10 global sustainability megatrends

By jay

Last year saw the adoption of two major global agreements on sustainability. There can a long way between political agreement and practical change, but there’s a feeling that momentum is building. Here are the key sustainability trends to watch for.

In September the 193 states in the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals to reach by 2030. In December the Paris climate conference, COP21, created the latest global climate deal. 

Check out these 10 sustainability megatrends for 2016 and beyond, according to a recent report by UK think tank SustainAbility: 

1. Putting the numbers to climate change

Turning the Paris Agreement into reality means huge amounts of money will need to flow into low-carbon activities and renewable energy projects. This will need to be backed by more robust carbon policies around the world.

Meanwhile, a global carbon market is edging closer to reality. China and the UK are working to line their emissions trading schemes up with the European Union. And the US Clean Power Plan could transform the way utility companies operate.

2. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

Three quarters of global business leaders believe geopolitical instability is a major risk to their business.

They are concerned about a global economic slowdown, terrorism, refugee and migrant issues and economic inequality. They are unnerved by the collapse in oil prices and instability in the world’s currency markets. 

All these factors could have a negative impact on the progress of sustainable development.

3. Money really making the world go round

The global financial system is in dire need of reform to secure sustainable investment patterns. Implementing the Paris Agreement alone involves costs in the trillions of dollars over the next 25 years.

4. Openness, or else

Revelations like the Panama Papers show that the rush towards greater transparency is continuing. Scrutiny on business and sustainability will only increase and accelerate throughout 2016.

5. Human rights, right now

This scrutiny will add to pressure on large businesses to transform their working conditions. Meanwhile, tightening regulations will emphasise the need for real accountability. The UK’s Modern Slavery Act, for example, requires companies with an annual turnover of more than £36 million to publish annual statements on preventing slavery and human trafficking.

6. Cleaning up our energy 

Last year USD$329 billion was invested in renewable energy, more than ever before. But subsidies to the fossil fuel industry were estimated at more than USD$5.3 trillion. 

This will need to change if nations are going to meet their COP21 pledges and keep global warming under 2°C.

7. Health warnings on climate change 

There is growing recognition of global warming and air pollution as public health issues. Studies highlight deaths, injuries, and food and water shortages relating to extreme weather events.

China’s air pollution crisis is big news, alongside the spread of tropical diseases like the Zika virus. In response, the next UN Environmental Assembly in May 2016 is set to focus on this connection between health and the environment.

8. Water, water, everywhere?

Most countries and regions have enough water. But many lack the means to make water accessible to everyone.

Governments are increasing investment in water infrastructure. They are setting policy to reduce water consumption. But according to the Global Water Report 2015, more than half of surveyed companies in water-vulnerable industries make no risk assessment on water security.

9. Developing countries are doin’ it for themselves

Local start-ups in developing and poverty stricken countries are pioneering their own approaches to sustainability. They are discovering new ways to address issues like unemployment, alternative energy, transport, education, health, and food and water security.

10. Prepare for disruption

New technologies and business models will continue to reshuffle entire industries. These transformations will create new benefits and risks. Your business may need to innovate or risk obsolescence. 

Look out for the continued rise of peer-to-peer services, increased investment in renewable technologies and smart factory solutions.