually by 2050 to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The Earth’s resources are precious and finite. Reusing, repurposing and recycling materials takes the pressure off natural systems, while reducing pollution and waste across supply chains. In sectors such as fast-moving consumer goods (FCMG), a circular economy could create material savings worth around US$700bn globally per year. Innovation will be key, for example in areas such as advanced recycling technologies. Smart cities and intelligent business practices will also be critical to closing the systemic loop.
Climate change and biodiversity loss are disrupting the ecosystems that underpin human existence. Protecting the environment and regenerating ecosystems contributes to healthier lives and makes possible the innovations needed for a thriving future economy. Business and finance will have a critical role in closing the US$4.1trn financing gap in nature by 2050.
Tackling the social dimensions of the climate and biodiversity crises will be crucial to generate the wider support needed for transformative change. Ensuring trustworthy institutions that prioritise accountability, inclusivity and a fair distribution of political and economic power will help shape a healthier, equitable—and ultimately more prosperous—world. Measuring social impact will be vital in accelerating this shift, as will public-procurement strategies that can address social inequalities.
Levers of change
Finance: The funding required for the decade of transformation (and beyond) is significant. However, the business opportunities in terms of creating new products, services, partnerships and jobs are huge, too. The finance sector must play a major role. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, chaired by Mark Carney, UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance, is just one example of an initiative already unlocking the funding that is needed.
Governance: Policymakers have a crucial role to play in establishing the framework for progress. Setting ambitious targets is one thing, but providing a conducive policy and regulatory framework is equally important. We can see this in a complex area such as food sustainability, where governments must do more to incorporate climate change into agricultural policy and dietary guidelines. But there are also opportunities, for example through better public-private sector partnerships. Meanwhile, corporate governance also needs to be strengthened to ensure that boards are able to develop robust and credible sustainability strategies
Innovation: With the right governance frameworks and financial incentives in place, innovation will be able to thrive. But for that we need bold innovators in areas such as advanced recycling technologies and the transition to electric vehicles. We know from initiatives such as our very own Ocean Changemakers Challenge that there is a multitude of exciting ideas to solve sustainability challenges while also providing commercial opportunities, but the challenge is bringing the right people together at the right time.
Based on our five pillars and three levers of change, we are bringing together a community of leaders in business, finance, policy and civil society to effect the real change we need to see in this decade of transformation and beyond. From our research and reports to our events and advisory boards, we will be harnessing Economist Impact’s unique capabilities to bring The Sustainability Project to life.
Join the community. Lead the change. The time to act is now.