What Next for Sustainable Development?
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What Next for Sustainable Development?

Our Common Future at Thirty

Edited by James Meadowcroft, David Banister, Erling Holden, Oluf Langhelle, Kristin Linnerud and Geoffrey Gilpin

This book examines the international experience with sustainable development since the concept was brought to world-wide attention in Our Common Future, the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds engage with three critical themes: negotiating environmental limits; equity, environment and development; and transitions and transformations. In light of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, they ask what lies ahead for sustainable development.
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Chapter 11: Taking climate change and transformations to sustainability seriously

Karen O’Brien


Over the past three decades, the discourse on sustainable development has shifted from debates about its definition to a focus on meeting specific goals, agendas, and targets. Responses to climate change have played a particularly visible role in the sustainability discourse in recent years. The types of transformations that are most frequently advocated within the climate change research and policy communities are technical innovations and behavioural changes directed towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change impacts. This chapter takes a closer look at the ‘technical’ approach that dominates the current discourse on transformation and considers its implications for sustainability. The author situates the technical approach within a wider and deeper understanding of transformations that emphasizes interactions among the practical, political and personal spheres. With attention to the personal sphere of transformation, the author uses the ‘Three Horizons’ framework to make a nuanced distinction between innovative and generative approaches to sustainability. Drawing on examples from Norway, the author illustrates the differences between innovative and generative approaches and concludes by discussing how this distinction can revive a more progressive interpretation of sustainable development that may help to achieve the 2030 Agenda, as well as the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

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