Research

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PROJECT SUMMARY

Reporting Session 2

Feb 2011 - August 2012
 

Contact info@schumacherinstitute.org.uk

CONVERGE is an interdisciplinary research project funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme. Our collaborative team includes eight partners from industrialised nations (Sweden, the UK and Iceland), transition economies (Hungary) and rapidly industrialising nations (India). We are all committed to contributing to a sustainable future. Humankind depends on our natural environment, yet human activities are rapidly carrying us to an unsustainable situation at global and regional levels. We saw an urgent need to explore the idea of global equity in the light of biophysical planetary limits regarding the many sustainability challenges – and also the many positive sustainability initiatives the world is witnessing. We recognize that Earth’s resources are not equally distributed; some people, communities or nations are using much more, and some much less, than their fair share. At the same time, the rate of consumption of many resources exceeds the capacity of our planet to supply them. Our vision is of a world that stops 'borrowing from our children and our future', and shares our Earth’s resources equitably. We decided to call this movement towards a 'fair share within the Earth’s limits' Convergence.

Our goal is to build up a body of natural and social science around this complex global sustainability issue, and present a ‘CONVERGE narrative' developed jointly by academics, sustainability practitioners and a range of communities around the world who seek to translate the ideas of sustainability science into practice.

Our research has been inspired by the Global Commons Institute’s concept of Contraction and Convergence (C&CTM, Meyer 2002), a suggested way to avoid dangerous climate change by stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases while promoting global social equity. C&CTM is based on the principle that every global citizen has the right to emit an equal per-capita share of carbon. If safe or acceptable levels of global carbon emissions are estimated, then each country’s pathway to an equitable allocation can be defined, and the world can begin to reduce emissions overall. Extended from its frame of greenhouse gas emissions, C&CTM unites a simple ethical principle of basic human equality with the need for sustainability, and suggests the broad outlines of a global programme to guide positive future change.

The CONVERGE team view Convergence as a new visionary concept that needs to be part of the pathway to global sustainability. We recognise the deep and complex interconnections between society, the natural environment, trade, energy, sustenance, governance, and human wellbeing. The fundamental challenge CONVERGE proposes to address is - How do we manage, today, all of these dimensions fairly to ensure the survival and wellbeing of the world’s people into the future? In tackling this challenge, CONVERGE is employing a functional systems approach to identify the convergent and divergent processes at play in our globalised world. From this systems perspective, the many divergent processes associated with globalisation – growing income disparities, unequal access to resources, and to services like health, education, and so on – can be considered to be out-of-control feedbacks. Using a systems approach can help to reframe sustainability actions and policies in ways that seek to maintain processes in equilibrium. Fortunately, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world has already gone a long way towards agreeing the principle of global equity, stating that everyone should have political and religious freedom and access to law, health care and education. Convergence embodies this philosophy and aims to translate it into practice.

Our Objectives

  • To explore and develop the concept of Convergence across social, economic and ecological systems in the context of globalisation
  • To test Convergence as a framework for holistic sustainability indicators
  • To evaluate how EU and other policies and agreements conflict with or support processes of Convergence, testing the Convergence frame with policy communities and stakeholders
  • To investigate how different methods of community engagement can contribute towards building sustainable communities in the North and South, testing the Convergence frame with local stakeholders
  • To identify processes of real-world Convergence through case studies
  • To draw upon our wide range of academic disciplines and real-world experience to analyse the results of objectives 1 to 5, and synthesise new understandings into a multi-scale conceptual framework
  • To recommend how to integrate Convergence into the internal and external policies of the EU
  • To communicate and disseminate the findings of CONVERGE to different end-users through a range of media.

Description of Work to Date

The first session of our work focused on defining and developing the concept of Convergence. We defined Convergence as: Equity within biophysical planetary limits. Convergence refers to processes or mechanisms that couple progress in social justice with progress in contraction of resource use towards a sustainable future world. Thus Convergence is a subset of sustainability, and is underlain by the assumption that a global equity is inherent in a sustainable future.

We interrogated the key principles of the C&C framework wherein it became clear that it was not feasible to apply the theoretical ideals of C&CTM to other dimensions of sustainable development without adjusting and evolving the framework. We derived initial themes that described a form of C&CTM that might be more widely applicable:

  • biophysical limits
  • acceptable limits
  • convergence
  • contraction
  • intra and inter-generational equality
  • systems approach

A conclusion of this may be that this softer approach moves our Convergence framework towards use as a candidate ideology on which one might draw for decision making and away from its direct application as a resource-share trading-type mechanism or tool.

We are now 2/3rds of the way through collecting and analysing data "from the real world" both in the research and policy domains and in existent communities that have taken steps on the path towards sustainability. In order to provide inspirational examples of convergence to speak to a number of different audiences, case examples were developed with a 'mapping' system to be presented as an e-book.

We want to know whether communities can find the concept of Convergence useful for sustainability decision-making. We have scoped our focus down to the food system of 3 communities; running participatory workshops in Bristol in the UK, the country of Iceland, and Tirunelveli & Tuticorin areas in India. The team identified a draft of the guiding principles:

Convergence for sustainability is the progress towards equal opportunities for all people, within biophysical planetary boundaries.

(1) In a converging society, every global citizen has the right to a fair share of the Earth’s biocapacity and social resources, to enable him or her to live a fulfilling life.

(2) A converging society uses its resources effectively, recognizing the critical value of services from natural systems and limiting its harmful impacts upon them. It recognizes interdependence amongst human societies and with nature.

(3) A converging society invests positively in human, social and environmental resources; and cares for them, maintains them and restores. 

Community engagement initiatives deemed to be consistent with the ideals of convergence were selected from the 5 partner countries and their attributes examined. We found six elements to be important to the development and success of all engagements: networks of support, leadership, governance, followership, resources management, and storytelling.

Data was collected on sustainable development policy. We carried out stakeholder interviews with policy makers in Brussels. As a key message we concluded that for policymakers environmental policy (limits, targets, indicators) is first, reducing inequality (in access to resources) is only the next priority - even if the concept is well acknowledged in policy documents (e.g. in Resource Efficiency Roadmap) and in many official statements. Policymakers noted that the concept of convergence is good for havingreasonable conversations with stakeholders.

In the third and Final Reporting Period, we find ourselves facing more outwardly; widening the network of the project to collaborate with other organisations that like us are working on coupling social justice with sustainability. Namely we will invite these to form an knowledge sharing 'allianceand will be hosting 2 international events in India and Brussels.

 

Future Results and Impact

Our research outputs will contribute to the academic literature and debates on global equity, sustainability assessment, and methodological integration. The gathering of stakeholders in communities to develop the conceptual framework and engagement with stakeholders via WPs 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 has the effect of nourishing those communities understanding of sustainability and Convergence. This, along with the other tools generated by the CONVERGE project will be useful for enabling grass roots groups to engage with the concept of Convergence or decision makers in one of the test communities to use the model based decision making tool.

The impact that the CONVERGE project could make is directed at five sectors:

Private

  • To enable strategic decision-making processes would include Convergence as an important, even overriding criteria. The key outputs of this project for this group of stakeholders are the examples of inspirational initiatives, engagement work of WP7, and the tools and techniques developed in WPs 3 & 7. We will be creating a tool aimed at enabling an organisation to investigate the sustainability of their operations, and work out where they can be introducing convergent processes and mechanisms towards a more sustainable business.

  • Convergence ideals move CSR efforts from ‘do no harm’ to active measures for operating within Earth resource constraints and limits while improving equality at both local and global scales

Public

  • Framework which unifies these agendas and provides an approach for global leadership, which will assist in removing the fairness log jam in global discourse. This enables the integration of concurrent policy into EUSDS, the filtering down of this to the national SDS' [WP9 D3] and even to local decision-making level in a multi scalar approach. This framework is supported by 2 key decision support tools - a methodology for communities seeking to engage in Convergence towards sustainability in a participatory manner, and accompanying indicator development process.
  • Open up global debates to systemic thinking - by training new groups in systems thinking
  • Take a broad and visionary look at the connections between globalisation and sustainable development
  • To contribute to sustainable development strategy
  • Aid in integrating sustainable development within internal and external policies of the EU
  • An parallel impact is that Convergence as an ideology may well enable a new paradigm that will move developmental assistance beyond economic aid.

Civil Society

  • Key outputs that will impact this sector are the inspirational case initiatives eEook, the forthcoming project film , and the toolkit for engaging communities.
  • The models generated in WP7 will provide detailed information to the stakeholders of those communities involved in their development. Participation in the group conceptual modelling will expand the mindset of the participants. This may have an effect down-the-line on the decision making of the municipalities being tested.
  • Give NGO's leverage - principles, tools, alliance - campaigning and evaluation tools.
  • Match-make bilateral links between groups working with social justice, international development and sustainability.

Science

Many other projects are focusing in on thgap between sustainability and social justice/international development. We desire to engage with these groups, inviting them to join in furthering the deeper level research that will still be needed for the effective coupling of social justice and sustainability agendas. This will be done through the Convergence Alliance. A key event for this CLN is the conference to be held in India in February. A second significant event for this group will be the project expo in Brussels in the summer of 2013.

Individuals

The project desires to engage with individuals interested in Convergence. Public outreach – is predominantly done through writings for popular press, the project website, project film and project seminars in the partner countries.

We'll be updating this section regularly as the project progresses. Please contact us for more information.