Systems Change

Share your questions and learn more about how systems change is critical to achieving 1.5° Lifestyles.


Dear reader,

Here are the answers to your questions.


“Where can I find the research report behind the 7 key structures for 1.5 degree lifestyles?"

Unfortunately, the two reports on this topic within the project are under embargo.

- The Executive Summary of report #1 is aligned with this news item on the website.

- The Executive Summary for report #2 will be coming out within this month and will be published on the website.

We are also currently working on three publications relating to the work on key structures for 1.5° lifestyles, based on the two embargoed reports.

- The first of these three papers will be published shortly in Frontiers, and should be available soon:

- We can also keep you in the loop about the other two publications – these will be published on the EU 1.5° Lifestyles website.

“Could you elaborate on why "private media" are listed in the vested interests?”

The 7 key structures are the outcome of a very large literature review, a delphi-ranking process within the EU 1.5° Lifestyles consortia, as well as 36 in-depth interviews with experts.

The specific understanding of the structures used in the discussion with the experts are a combination based on the delphi-ranking of the consortia. The researchers included in the process considered “vested interests” to be a large structure including fossil fuel and other business interests, who can hold onto power through influence in the media and sometimes even ownership of media.

Since all 7 key structures (or in fact the 100s of structures considered in the literature review) overlap and intersect, the business of dividing up structures and considering them separately is somewhat complicated – for example, clearly vested interests and even private media also have something to do with the lack of consistent policies (structure #2).

In the end, we had to follow the results of the delphi-ranking and interview-process, but we recognise that this division and understanding of structures is based on the specific constellation of experts involved in the research process.

In that sense, private media could have also been included in structure #2 (lack of consistent policies) for example, or event structure #1 (private media clearly has a role in upholding the growth paradigm, for example through the reporting on economic growth as the ultimate aim of society).

“What policy measures could overcome systematic influence of vested interests?”

This is a great question!

In fact, the question of how to overcome or strengthen each of the 7 key structures is a key part of our research project, and something we are looking at for the remainder of the project over the next 2 years.

We are currently in the middle of organising different Stakeholder Thinking Labs to ask exactly this question.

We have already had one round of workshops with stakeholders in 5 EU countries about this – e.g. how to overcome the “growth paradigm”, how to overcome the problem of “vested interests” and how to instil new narratives of the good life (etc).

What I can tell you from the analysis of the answers that we received from the stakeholders in the very first thinking labs, undertaken in 5 countries:

- Most stakeholders and participants were able to think up brilliant policy options (such as specific bans, taxes, regulation) to limit the power of certain vested interests, including fossil fuel industries, Big Food, energy companies and so forth.

Stakeholders also came up with different ideas for improving governance at the municipal, state, national and EU levels, to undermine the powers of vested interests in policy-making and policy narrative-setting.

However, what stakeholders in the first round of the Stakeholder Thinking Labs really struggled with, was thinking about specific steps to ENACT these policy options. We are continuing work on these structures in the project, and hope to delve even deeper into the topic of how the “systematic influence of vested interests” or indeed the “growth paradigm” can be overcome.

We hope that there will be some real interesting results from the EU- level Stakeholder Thinking Labs, and the second national Stakeholder Thinking Labs, which are both coming up this year.

We will consider the question of how these structures can be challenged, head on, also in these further workshops.

When we talk about system change, we often think of policy change – but policies are just one aspect.

Policies can be reversed (for example when new political leaders are appointed, or a crisis ends) unless changes are more deeply embedded in our society, at the level of social norms and institutional practices, mindsets and values, as well as the economic system, physical infrastructure and businesses models. Although changing policies is a critical component of systemic change, policies tend to be incremental, and don´t necessarily transform the underlying system: despite national and international policies, the underlying systems of growth and overuse of resources remain unchallenged.

Policy makers and institutional leaders have a powerful role in setting the tone of public discussions, influencing social acceptance and building the political mandate for change. In turn, they are influenced by the world around them, including inter alia political parties and world events, civil society action, media and social media influence, academic research, indigenous wisdom and faith groups, trade unions, business leaders and industrial lobbying. Once the political mandate for change is established, there are many options for policy makers including informational policies (e.g. EU energy labels, Nordic Swan), fiscal tools (e.g. taxes, subsidies, differentiated VAT), regulations (e.g. product bans, advertising limitations), infrastructural investments (e.g. expanding bicycle lanes, reducing airport capacity / rejecting aviation expansion), voluntary agreements (e.g. FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement for forest protection).

Major changes might require a bundle of policies and tools that tackle infrastructure, pricing, business practices and public perception simultaneously – and to ensure that other impacts of policies (e.g. on social equity, health, poverty, human rights) have been thoughtfully considered. Institutions have a broad spectrum of influence on how changes are implemented in real world practice, through their own policies and the norms they shape.

For example, pioneering institutions have championed practices such as online conferencing to reduce aviation emissions and increase diversity of participants, 4-day work weeks to increase productivity while reducing stress and commuting emissions, casual dress codes to lessen the need for heating and cooling as well as the need for separate home / work wardrobes, and shower facilities to encourage cycling or running to work. When we consider the range of changes we need, and the people and practices needed to make them successful in real life, we get a better sense of what the term “systems change” means, and the action needed at all levels to shift them from “impossible” to “mainstream”.

Through the course of this project, we will develop specific guidance for policy makers, individuals and other stakeholders for taking action to mainstream 1.5-degree lifestyles. This includes the crucial work needed to build social acceptance for the deep and rapid changes needed – something that all citizens and institutions can contribute to.

My impression is that this movement is very diverse. Some participants may be strongly concerned about the climate emergency and oppose the proposal since it would force people to spend additional years in the paid-labour economy. This goes against the work-time reduction that many people consider to be a key element of the transition to low-carbon living. However, I think it is a minority who makes this connection. Most of the participants likely oppose the proposal because they see it as unfair. Many people feel that “the system” requires a lot from them but gives too little back, while disproportionally benefitting a small wealthy and influential elite.