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Is low-carbon society possible?

Increasingly, rising carbons are troubling global societies such that the search for innovative social solutions to sustainably decarbonise economic systems to lessen the carbon impacts on different human societies has intensified (Otto et al., 2017; Obama, 2017; Loftus et al., 2015). Decarbonisation is now a topical environmental issue because seeding sustainability through conventional economic models did not yield sustained gains shown by the inability to do away with poverty and hunger (Sachs et al., 2017), and to clean toxic carbons from the atmosphere (Hansen et al., 2007) – conditions that instigated why socio-ecological sustainability must be reconciled with economic growth (Hulme, 2009). Despite significant evidences that prove that carbons are killing earthworms, peoples and phytospecies thereby putting the future at risk (Stockholm Memorandum, 2011), the public is often confronted with dubious climate misinformation needing inoculation  (Milfont et al., 2017; Linden et al., 2017). The overriding public view, however, agrees to sustainable decarbonisation to heal carbon ills.

Between hope and realism
A critical assessment of a gamut of challenges posed by anthropogenic, geochemical and biophysical forces on the earth’s climate system demonstrates that a complete decarbonisation is impossible. A dare mission not to begin with! Deforestation, fossil-fuel drilling and coal mining are continuing. As Sachs (2014) ascertains, ‘the world continues to explore, develop, extract and burn fossil-fuels at a rate that is increasing rapidly’. The continued reliance on fossil-fuel reaches a point where finding alternative energy (like renewable energy) to reduce CO2 was not just a dream but also a hopeless situation. In the 1980s, the technology to explore solar energy resources, for example, was in ‘primitive’ state (Clarke, 1985:127). Even three decades after Clarke alluded to the technological saddle, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) lately attests to the slow transition towards new energy technologies. It states that ‘the goal of establishing a renewable low-carbon energy technology system on global scale remains elusive, with modern renewables jointly, accounting for 0.7 per cent of primary energy, compared to fossil-fuels’ share of 81 per cent in 2008’ (UN-DESA, 2012). The renewables trend was observed in the first decade of the 21st century. Is the disjointed nexus of technology and renewable energy the same today? No! Solar and wind energy technologies are progressively rising to the top of energy growth on the international and domestic markets (International Energy Agency, 2016; Mileva et al., 2016).

Low-carbon progresses and breakthroughs
The transition to low-carbon society is a development goal of almost every country (Napp et al., 2017; JICA, 2016; Sachs et al., 2017) and a number of interventions have been initiated to stabilise or decouple CO2 in energy system, which yielded some results globally (Liebenthal, 2002; Obama, 2017). Sweden represents an excellent example of large-scale decarbonisation. In ‘2003, 26% of all the energy consumed [in Sweden] came from renewable sources – the EU average was 6%. Only 32% of the energy came from oil – down from 77% in 1970’ (Vidal, 2006). This year Sweden is among a few countries that received ‘green rating’ indicative of progress towards achieving SDG#7 (Sachs et al., 2017). Is this the only hopeful case? The ‘winds of transformation’ in terms of decarbonisation also reflected through the ‘concrete’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in China, Brazil and India (Rockström and Schellnhuber, 2015). From the opinion of these authors, India aimed to increase ‘renewable energy systems capacity’; Brazil pledged to ‘practically exterminate forest destruction’ and China commenced ‘peaking of coal-based power production before 2020’ (Rockström and Schellnhuber, 2015). Also, Germany had constituted an ambitious ‘energy transition policy’ to generate 80% of energy requirements from renewable energy sources by 2050 (Brick and Thernstrom, 2016). Developing countries can learn from Brazil or Sweden’s formation of intensive scientific strategies and technological energy solutions to tip socio-economic systems towards a fossil-fuel-free society.SD5

The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) is working with several organisations and national governments through its model of an Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) and the National Cleaner Production Centres to decouple emissions from industrial environments in developing and emerging countries. The Global Environment Facility was able to raise US$4.5 billion, in the last millennium, to transfer knowledge and technologies to promote ‘energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions’ in developing countries (World Bank, 1999:133). Governmental agencies and development partners implemented ‘renewable energy’ projects in Central America and Caribbean region like Honduras to cut down fossil-fuel consumption (JICA, 2016:50).

Question of values and ingenuity
Choosing alternative development techniques (Sen, 1960), for example, by replacing fossil-fuel with renewable energy to propel economic growth need to utilise human values in (re)building social structures, capacities, markets and consumer behaviours linked to the new energy. Human values ought to inform sustainability leadership and good governance of renewable energy resources and social institutions in eliminating carbon challenges. As long as challenges exist, there is also optimistic perspective that throughout history development challenges, including climate change never deters humans from applying scientific knowledge and employing human values to safeguard planetary resources. Chakrabarty (2009:216) recounts how ‘human civilization surely did not begin on condition that, one day in history, man would have to shift from wood to coal and from coal to petroleum and gases’. Today, many nations are benefiting from solar and wind energy technologies suggestive that the transition to low-carbon society is definitely happening but at a slow pace. A concerted effort from both the public and private sectors is urgently needed to fast-force the processes of sustainable decarbonisation.


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Can climate solutions support food justice and sustainability?

Sustainability is now the desire of all nations. Yet, climate disruption is powerfully shifting path from sustainable life-choice of food, water and energy. Consequently, the overpopulating world is witnessing food justice movements more than the conventional social justice movements known previously. Has hunger not motivated such movements?
seedwheelEveryone eats. Besides, eating to nourish human body, food spawns social peace to curtail youth radicalisation, aggression, fear and civil distortions like bloody wars as well as ills related to malnutrition. For millions of smallholder farmers involved in cultivating food, malnutrition and starvation are still self-troubling. ‘Starvation is the characteristics of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristics of there not enough food to eat’[1].

Scanning hunger trends and futures 
Today, hunger and starvation situations are harsh but not worse as compared to 18th century. The 2016 Global Hunger Index[2] (GHI) uses four broad technical indicators namely undernourishment; child stunting; child wasting; and child mortality for 118 countries to demonstrate that the level of hunger is declining. The GHI score for developing countries had reduced from 30.0 per cent in 2000 to 21.3 per cent in 2016. The concern, however, is that proactive effort is required if goal #2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to be achieved.seedfjb

The global community is in crucial times to collectively get the zero hunger job done by 2030. There is no time to wait. This is because there are approximately 800 million – 1.02 billion people[3] who fall short of the ‘2100 kcal per day’[4]. On the basis of what the World Food Programme describes as ‘hidden hunger’[5], the malnourished population is arguably over 2.5 billion. And, if the ‘sustainable world scenario’ is not realised, then 13-25% of children can become ‘undernourished’ by 2050 – the period 9 billion people will likely inhabit the planet[6].

Is climate change not disrupting the earth’s resource systems to trick people into hunger trap? Apart from climate uncertainties, new causes of hunger have mushroomed in complex forms and scales, including digital violence, in the global South where there is high digital illiteracy.

International alliance against hunger
seedinterThe impact of climate-induced food insecurity is unevenly affecting all societies but developing economies are the hardest hit. Food inadequacies triggered the formation of global alliances and calls for innovative action from Stockholm 1972 — Rio 1992[6] to raise ‘the levels of nutrition’ (FAO, 1992) and, during the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the delegates came up with voluntary commitments to achieve food security. What about the happenings at Marrakech COP22 and Paris 2015?

Nexus of food justice, security and rights
The 1996 World Food Summit defines food security as a condition ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’. How to feed ‘all people, at all times’ to fulfill this vision of global food agenda is a challenge. Many households, governments, NGOs and faith-based organisations are not able to feed all their people through mainstream food interventions. The indications are clear that actors can progress faster towards zero hunger by greenly funding and implementing Food Justice Bill (FJB). Some societies have recognised food justice as an assuring antidote to meristematically deliver food needs to all. Indices of food justice activisms or research activities had occurred in developed and emerging countries, including UK by FoodEthicsCouncil, Kenya by FoodFirst, Guatemala by Oxfam International, Ethiopia and India by IDS that stimulated the enactment of food justice-related instruments like Food Security Bill (FSB[7]). Food justice is  at the centre of the UN programme on Zero Hunger Challenge and the University of Sheffield is one of a few universities that runs an academic programme on food justice.

Literally, the meaning of FJB is not the same as Food Security Strategy (FSS) or Food Security Bill (FSB). From a new sustainability science context, FJB is distinctively a subset of FSS/FSB and best compares to the Right to Food. Most countries have been ‘slow in putting’ the latter into practice as a ‘human right’ (FAO, 2011: xiii). FJB has countless benefits for humans and nature. One of them is the elastic propensity to move food issues from the boundaries of ‘Rights’ to ‘Human Values’ reflecting the sense that, at a given time, a person may genuinely be incapable to feed him or herself due to socio-legally defined limitations. Is it not that ‘Rights’ go with ‘Responsibilities’? Fulfilling responsibilities in order to access food to eat is certainly beyond ‘all persons’ and, as such, the global agendas for zeroing hunger will be incomplete if they do not strategically build-in FJB. In classified war zones, it may be prudent to encourage governments to adopt ‘Right to Food’ in tackling hunger and malnutrition. In migrants’ situation, FJB does not promote ‘rights’ as priority. Instead, it encourages human values, which implies that migrants have micro-spaces to explore access to food at interpersonal, corporate and charity levels. Also, when it comes to the destruction of 0.5ha plot of food crops by adverse climate changes, this can be dealt with using climate solutions nested with human values — having spaces for disabilities and capacity inequalities.

Is integrated climate solution not needed?SDGs #2
Ideally, climate solutions should not exclude soft solutions of which human values are integral for fostering sustainability base for a society. The integration of human values into the formulation of climate solutions helps to facilitate fixing of complicated hunger ills alongside resolving conflicts and other sustainability challenges. Thus, integrated climate solutions mean producing and manufacturing of various foods through cleaner, greener and sustainable processes that rebuild resilience of the biosphere and avert pollution of both the hydrosphere and the atmosphere. This suggests that global governing institutions, donors and national governments ought to sufficiently invest in decarbonising economy, researching low-carbon knowledge system, sustainably conserving biodiversity, and funding ‘appropriate sustainable agricultural technology to deliver significant yield increases on small farms in developing countries’[8]. More importantly, reframing and co-creating local and international food policies to embrace FBJ can rapidly tip significant changes in social-ecological systems to aid zeroing of hunger among restricted and inactive persons, including prisoners, children, mentally-challenged persons and pregnant women living in marginalised conditions. A universal FJB will keep off the food saddle on the neck of central governments to working together with families, communities, churches and traditional authorities. It has high potential to globally force and move people out of chronic hunger and malnutrition. The UN SDGs will win big and society will be safer and sustainable.


Further readings
[1] Sen A., 1981. Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.
[2]von Grebmer, K.; Bernstein, J.; Nabarro, D.; Prasai, N.; Amin, S.; Yohannes, Y.; Sonntag, A.; Patterson, F.; Towey, O. and Thompson, J., 2016. 2016 Global Hunger Index: getting to zero hunger. Bonn, Washington, DC, and Dublin: Welthungerhilfe, International Food Policy Research Institute, and Concern Worldwide.
[3] FAO, 2011. Right to food: making it happens. Progress and lessons learned through implementation. FAO, Rome.
[4] FAO, IFAD and WFP, 2015. The state of food insecurity in the world 2015. Meeting the 2015 International Hunger Targets: Taking Stock of Uneven Progress.  FAO, Rome.
[5] World Food Programme, 2007. World hunger series 2007: hunger and health. Earthscan: London.
[6]Pinter, L., 2016. Envisioning the transition to a green industry. A paper presented at the UNIDO/Central European University, Budapest, Hungary July 13. 2016.
[7] FAO, 1 992. Sustainable development and the environment: FAO policies and actions, Stockholm 1972-Rio 1992. FAO, Rome.
[8] The FSS is a large-system framework that deals with the past, current and future food security issues concerning an entire population while the FJB focuses on current food requirements of a particular underserved people constituting a fraction of a larger society at a time.
[9] Stockholm Memorandum, 2011. Tipping the scales towards sustainability. 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on ‘global sustainability: transforming the world in an era of global change’. 16-19 May 2011, Sweden.

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