10 Must-haves Initiative

Building on existing U.N. frameworks and past initiatives that lay out pathways for sustainability transformations, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory™ at Arizona State University and The Earth League co-convened the Global Futures Conference in September 2022 to find consensus around 10 ambitious targets for global transformations that would ensure just and sustainable futures for all. The basis of the convening was a working paper produced by the Earth League, who met early in 2022 to outline an accessible list of what must be done with urgency to reroute the unsustainable trajectory of the world’s interconnected systems and propel societies toward a future of opportunity rather than sacrifice. The conference (“GF22”) was organized around these proposed 10 Must-haves and participants interrogated and collaborated to reshape them, and, more importantly, identify Must-do actions to meet those targets in the accelerated manner demanded by the current planetary emergencies.

The 2023 Global Futures Conference represented the next phase, where participants defined the necessary implementation pathways – an influential set of Must-do actions and how-to-do implications (ethically, practically, by what timeline, and involving who for just transitions). The work of the initiative is ongoing, and we are pleased to share with you the papers below resultant of collaborations among Earth League Fellows, Global Futures Conference participants and staff writers at the ASU Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

What follows below is a brief description of the 10 Must-have targets and proposed Must-do actions, as of the July 2023 version of the working document. 

Limit global warming as close to 1.5°C as possible by 2050

Despite the availability of relevant knowledge and technologies, the world has yet to make significant progress in slowing down the rate of global emissions. We can curb emissions and alter the trajectory of increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through systemic transformations, which shall require at times unconventional yet deeply coordinated action. Renewable energy technologies and carbon capture enterprises have made significant advancements. Solutions are available and increasingly proven to provide improved health, security, economic development and well-being. Yet, there has been no significant decrease in fossil fuel usage nor a reduction in GHG emissions. Wealthier countries must take responsibility and financial leadership for a clean energy transition and a phased, rapid fossil-fuel phase out, based on the pursuit of equity and justice, science-based evidence and best practices of sustainable policy implementation.

Proposed Must-Dos:
  • MUST DO #1: Stop new investments in coal, oil, and fossil gas extraction and use, and establish their end dates.
  • MUST DO #2: Introduce a substantial global price on carbon with built-in adjustments.
  • MUST DO #3: Incentivize sustainability through financial tools like subsidies and taxes.
  • MUST DO #4: Manage land use to reduce emissions.

An immediate halt and reversal of the loss of nature’s functions and diversity

New mechanisms and ways of thinking are needed to advance the conservation of natural systems and species in our interconnected world of 8 billion people expected to increase to ca. 10 billion. Scientists have credited humankind as the leading cause of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, which, along with the loss of cultural heritage, threatens human well-being and the capacity of the planet’s natural systems to sequester carbon, cope with shocks and provide stabilizing functions and services. To halt and reverse the trend of nature loss requires investments to restore and regenerate natural functions in agriculture and forestry, as well as urgent progress across all targets set by the Kunming-Montreal Protocol, such as 30X30 and Nature Positive. To be successful, sufficient financing and comprehensive mechanisms for monitoring and accountability are required. Up to 80% of the planet’s remaining intact biodiversity is reportedly located in the territories of Indigenous peoples and local communities, while the main drivers of decline are associated with economic growth and consumption. Equity and justice are deeply intertwined in action on biodiversity loss. Indigenous cultures have demonstrated effective ways to steward Earth’s systems through traditional ecological practices, providing an opportunity for knowledge sharing led by these cultures.

Proposed Must-Dos:
  • MUST DO #1: Codify into national laws the equity-based Nature Positive agenda with science-based targets.
  • MUST DO #2: Create global markets for nature-based solutions.

Just economies that operate within planetary boundaries

The world’s economies must move away from emphasizing profit and short-term outcomes toward systemic transformations that factor in environmental degradation and risk, material cycles and labor protections. Economies that function within environmental and societal planetary boundaries must operate from a new equity-centered paradigm that denies unconstrained, profit-driven exploitation of natural capital and instead recognizes the intrinsic value of natural capital and the critical role it plays in sustaining life on Earth. The costs and risks of economic development activities must be accounted for in terms of their impacts through time on the coupled human-environment systems. There should be a concomitant reconceptualization of measurements for progress and development, moving beyond GDP and adopting comprehensive frameworks that integrate societal well-being and planetary health. Achieving the long-term health of the global economy, within a broader set of sustainability and equity goals, also requires authentic and representative stakeholder involvement and consent in decision-making. Effective, inclusive decision-making is empowering – rendering visible and critical diverse knowledge systems embedded across relevant scales and domains – and improves outcomes. In terms of responsibility, a common but differentiated governance approach may ensure that those least responsible bear the least costs and that loss and prevention is accounted for.

Proposed must-dos:
  • Must Do #1: Accelerate the transition to a circular economy.
  • Must Do #2: Develop true cost accounting frameworks that equip and exhort investors to direct capital within safe and just planetary boundaries.
  • Must Do #3: Promote inclusive paradigms in national and international economic policy.

Equitable access to resources needed for human well-being.

Achieving responsible consumption and production across scales, domains, institutions and infrastructures is a prerequisite to ensure equitable access to resources needed for human well-being for current and future generations. Success hinges on a profound transformation undertaken by diverse stakeholders across consumption and production domains, underpinned by an active commitment from the private sector, regulators and institutional structures. Overconsumption of elements of life-supporting systems–typically vastly disproportionate, featuring the chasm between the wealthy and poor–is a fixture among systemic challenges negatively impacting communities that are the least responsible and most vulnerable. Examples include clean air and water; excessive waste; deleterious material cycles with extraction, production, and overuse of problematic materials; planned obsolescence and insufficient recycling. Across the world, 34-45% of global consumption-based household greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to just 10% of households. Within the private sector, advances have surfaced regarding guidelines and governance for corporate climate strategies. Reforming the practices of high-consuming elites and households in high-income countries holds significant potential for action. However, research shows that individualizing responsibility limits the potential for systemic transformation which current realities demand.

Proposed must-dos:
  • Must do #1: Implement and enforce regulations that mainstream principles of equity across consumption systems.
  • Must do #2: Advance the social solidarity economy through public policies and legal frameworks.

Governance transforma-
tions to stay within planetary boundaries.

Societies must agree on frameworks that promote collective governance and management of the entire Earth system. Existing governance structures face numerous challenges in regulating the processes that result in the degradation of life-supporting systems on Earth, which undermine the well-being and intergenerational stewardship of all people. It is necessary to strengthen integration across different governance levels and accelerate the uptake of local innovations to improve the distribution of power and create a shared responsibility towards planetary health. Despite considerable innovations at the local level, few platforms exist to scale local advances and adapt global proposals to local contexts. There is a fragmentation and lack of coordination between state and non-state actors. Decisions are not taken in a participatory and inclusive manner and mainly cater to the interests of those who already bear power, leading to increasing inequalities. Declining trust in science and government institutions further hinders progress. Leveling the playing field is an important function of governance institutions for just, sustainable futures, including effectuating ambitious multilateral agreements toward global standards, accompanied by capacity-building, such as through technology transfers and knowledge sharing across issues ranging from GHG emissions leakages to occupational health and safety. Ideally, multilateralism should be an avenue for providing and deciding on issues concerning global public goods, guided by the principles of inclusion, co-responsibility and social ownership.

Proposed Must Dos:
  • MUST DO #1: Establish an International Emergency Platform to enhance disaster preparedness for effective response.
  • MUST DO #2: Revise the UN Charter to explicitly protect future generations, safeguard the Earth system, and advance peaceful conflict resolution.
  • MUST DO #3: Reform the international governance system to address climate change and biodiversity loss in an integrated manner.
  • MUST DO #4: Strengthen vertical integration among levels of governance and accelerate the uptake of local innovations at larger scales.

Healthy, safe and secure food for the global population.

Fixing the food system, including mandating socially responsible practices across land and sea agriculture, is necessary for a trajectory towards human security. Our global food system delivers neither nutritional requirements for all people, nor sustainability for the planet. There is insufficient progress to deliver on UN Sustainable Development Goal 2, with 2.3 billion people being moderately or severely food insecure, 828 million affected by hunger, more than 200 million on the verge of starvation and 10-11 million annually dying prematurely due to unhealthy food. Despite this underperformance of the global food system, it is one of the primary drivers for transgressing the safe planetary boundaries on loss of biosphere integrity, climate change, land use change, nutrient overloading (nitrogen and phosphorus), freshwater overuse and a major contributor to chemical pollution while also highly consuming resources such as energy and fertilizers . Perturbations of the food system, driven by environmental degradation, disasters and sociopolitical disruptions and conflict exhibit its vulnerabilities. There is an urgent need for a systemic shift towards the adoption of a flexible Planetary Health Diet, so-named for its promotion of healthy people living on a healthy planet while recognizing and evolving with local and seasonal dietary cultures and diversity. We have the tools to scale up efforts that enable equitable access to healthy and sustainable food, in turn enhancing social and environmental resilience.

Proposed Must-Dos:
  • Must Do #1: Enable the Planetary Health Diet for all.
  • Must do #2: Increase sustainable development in the agriculture and food sector.
  • Must Do #3: Secure and strengthen the resilience of agricultural supply chains.
  • Must do #4: Ensure socially responsible practices across land and sea agriculture.

Reconnection of human well-being to planetary health.

Compromising the health of our planet through humankind’s over- and misuse of the Earth system prevents us from achieving well-being for the global population, particularly the most vulnerable populations who contribute the least to Earth’s destruction. Pandemics and epidemics are predicted to increase in frequency, as humans continue to invade and overexploit natural ecosystems for agriculture and development, facilitating zoonotic disease outbreaks. Vector-borne diseases; anthropogenic air pollution; extreme weather events; and food and water insecurity are among the persistent and growing threats. The COVID-19 pandemic simultaneously was a reminder that human well-being reflects the state of nature (and one another), as well as our ability to respond quickly to an immediate stressor (e.g. rapid development and deployment of vaccines and therapies) and to implement mechanisms to mitigate future similar harms (e.g. disease tracking programs). Addressing the health risks posed by global environmental challenges therefore requires a rapid transformation of planetary health, in which society is seen as part of our biosphere rather than as a separate entity.

Proposed Must-Dos:
  • Must Do #1: Create legally binding frameworks to reduce the risks for zoonotic diseases.
  • Must Do #2: Strengthen the resilience of the health system towards climate change.
  • Must Do #3: Reduce PM2.5 emissions causing respiratory diseases.
  • Must Do #4: Develop early warning signs for threats to food security.

An ethical digital world providing for human security, equity and education.

The digital realm has become a primary platform for information exchange across the world. Formerly disconnected and hard to reach geographies and populations can now be accessed through digital technologies. Open-source data sharing can strengthen local, regional and global responses to threats. Yet, despite the promising potential–and demonstrated advances in expanding access to high quality education and credible information–the access and impact of digital tools remains deeply inequitable and insecure, with insufficient oversight mechanisms in place. At a broader scale, the speed with which disinformation can be spread poses important challenges and concerns for governance and democracy, specifically in terms of power imbalances, and trust and credibility in democratic processes and scientific or governmental authority in general. Overall, studies reveal insufficient regulatory frameworks that can anticipate and address current societal and ethical implications in the context of growing use of disruptive technologies. The fading boundaries between the digital and the physical worlds call for redirecting our trajectories in this space.

Proposed Must-Dos:
  • Must Do #1: Facilitate equitable and inclusive access to digital technologies.
  • Must Do #2: Expand open access to science, data, patents and expansion of early warning systems technologies.
  • Must Do #3: Enhance digital infrastructure and oversight mechanisms to provide equitable evidence-based information pathways and counter disinformation.
  • Must Do #4: Invest in access to digital tools to promote equitable, inclusive and intercultural education.

Stability and security in a global society.

Amidst a global panorama of increasing tension and instability, understanding how different sources of inequality and marginalization, including gender, socio-economic status and race, interact and distinctly increase risks and vulnerabilities is crucial towards thriving, sustainable global futures. Weakening democracies, rising authoritarianism and a geopolitical shift towards heightened risk of armed conflict on account of a ‘great powers’ model, distract from existential crises such as environmental degradation and increasing inequalities. Establishment of a new security doctrine, where all Earth tipping elements–the large biophysical systems that regulate the stability of the planet and all its life-supporting systems–are governed as part of an international regime, is required to potentiate and protect societal stability and peace across all nations in the world. This calls for an innovative approach to security and stability and a new agenda for peace – one that moves beyond military solutions and “ill-suited” forms of risk prevention, management and resolution and focuses on advancing an inclusive and just peace. At the highest level, we must establish multilateral positive peace alliances, built on complex understandings of planetary health, human security, and a resilient and just global political economic system.

Proposed Must-Dos:
  • Must Do #1: Establish a new security doctrine, where all Earth tipping elements are governed as part of an international regime, protecting social stability and peace across all nations.
  • Must Do #2: Advance international cooperation for stable, inclusive, reciprocal institutional structures.
  • Must Do #3: Promote, enable and prioritize meaningful civic and political youth. participation and inclusion in peace and security decision making spaces.

A resilient global society ready to respond to planetary crises.

We seek a global community that demonstrates resilience: withstanding shocks, and adapting nimbly to changing conditions. This transformation requires developing mutual trust and bolstering social and ecological diversity and human agency. Empathy, meaningful and respectful inclusion of different knowledge systems and responsibility are paramount–for example, celebrating and learning from Indigenous communities who have historically exhibited advanced resilience-building capabilities, in terms of land use, human life, crisis management and energy sources. Droughts, floods, diseases and fires–which are becoming more intense and frequent–are amplifying the outbreak of conflict, food scarcity, displacement and migration. As inequality rises, democratic systems weaken, human rights abuses increase, distrust grows and polarization widens across the globe. To deal long-term with shocks, underlying stressors and the systemic risks their interactions generate, inclusive and contextually-specific renderings of the definition and objectives of resilience should be generated: outlining the socio-environmental landscape, relevant vulnerabilities, and needed and potential resources. From that foundation, the capacities to detect, prevent and respond to potential crises must be developed and invested in; protocols to recognize the spillover effects of strife and collapse across scales must be institutionalized; social equity must be strengthened; and opportunities, both financially and logistically, must be enabled for resilient, sustainable development.

Proposed Must-Dos:
  • Must do #1: Empower civil society through education and participative policy-making.
  • Must do #2: Promote redundancy, flexibility, and the anticipation of crises.
  • Must do #3: Enhance climate resilience through significant and immediate mitigation and adaptation capacity-building at scales local to global, including through shared innovation and technology.