Systems Change

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

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.