All around us a new industrial revolution is beginning. WBCSD President Bjorn Stigson calls it a "lean, mean, clean" revolution. It will be clean because we know we cannot go on polluting as we have been and maintain functioning ecosystems; it will be lean because a growing population and the need to alleviate poverty will leave us with a resource-constrained world with higher prices for food, oil and gas; and it will be mean because the transformation this revolution will bring will create winners and losers.
This revolution is happening in a world in transition: population growth shifting from developed to developing countries, along with the bulk of tomorrow's consumers; and shifting fortunes in 2005 the GDP of emerging economies outstripped that of developed economies.
Urban growth is the unstoppable revolution.
In 2050, 70% of the world's population will live in urban areas, which will require a tremendous need for infrastructure. There is already increased resource use in developing countries. But our expanding cities are not keeping pace with their infrastructure investments, thus creating an urgent demand for solutions around transport, energy, water and communications.
Yes, we have a challenge right now in the economy: we have a recession. Despite this, there is enormous growth in front of us — a great investment opportunity for business. The big sustainability issue we have is the environment.
If we are going accommodate all the people with higher standards and move them into urban areas, the impact on our planet will be very high. Business must be recognized as a committed solution provider to sustainable societies and ecosystems. And business cannot succeed without government.
Holding back progress: business & government lack a shared vision.
But government and business leaders have yet to reach a shared vision. There are clearly differences of opinion in equity (who will pay for what) and what needs to be tackled first (poverty, economic crisis, energy security ).
For example, we have a lot of the technologies that are required for a low-carbon economy and they should be deployed quickly. But, there is also a need for breakthrough technologies. And, for these we will need new public/private partnerships where governments and businesses pool their resources to develop the technologies that will be needed to bend the global emission curve downward by 2020 to 2030. Actions to develop these technologies must start now if they are going to be ready to deploy by then.
Yet the financial crisis has triggered a broader concern for both business and government about how this can be achieved. Business can supply technology, but will need functioning markets, infrastructure and regulations that work. But business needs institutions and regulations that work in order to effectively deliver solutions. We see what happens when those institutions and regulations do not work — like now in the financial sector. Here business has to contribute to the debate on what works and what doesn't.
Negotiations on this scale happen on a global level, but business generally implements on local and national levels, sometimes regionally.
It is important to keep this in mind as a lot of what is happening nowadays — moving towards a low-carbon economy, for example - is happening in cities or countries. China's movement toward a low-carbon economy has nothing to do with international negotiations. It has everything to do with what China needs as a country, locally and regionally, economically and socially.
We need to remember this in order to have a better perspective on what climate change negotiations in Copenhagen can deliver, or not deliver — and the consequences of that. But a move toward the low-carbon economy is happening, regardless of the outcome of Copenhagen, because of business' involvement on all of these geographic levels.
Sustainable development is not an idea, but a strategic imperative and it will grow even stronger as we go forward..because of the financial crisis, business is again facing more oversight from government. But this time there is a different attitude from governments: they are willing to listen to business. At the same time, public awareness of sustainable development is also growing, and increasingly influencing consumption and lifestyles.
This "lean, mean, clean" revolution will require that government and business work together and, importantly, it will require trust in that relationship.
More TreeHugger posts on urban growth.
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