F**k the system — and save the planet

Switching to renewable energy won’t be enough to meet the goals of the Paris agreement. We need to do something far more complicated. We need to change the system.

Anders Wijkman keynote at the #WeDontHaveTime Climate Conference, Earth Day April 22 2018

It used to be mostly anarchists and punk rockers who, in a rather direct vocabulary, liked to describe what they thought need to be done with “the system”. Now the time may has come to prove them right.

Anders Wijkman, co-president of the global think tank The Club of Rome, has great inside knowledge of the conflict between the growth economy and the environment. He was a member of the European Parliament for ten years, he has been Policy Director of UN’s development program and he is today the chairman of the Swedish Association of Recycling Industries and senior advisor to the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Mr Wijkman is not a user of punk rock language (and most likely would never utter the words used in the headline of this article), but he does have a thing or two to say about the current economic system. Especially about its ability to deal with climate change.

If we look back to what we have been doing in Europe for the last twenty years, we have taken away roughly 20 percent of our emissions territorially, and we have been doing it within the present system, basically by making it more efficient. But moving towards zero carbon emissions in the middle of this century will require something totally different. We need to transform the system.

Speaking at the #WeDontHaveTime climate conference on Earth Day he stressed the urgent need to step up investments in renewable energy. But he also said that it won’t be enough. Because oil, coal and gas are not just energy sources, they also play a big role in the production cycle.

”If we look at basic materials like steel, cement, plastics, aluminium, they make up more or less 20 percent of the carbon emissions in the world” says Anders Wijkman.

The UN International Resource Panel, of which Anders Wijkman is a member, has calculated that in the next 20–25 years we will have built as much infrastructure in urban areas globally than we have so far done throughout history.

If that continues to be done by using today’s technologies and materials, we can forget about the Paris agreement. The whole carbon budget will more or less be consumed by those basic materials.

And there are more examples, such as the 100 million tons of textiles being produced each year.

Only around 60 percent of those end up in the hands of consumers, the rest are mostly being destroyed. A lot of land, water and carbon based energy are being used to produce these materials that are never even used.

Electronics is another big issue. Less than 20 per cent of all electronics that we consume are being recycled.

It’s an enormous problem, and ultimately it is about design.

So what are the solutions? According to Anders Wijkman we need to move from linear flow to circular flow. Reuse, recycle and refurbish. We need extended product life and a carbon tax to make it less favourable to use virgin materials and more favourable to use secondary materials.

There is so much we could do, but it will not happen by itself. We need clever policy frameworks, and we need to put in place a system in the economy that has a better balance between man and nature, between short term and long term, and between private consumption and common goods.

Written by: Markus Lutteman

Facts about Anders Wijkman

Anders Wijkman is a Swedish opinion maker and author. He is co-president of the Club of Rome, chairman of the Swedish Association of Recycling Industries, and senior advisor to the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Mr Wijkman has served as a Member of the European Parliament (1999–2009), as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Policy Director of UNDP (1995–1997), and as Secretary General of the Swedish Red Cross (1979–1988). He is a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, the World Future Council and the International Resources Panel.

In January 2015 Mr Wijkman was appointed Chair of the Swedish Cross-Party Committee on Environmental Objectives. Its most immediate task is to develop a strategy for a low-carbon society in 2050.

Wijkman is the author of many books on environmental issues, among those Bankrupting Nature (with co-author Professor Johan Rockström) and Come On! (co-written with Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker).

Web site: http://wijkman.se/

Facts about WeDontHaveTime

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