Shifting to an environmentally sustainable society will bring huge challenges for Europe, involving fundamental changes in how it meets its demand for necessities such as food, energy, transport and housing. Diverse academic and policy communities are confronting these challenges, according to a European Environment Agency report, which brings together insights from different perspectives as to how such a complex transition could be achieved.
The EEA report, ‘Perspectives on transitions to sustainability,’ presents a variety of analytical perspectives on systemic change, exploring what insights they collectively offer for policy, governance and knowledge creation. The report includes five academic papers drafted by internationally recognised experts in the field of sustainability transitions. For each of the five perspectives, the papers explore the conceptual background and understanding of how systemic changes occur, presenting their strengths and weaknesses and their implications for governance.
In its most recent five-yearly report on the European environment (SOER 2015) the EEA concluded that achieving Europe’s long-term sustainability goals will require fundamental transitions of the consumption-production systems that drive environmental degradation. As highlighted in the five papers in the report, these systems are tied in complex ways to jobs and investments, policies and institutions, social norms and traditions. Collectively, these inter-linkages can mean that it is often very hard to achieve the needed changes and reforms through business as usual actions.
From their contrasting analytical approaches, the five papers offer shared insights into how transitions could be achieved. While emphasising that governments alone cannot start and steer transitions, they highlight the essential role of policy and public institutions in supporting local experimentation and learning, upscaling and reconfiguration. Governments also have a key role to play in supporting networking of local initiatives and in creating the shared goals and frameworks that can help coordinate and steer society-wide processes towards long-term sustainability goals.