To save this undefined to your undefined account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your undefined account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Transforming towards global sustainability requires a dramatic acceleration of social change. Hence, there is growing interest in finding ‘positive tipping points’ at which small interventions can trigger self-reinforcing feedbacks that accelerate systemic change. Examples have recently been seen in power generation and personal transport, but how can we identify positive tipping points that have yet to occur? We synthesise theory and examples to provide initial guidelines for creating enabling conditions, sensing when a system can be positively tipped, who can trigger it, and how they can trigger it. All of us can play a part in triggering positive tipping points.
Recent work on positive tipping points towards sustainability has focused on social-technological systems and the agency of policymakers to tip change, whilst earlier work identified social-ecological positive feedbacks triggered by diverse actors. We bring these together to consider positive tipping points across social-technological-ecological systems and the potential for multiple actors and interventions to trigger them. Established theory and examples provide several generic mechanisms for triggering tipping points. From these we identify specific enabling conditions, reinforcing feedbacks, actors and interventions that can contribute to triggering positive tipping points in the adoption of sustainable behaviours and technologies. Actions that can create enabling conditions for positive tipping include targeting smaller populations, altering social network structure, providing relevant information, reducing price, improving performance, desirability and accessibility, and coordinating complementary technologies. Actions that can trigger positive tipping include social, technological and ecological innovations, policy interventions, public investment, private investment, broadcasting public information, and behavioural nudges. Positive tipping points can help counter widespread feelings of disempowerment in the face of global challenges and help unlock ‘paralysis by complexity’. A key research agenda is to consider how different agents and interventions can most effectively work together to create system-wide positive tipping points whilst ensuring a just transformation.
Social media summary
We identify key actors and actions that can enable and trigger positive tipping points towards global sustainability.
Many conservation initiatives call for ‘transformative change’ to counter biodiversity loss, climate change, and injustice. The term connotes fundamental, broad, and durable changes to human relationships with nature. However, if oversimplified or overcomplicated, or not focused enough on power and the political action necessary for change, associated initiatives can perpetuate or exacerbate existing crises. This article aims to help practitioners deliberately catalyze and steer transformation processes. It provides a theoretically and practically grounded definition of ‘transformative conservation’, along with six strategic, interlocking recommendations. These cover systems pedagogy, political mobilization, inner transformation, as well as planning, action, and continual adjustment.
Calls for ‘transformative change’ point to the fundamental reorganization necessary for global conservation initiatives to stem ecological catastrophe. However, the concept risks being oversimplified or overcomplicated, and focusing too little on power and the political action necessary for change. Accordingly, its intersection with contemporary biodiversity and climate change mitigation initiatives needs explicit deliberation and clarification. This article advances the praxis of ‘transformative conservation’ as both (1) a desired process that rethinks the relationships between individuals, society, and nature, and restructures systems accordingly, and (2) a desired outcome that conserves biodiversity while justly transitioning to net zero emission economies and securing the sustainable and regenerative use of natural resources. It first reviews criticisms of area-based conservation targets, natural climate solutions, and nature-based solutions that are framed as transformative, including issues of ecological integrity, livelihoods, gender, equity, growth, power, participation, knowledge, and governance. It then substantiates six strategic recommendations designed to help practitioners deliberately steer transformation processes. These include taking a systems approach; partnering with political movements to achieve equitable and just transformation; linking societal with personal (‘inner’) transformation; updating how we plan; facilitating shifts from diagnosis and planning to action; and improving our ability to adjust to transformation as it occurs.
Social media summary
Curious about stemming the global biodiversity and climate crises? Browse this article on transformative conservation!
This paper expands the range of scenarios usually explored in integrated assessment models by exploring unconventional economic scenarios (steady-state and degrowth) and assuming no use of negative emissions. It is shown, using a mathematical model of climate and economy, that keeping cumulative emissions within the 1.5 degree carbon budget is possible under all growth assumptions, assuming a rapid electrification of end use and an immediate upscaling of renewable energy investments. Under business-as-usual investment assumptions no economic trajectory corresponds with emissions reductions consistent with the 1.5 degree carbon budget.
This paper presents a stock-flow consistent input–output integrated assessment model designed to explore the dual dynamics of transitioning to renewable energy while electrifying end use subject a carbon budget constraint. Unlike the majority of conventional integrated assessment model analyses, this paper does not assume the deployment of carbon dioxide removal and examines the role that alternative economic pathways (steady-states and degrowth) may play in achieving 1.5°C consistent emissions pathways. The model is internally calibrated based on a life-cycle energy return on investment scheme and the energy transition dynamics are captured via a dynamic input–output formulation. Renewable energy investment as a fraction of gross domestic product for successful emissions pathways reaches 5%. In terms of new capital requirements and investments, degrowth trajectories impose lower transition requirements than steady-state and growth trajectories.
Social media summary
We explore the role that steady-state and degrowth economic trajectories may play in emissions reductions consistent with a 1.5 degree world..
A wide variety of social innovations exist today that offer urgently needed pathways for transforming societal systems into more just, sustainable and regenerative ways of organising human existence on this planet. However, a more systematic and practically useful understanding is needed of how individuals and organisations can strengthen the transformative capacity of people working on connecting, spreading, maturing and structurally embedding these innovations. This study presents an updated conceptual framework of network leadership roles and practices, and describes how these can contribute to more widespread, systemic and lasting impact of social innovations.
This study tests and refines a conceptual framework, describing the roles and practices of network leadership that can support the development of transformative capacities, in the context of social innovation networks. Such capacities include spreading social innovations in wider society, embedding them in policy and public discourse, and generating continuity and further development of social innovation activities. We studied five cases of transnational social innovation networks involving community-led and student-led sustainability initiatives. Practitioners in these networks were asked to rate and comment on the perceived recognisability and importance of network leadership roles and practices, as well as challenges, which we articulated in a previous study and further developed in the current study through participant observation and document analyses. This resulted in a revision of the roles and practices, the identification of relations between roles and a better understanding of how they can contribute to transformative capacity development. The interviews also helped to clarify the practical usefulness of the framework, suggesting possible applications for evaluating, prioritising and aligning roles performed by various individuals and organisations. The findings are relevant for better understanding and guiding distributed agency in transformative social innovation networks.
Social media summary
Roles and practices for network leadership to enable more widespread, systemic and lasting impact of social innovation.
Mainstreaming climate objectives into sectoral work and policies is widely advocated as the way forward for sustainable public–private action. However, current knowledge on effective climate mainstreaming has rarely translated into policy outcomes and radical, transformational change. This ‘implementation gap’ relates to the limitations of current approaches, which do not adequately address so-called ‘internal’ or ‘personal’ spheres of transformation. Here, we address this gap and provide an integrative climate mainstreaming framework for improving and guiding future sustainability research, education, policy and practice.
Current knowledge on what makes climate mainstreaming effective has, so far, seldom translated into policy outcomes and radical, transformational change. This ‘implementation gap’ is related to the limitations of current approaches. The latter tend to focus on isolated, highly tangible, but essentially weak leverage points that do not adequately link practical and political solutions with ‘internal’ or ‘personal’ spheres of transformation. This link involves an internal (mindset/consciousness) shift leading to long-lasting changes in the way that we experience and relate to our self, others, the world and future generations. It requires unleashing people's internal potential and capacity to care, commit to, and effect change for a more sustainable life across individual, collective, organisational and system levels. To address this gap, we analyse how such internal dimensions can be integrated into climate mainstreaming, to move beyond its current, partial focus on external and technological solutions. Through a robust investigation of how to scale up climate mainstreaming in a more transformative manner, we explore how mainstreaming and conscious full-spectrum theories can be related to fundamentally advance the field and improve current approaches. The resulting integrative framework breaks new ground by linking the mainstreaming of climate considerations and internal dimensions across all spheres of transformation. We conclude with some policy recommendations and future research needs.
Social media summary
Linking climate policy integration/mainstreaming and personal development: an integrative framework.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an integrated and ambitious roadmap for sustainable development by 2030. National implementation will be crucial and there is an urgent need to understand the scale and pace of transformations to achieve the goals. There is also concern that achieving socio-economic objectives will undermine longer-term environmental sustainability. This study uses modelling to explore how different policy and investment settings can enable the necessary transformations, adopting Fiji as a use-case. Modest investment over the coming decade can deliver improved performance. However, far more ambitious actions are needed to accelerate progress while managing long-term trade-offs with environmental objectives.
This paper presents the results from a national scenario modelling study for Fiji with broader relevance for other countries seeking to achieve the SDGs. We develop and simulate a business-as-usual and six alternative future scenarios using the integrated (iSDG-Fiji) system dynamics model and evaluate their performance on the SDGs in 2030 and global planetary boundaries (PBs) and the ‘safe and just space’ (SJS) framework in 2050. Modest investment over the coming decade through a ‘sustainability transition’ scenario accelerates SDG progress from 40% to 70% by 2030 but fails to meet all SJS thresholds. Greatly scaling up investment and ambition through an SDG transformation scenario highlights possibilities for Fiji to accelerate progress to 83% by 2030 while improving SJS performance. The scale of investment is highly ambitious and could not be delivered without scaled-up international support, but despite this investment progress still falls short. The analysis highlights where key trade-offs remain as well as options to address these, however closing the gap to 100% achievement will prove very challenging. The approach and findings are relevant to other countries with similar characteristics to increase the understanding of the transformations needed to achieve the SDGs within PBs in different country contexts.
Social media summary
How can countries accelerate progress on the SDGs by 2030 while ensuring longer-term coherence with climate and sustainability thresholds?
All of humanity is facing the increasingly urgent challenge of finding pathways to the emergence of new, more sustainable patterns of living that promotes the co-evolution of natural and cultural systems. We address this challenge by proposing changes in scientific and scholarly research communities and transformations in roles, resources, actors, and institutions of scholarship (i.e., natural and social sciences, humanities, and arts), which can contribute substantially and effectively to co-designing solutions for sustainable, just, and equitable human societies.
The critical challenge facing humanity is the increasingly urgent need to find and implement pathways that lead humankind into a new stage of dynamic equilibrium that promotes the co-evolution of natural and cultural systems. We address this challenge for scientific and scholarly research communities and the transformations in roles, resources, actors, and institutions of scholarship (encompassing natural and social sciences, humanities, and arts), which can contribute substantially and effectively to co-designing solutions for coping with unsustainable practices and systemic risks. Our perspective builds upon a series of four workshops to identify and address global sustainability challenges at a regional scale. It is anchored in the view that nature and society are inextricably interwoven, that planetary boundaries are fundamentally societal, rather than solely environmental issues, that viable solutions to the global challenges mentioned above can be developed and most effectively implemented at a regional to local scale in conjunction with substantive changes in the education systems at all levels, and that these considerations require a complex adaptive systems approach to seeking and implementing solutions. We call for rethinking, finding creative approaches, and acting to make scholarship more capable of effectively creating just and equitable sustainable futures in diverse cultures and contexts.
Social media summary
Transforming scholarship and education to enable co-design of societal transformations to sustainable futures.
Scaling sustainable behaviour change means addressing politics, power and social justice to tackle the uneven distribution of responsibility and agency for climate action, within and between societies. This requires a holistic understanding of behaviour that bridges the ‘individual’ and ‘systemic’, and acknowledges the need for absolute emissions reductions, especially by high-consuming groups, and in key ‘hotspots’ of polluting activity, namely, travel, diet and housing. It counters the dominant focus on individuals and households, in favour of a differentiated, but collective approach, driven by bold climate governance and social mobilisation to reorient institutions and behaviour towards just transitions, sufficiency and wellbeing.
Sustainable behaviour change has been rising up the climate policy agenda as it becomes increasingly clear that far-reaching changes in lifestyles will be required, alongside shifts in policy, service provision and technological innovation, if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global heating. In this paper, we review different approaches to behaviour change from economics, psychology, sociology and political economy, to explore the neglected question of scalability, and identify critical points of leverage that challenge the dominant emphasis on individual responsibility. Although politically contentious and challenging to implement, in order to achieve the ambitious target of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees, we propose urgent structural interventions are necessary at all points within an ecosystem of transformation, and highlight five key spheres for action: a ‘strong’ sustainability pathway; pursuing just transitions (via changes to work, income and infrastructure); rebalancing political institutions to expand spaces for citizens vis-à-vis elite incumbents; focusing on high polluting actors and activities; and supporting social mobilisation. We call for a move away from linear and ‘shallow’ understandings of behaviour change, dominated by traditional behavioural and mainstreaming approaches, towards a ‘deep’, contextualised and dynamic view of scaling as a transformative process of multiple feedbacks and learning loops between individuals and systems, engaged in a mutually reinforcing ‘spiral of sustainability’.
Social media summary box
Scaling behaviour change means addressing power and politics: challenging polluter elites and providing affordable and sustainable services for all.
There is a call to change societies to become more sustainable. We examine how the concept of sustainability transformation has been used and find that it has been defined in many ways. The concept is still used without many real-world examples – we found only four studies that had assessed whether a multi-sectoral sustainability transformation had taken place. There is a need to further clarify what sustainability transformation means and how it can be assessed.
Newell et al. (2021) provide an insightful interdisciplinary approach to address scaling from individual behaviour change to systems change. I highlight two contributions that are added by expanding this work to engage with the transformations and sustainability science communities: (1) perspectives on the dynamic relationship between individual change and systems change; and (2) the role of systems thinking for navigating complexity and critiquing systems framings.
The exponential growth of humanity's resource consumption over the last half-century has led to ecological decline while people's basic needs have not been universally satisfied. The ‘doughnut economy’ and sustainable consumption corridor concepts have gained global attention, providing frameworks in which the maximum allowable environmental impacts and the minimum social levels acceptable to lead a good life establish a guiding pathway to meet human needs whilst remaining within the Earth's carrying capacity. We apply this thinking to the urban mobility sector in this article in an attempt to formulate a ‘safe and just space’ for urban mobility.
The theoretical and broad application of the ‘doughnut economy’ and sustainable consumption corridor concepts are lacking in implementation due to a limited understanding of sectoral thresholds. This study highlights the weakness of sustainable urban mobility indicator studies which often lack connections to ecological ceilings and social foundations and, thus, lack the ability to show if a mobility system is intergenerationally sustainable or not. Therefore, this study aims to bridge this knowledge gap and develop a mobility sector-focused sustainable consumption corridor. It does so by using a collection of concepts and associated indicators ranging from sustainable urban mobility, sustainable consumption corridors, ecological thresholds, needs theory and mobility social impacts to mobility poverty. The output of this study is an initial design of a mobility-focused sustainable consumption corridor with suggested themes and indicators to measure the relative performance of a region in relation to the material dimensions of the corridor accompanied by a discussion surrounding spatial, temporal and sectoral corridor-defining thresholds. This work provides a novel first step in the direction of sector-based sustainable consumption corridors which can aid in providing a transformational alternative to the status quo through the implementation of safe and just sectors.
Social media summary
This article applies the ‘doughnut economy’ and sustainable consumption corridors to the urban mobility sector. It provides a framework for evaluating urban mobility systems in terms of their ecological impacts (the ‘ecological ceiling’) and providing for human needs (the ‘social floor’), and for defining a ‘safe and just space for urban mobility’.
Transformation of the world towards sustainability in line with the 2030 Agenda requires progress on multiple dimensions of human well-being. We track development of relevant indicators for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1–7 against gross domestic product (GDP) per person in seven world regions and the world as a whole. Across the regions, we find uniform development patterns where SDGs 1–7 – and therefore main human needs – are achieved at around US$15,000 measured in 2011 US$ purchasing power parity (PPP).
How does GDP per person relate to the achievement of well-being as targeted by the 2030 Agenda? The 2030 Agenda includes global ambitions to meet human needs and aspirations. However, these need to be met within planetary boundaries. In nascent world-earth modelling, human well-being as well as global environmental impacts are linked through economic production, which is tracked by GDP. We examined historic developments on 5-year intervals, 1980–2015, between average income and the advancement on indicators of SDGs 1–7. This was done for both seven world regions and the world as a whole. We find uniform patterns of saturation for all regions above an income threshold somewhere around US$15,000 measured in 2011 US$ PPP. At this level, main human needs and capabilities are met. The level is also consistent with studies of life satisfaction and the Easterlin paradox. We observe stark differences with respect to scale: the patterns of the world as an aggregated whole develop differently from all its seven regions, with implications for world-earth model construction – and sustainability transformations.
Social media summary
Reaching human well-being #SDGs takes GDP levels of $15k. This may help shape transformation to a world that respects #PlanetaryBoundaries.