Addressing the Climate Emergent(cy)

A systemic role for National Infrastructure
Addressing the Climate Emergent(cy)
UKCRIC Senior Research Fellow (UCL)

Introduction

This UKCRIC Insights Article is based on the paper Systemic Perspectives on National Infrastructure for a Sustainable, Resilient Net Zero Future. The paper on which it is based presents a Systemic Characterisation of, and 20 Systemic Perspectives on, the role of National Infrastructure systems, in catalysing societal wide progress toward a Sustainable, Resilient, Net Zero Future, and supporting COP26, #RacetoResilience and #RacetoZero. To Download the Full Paper [click here Systemic Perspectives on National Infrastructure for a Sustainable, Resilient Net Zero Future]

This Insight Article first outlines systemic perspectives on the climate emergency, and National Infrastructure, before bringing them together to champion the importance National Infrastructure playing a central role in a wider systemic response to the Global Climate Emergency.

A Systemic Perspective on The Climate Emergency

The Climate Emergent(cy) is an emergent Wicked Problem, an unintentional outcome from the systems that enable all aspects of our Modern lifestyles, societies and national economies. It comprises a pair of deeply interdependent wicked challenges:

  1. The need to reduce GHG emissions from the Global Economy to Net Zero by 2050;
  2. the need to enhance societal and economic Resilience to the disruptive consequences of at least 1.5oC of global warming;

The two (a and b) must be addressed synergistically, through a diverse, long-term, collaborative, dynamic, multi¬faceted, multi-scale, cradle-to-cradle and synergistic portfolio of systemically targeted interventions focused on transforming the wider system(s) from which they emerge.

Moreover, other sustainability challenges (air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, solid waste and sewage produced), resilience challenges, and many societal challenges are also emergent wicked problems, unintentional outcomes from the systems that enable our Modern lifestyles, societies and national economies. It follows, action to address the Climate Emergency is a synergistic opportunity to simultaneously address other interdependent challenges.

The required speed, scale and breadth of systemic transformation to address the Climate Emergent(cy), cannot be achieved iteratively, on a sector by sector basis or purely through technical innovation. It will require: an unprecedented level of interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral, society-wide collaboration; and a broad systemic focus on:

  • Understanding and challenging the Mindsets from which current system goals, structures and rules; and attitudes toward the acceptability of externalities (societally undesirable outcomes) have emerged (Paradigms)
  • The Societal Outcomes those systems are expected to enable (system goals / purpose)
  • The Governance +++ structures associated with these systems (system rules)
  • The Legal Frameworks associated with these systems (system rules)
  • The Mechanisms through which these systems fulfil their purpose(s) (System Structures)
  • The societally undesirable outcomes that emerge as an unintended consequence of the above Mindsets, systems goals, rules and structures

In particular, it will require the explicit integration of the qualities ‘net zero enabling’, ‘sustainability supporting’, ‘resilience enhancing’ into: the stated purpose of all societal enabling systems driving its emergence i.e. the outcomes it is expected to enable; and all Governance +++ structures associate with those systems.

A Systemic Perspective on National Infrastructure  

All aspects of Modern life are infrastructure-enabled. Modern societies, economies and the places (cities) in which we live are enabled by, and have co-evolved with, the interdependent systems of infrastructure networks (National infrastructure) that serve them.

This National Infrastructure is an open complex interdependent system comprised of the a) Physical infrastructure networks, b) Governance structures, c) Regulatory frameworks d) Management processes associated with the six economic infrastructure sectors of which it is comprised e) Interdependencies within and between each of the above f) Interdependencies with the Dynamic External Context (DEC) within which it is embedded.

National Infrastructure simultaneously:

  1. Produces the products and services needed to enable wider societal and economic activity, create multiplier effects and support emergence of type of societally beneficial outcomes that citizens demand,
  2. Plays a significant role in determining the level of GHG Emissions, air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, solid waste and sewage produced by the lifestyles, societies and wider economy it serves and enables.
  3. Contributes to the resilience of the society and economy it enables…….

A, B and C are deeply interdependent, tightly coupled, emergent properties that arising directly or indirectly from National Infrastructure.

Addressing the Climate Emergent(cy), A systemic role for National Infrastructure

National Infrastructure is a systemically, societally, economically and globally significant synergistic leverage point capable of catalysing the speed, scale and breath of societal and economic transformation that will be required to successfully address the climate emergent(cy) and address other sustainability challenges.

Therefore, the systemically targeted transformation of National Infrastructure from a system that passively (unintentionally) drives the emergence of sustainability and resilience challenges into a net zero enabling, sustainability and resilience enhancing system is urgently needed to catalyse synergistic society-wide progress toward a sustainable, net zero, resilient economy.

The Systemic Transformation of National Infrastructure can:

  • Enhance Societal Resilience by reducing the frequency, scale, intensity, duration of wider societal and economic disruption caused by resilience challenges
  • Enable progress toward Net Zero: by catalysing progress toward Global Net Zero across all levels of the society, economy and value chains it enables
  • Enhance Sustainability: by catalysing society-wide reductions in the levels air, water, noise pollution, solid waste and sewage produced across all levels of the society and economy it enables.
  • Whereas, the continuation of National Infrastructure BAU will have the opposite impacts
  • The Systemic Transformation of National Infrastructure will require:
  • a change to the mindsets from which National Infrastructure system goals, structure and rules emerge (Paradigms);
  • a compelling vision of the societal and economic benefits of National Infrastructure with the qualities ‘net zero enabling’, ‘sustainability supporting’, ‘resilience enhancing’; and
  • the explicit integration of the above qualities into:
    • the stated purpose of National Infrastructure; and
    • all Governance structures that influence National Infrastructure decision making processes.
  • the ‘Launch of a Moonshot (CST, 2020) Mission (Mazzucato, 2017, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2021) toward a Doughnut Economy.
  • The vision , leadership, ambition and backing of an Entrepreneurial State (Mazzucato, 2018)
  • Action to engage and empower all who contribute to, or will be adversely affected by, Global warming.

Therefore, whilst the systemic transformation of National Infrastructure is a unilateral action, it is available to all nations, and replicable on a global scale. It is, therefore, a globally significant opportunity to address the Climate Emergency.

However, a word of caution. Systemic transformation must be driven by Net Zero targets that, are consistent with the global necessity of reducing to Net zero GHG emission from the global economy i.e. include All GHG emissions associated with domestic production and domestic consumption.

Systemic Transformation driven be Net Zero targets focused on the GHG emissions associated with domestic production only, as appears to be the case in the UK will lead to outcomes that undermine achievement of global net zero and ultimately the strength of the national economy implementing them. 

To Download the Full Paper [click here Systemic Perspectives on National Infrastructure for a Sustainable, Resilient Net Zero Future]

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash