Climate challenge: an opportunity to create breakthrough change

Justina Adylte is an Ambassador from Lithuania. Her passion lies at the intersection of social innovation, sustainable development, and the role of business in society. 

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Over the last few decades, the world has seen societal issues not only persist but grow in respect to lack of access to education and economic opportunity, adequate health care, a clean and safe environment, and the increasing prevalence of natural disasters, among many others. There is a growing sense of urgency to address these complex and seemingly intractable challenges.

With COP21 currently taking place in Paris, climate change is one of the most topical issues today. It is also a challenge that is interconnected with many other societal issues. A new World Bank report predicts that climate change can push more than 100 million people into poverty by 2030. Professor Norman Myers argues (albeit controversially) that 200 million people will be displaced by 2050, as a result of changing climate. It is easy to get overwhelmed by such statistics and the doomsday scenarios that they portray.

The good news is that many individuals and organizations are already taking initiative and actions to drive and advance new solutions to address climate change, amongst other societal challenges. The traditional sectoral boundaries of where transformational ideas come from are blurring. Previously, solving local and global challenges was seen as the realm of the public and civil society sectors, but multiple sectors are now converging to tackle these issues together. Governments, non-profits, businesses, social enterprises, and citizens are increasingly collaborating on innovative new approaches, working together towards shared objectives.

In addition, the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which world leaders adopted earlier this year, explicitly refer to climate action in Goal #13. The SDGs mark a significant moment in the discourse of global development efforts, encompassing both developed and developing countries, and meaningfully engaging not only the traditional development actors, but also the private sector. A report Social Progress in 2030 recently published by Deloitte UK in collaboration with the Social Progress Imperative suggests that the SDGs can, indeed, be achieved, but will require cultural shift across the different actors, scaling social innovation, and cross-sector collaboration.

Nevertheless, there is still a huge gap between the scale of the problems the world faces, and the scale of available solutions. We need to collaborate; transcending borders and sectors, bringing together the convening power of the civil society, the policy influence of government, and resources of business. To truly create lasting breakthrough societal change, innovative solutions need to be surfaced and scaled.

Some say it is already too late to create meaningful change when it comes to climate change. But I tend to be more optimistic. Clean technology innovations are rapidly advancing, new financing mechanisms are available, and more and more businesses are supporting this agenda. As an example, more than 80 leading businesses supported Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change in September 2015. This encyclical highlights the increasing importance of addressing the social and environmental challenges created by climate change, and the role business can play by using innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit to contribute to solutions.

Another reason to be optimistic is that the Millennial generation care about the impact they make in society; Millennials regard climate change as one of the greatest global challenges, and want to work for purpose-driven organizations, as the Annual Millennial Survey published by Deloitte suggests. The demands of the Millennials are already shaping businesses. The enthusiasm and inspiration of this generation to create real, lasting change, which is so abundantly represented in the One Young World community, give reasons to be confident that tomorrow’s leaders will carry through and build on the commitments the leaders of today make.

The climate conference in Paris is a significant milestone in the journey towards a more just, sustainable, and prosperous future for all. Regardless of whether you are a strong climate change advocate or err towards a more sceptical side it is a critical moment for the global community, for future generations, and for our planet. The agreement that will be reached in Paris is not an end in itself, but it will pave the way for the world leaders to truly engage, collaborate, and innovate across sectors, and to create breakthrough change.