Nationalism “Threatens To Undermine” Sustainability Progress

A rise in nationalism around the world “threatens to undermine progress in sustainability”, while climate change itself may fuel nationalist politics for years to come, according to a new report.

The Future of Sustainability 2019: Driving systems change in turbulent times, published by Forum for the Future, cites Brexit as an example of how nationalism may “undermine the collective action required to face global challenges”.

It states nationalism’s “divisive nature” makes it an apparent threat to addressing global issues such as those identified by the Sustainable Development Goals.

Global institutions whose legitimacy rests on the work of decades are being “undermined”, it claims and international relations based on trade and cooperation are “threatened”.

“Nationalist governments discourage the widespread cooperation and collective action that is needed to face our most pressing sustainability challenges, by creating mindsets and systems based on opposing and excluding groups”

“Nationalist governments discourage the widespread cooperation and collective action that is needed to face our most pressing sustainability challenges, by creating mindsets and systems based on opposing and excluding groups,” the report states.

It suggests sustainability will be harder to achieve in what it calls “a divided world”, and says the steady growth in local participatory democracy may counter this.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2018 records an increase in political participation over the past decade, mostly as a result of increasing participation by women.

It says working to address division is “critical”, by creating opportunities for people from different backgrounds to come together, and by “building connection and empathy at every opportunity”.

It claims one driver of nationalism is unmanaged or unregulated social media. It says to counter this, online “echo chambers” need to be “broken down” and tech companies need to be held accountable for their social impacts.

The report also claims rapid climate change could trigger mass migration and that this has the long-term potential to exacerbate geopolitical instability, leading to greater inequality and the need for a radical change in mindset to cope with transient populations.

Sally Uren, chief executive at Forum for the Future, says: “To tackle sustainability issues, we need to understand how the world is changing and what we’re seeing is a convergence of trends that will shape the 2020s. Rapid climate breakdown could trigger mass migration, which in turn could fuel growth in nationalism.”

Fewer Sticking Plasters

The report looks at seven factors that it says are set to impact sustainability in the future – including climate migration, nationalism, plastics and biodiversity loss.

It says entire systems change and fewer “sticking-plaster” solutions from world leaders are urgently needed to address global challenges.

As well as citing a rise in nationalism as threatening to undermine progress in sustainability, it says recent anti-plastics movement has “only scratched the surface of change”.

“Efforts must be combined with a focus on radical innovation and behaviour change to tackle our ‘throwaway’ culture,” it says. It identified WRAP’s Plastic Pact as a step in the right direction.

Sally continued: “On the positive side, the rise of participatory democracy is prompting people to act on the causes they most care about, which will be a vital part of efforts to tackle global issues such as climate change.

“At Forum for the Future, we specialise in taking a systems approach to address these challenges. But the clock is ticking and we have a limited window of opportunity that we can’t afford to miss. Now is the time for all of us – business, non-profits and more – to step up and skill up if we’re to create a more sustainable future.”

Click here for the full report

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