How we can create an economy that values nature and people first

The world is facing a paradigm and systems shift that challenges business as usual and calls for new and radical collaboration. Global Commons Alliance recently joined the Capitals Coalition’s community of business, finance and civil society leaders in Paris to plan the critical steps that will get us there – for a safe, just future that values nature and people first.

“Our economies are increasingly being shaped by the impacts of climate change, nature loss, and societal disruption. As such, the continued success of businesses will now depend on their ability to effectively manage their impacts and dependencies on nature, people, communities, and broader societal structures.”

Economists and business leaders understand that our global economic system must rapidly evolve to support safe and healthy societies during the climate and nature emergency. But it is challenging to map out what this looks like in practice.

Global Commons Alliance had the opportunity to begin piecing this vision together when earlier this month Jane Madgwick, Executive Director and Gerard Bos, Event and Partnership Coordinator, traveled to Paris to join an invite-only event organized by the Capitals Coalition and supported by S&P Global Sustainable1 to discuss challenges in integrating nature and people into decision-making.

Here more than 90 participants from across the corporate, finance, government and civil society sectors discussed the importance of sustainable and just decision-making, as well as incentive structures, and the risks and opportunities that exist for organizations in supporting the global systems shift.

“No one citizen, company, city or country can solve this universal challenge alone. Existing institutions and societies were not designed to tackle such a vast problem. The role of Global Commons Alliance is vital in offering joined-up actions and solutions at scale, through its unique network of those willing to work as one for the greater good.”

Breaking silos

The interactive event provided a space for cross-sectoral leaders to engage across silos to come up with potential pathways for economic system transformation.

While it was agreed by many attendees that progress has been made in understanding and reporting impacts as well as on the frameworks and tools that are needed for alignment, unfortunately the same can not be said for action on the ground or real behavior change.

The mechanisms to reach the required level of ambition for a systems level change are still lacking. Attendees pointed to the critical role that a mindset shift across governments, markets and institutions will play in triggering the necessary actions and systems change.

But major blockers highlighted include companies’ lack of awareness and their fear of transparency. In part this is down to siloed experts; in this forum in particular there was an obvious divide between nature and social expertise and a lack of pure economics or climate experts. This highlighted the appetite for integrated solutions, led by combined expert guidance.

Alongside capacity building, to further support sustainable and just decision making, attendees called for clearer standardized narrative and storytelling. But this problem is not just exacerbated by siloes. It is also the natural result of our current economic system.

It is clear that organizations need to move from the business-as-usual method of managing risks in order to create value for a few, to a holistic systems approach, where value is attributed beyond profit – to people and planet.

Complex systems

Evolving an economic system that has been in place for centuries was never going to be simple. But some pathways to progress are easier than others. During the breakout sessions it was noted that regulatory shifts usually follow shifts in social norms, rather than vice-versa. While it is not always this straightforward, this dance between policy and society is exactly the complexity of change that Global Commons Alliance is harnessing and prioritizing.

Another breakout group considered the power of penalties versus incentives. Many leaders will only shift if required by regulation, so relatively small regulatory changes could bring many companies onboard. This compares to incentives which require more investment, for less impact. Either way, it was agreed that compelling, coordinated storytelling and advocacy through influencers helps activate awareness.

Data was also spotlighted as a powerful catalyst for action, but there needs to be more confident use of imperfect data forecasts by businesses. Being ‘directionally correct’ through qualitative rather than quantitative data – while the latter is being gathered – should be enough to drive action.

To further accelerate systems change, it was also suggested that companies should do self-assessments on impact evaluations, which would help build internal capacity. Auditors are often unable to deal with the numbers and call for standardization of methods as they wait for a rise in credibility. By working together on longer-term, integrated actions, companies can share the risks and the costs.

Collective action

Attendees agreed that accountancy as well as economics is pivotal to effective change. This includes embracing the concept of and working within the safe operating space of earth system boundaries. Methods suggested included learning from the collective action of climate transition plans and shifting from environmental to ecological economics that is ‘rooted in nature’.

Inspired by the event, we see the below actions as being critical to challenging business as usual and moving towards new and radical collaboration.

  • Step 1: De-silo

Better understand what others are doing, and share what is happening outside your own area of expertise. Build and foster mutual understanding of the challenges and opportunities between different areas of expertise, and identify and bring together diverse actors and tools to co-create a more resilient, open and just solution.

  • Step 2: Positive scenarios

Gather specific groups together that have a place or sector in common and want to collectively unleash their imagination to dream the future they want to build. Create a compelling narrative on how an economic system that values natural, social, human and produced (financial) capital looks, and define the required ingredients to get there. Diversity and inclusiveness – especially via projects in the Global South – could help facilitate these dialogues.

  • Step 3: Measure success

Shift from negative impact measurement to a regenerative, positive and redistributive narrative, with a focus on incentives and reward mechanisms. We cannot avoid some penalization but ensure the positives stand out. We must build capacity and galvanize others to participate and contribute.

  • Step 4: Collective accountability

If all actors understand, as early as possible, their role in the place-based or sector-based transition plans, this will facilitate the delivery and credibility of a new collective accountability framework. A combination of self-reporting and third-party reporting or benchmarking will help select the places and actions to prioritize. And ultimately, while a good story will stand out, learning also comes from failures.

Safe and just future

These next steps align with the Global Commons Alliance components, not least the work of the Accountability Accelerator and the translation of science into practical and just targets by the Science Based Targets Network, including the recently launched and world’s first science-based targets for nature. Importantly the Systems Change Lab is launching a system entitled “New Economics for Climate and Nature” and plays a critical role in analyzing and mapping the systems shifts – a key ingredient of the Global Commons Alliance’s mission.

This event in Paris has further reinvigorated and reassured Global Commons Alliance that continuing to collaborate with key partners, facilitate interactive sessions and network with diverse audiences is the right path to take.

No one citizen, company, city or country can solve this universal challenge alone. Existing institutions and societies were not designed to tackle such a vast problem. The role of Global Commons Alliance is vital in offering joined-up actions and solutions at scale, through its unique network of those willing to work as one for the greater good.

Join us in catalyzing collective action to break silos and evolve complex systems, to help secure a safe and just future for all.

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