How do we create a sustainable future? Energy, Renewables and the Circular Economy

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January, 2017

When we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in, we tend to assume that we are talking about the social world as opposed to the natural world provided by the haven of our planet. The challenge of climate change is truly global in its impact, hence, if we are to create a sustainable future, the scale of the challenge of climate change first must be internationally accepted, and then internationally acted upon.

What do we mean by creating a sustainable future? The focus is to ensure we are analysing the current attitudes and policies towards climate change, and whether our current modes of production and consumption will last in the long term if unchanged.

How has globalisation affected identity in Europe, or has how citizens see themselves always tempered the effects of interconnectedness?

While it can be helpful to view climate change in terms of urgency, it may also be beneficial to see our response to it as an opportunity. Whatever your view on our moral obligations towards future generations, most responses to climate change are likely to significantly change the society we live in. A time of such change allows us to answer the questions we often pose to ourselves but can rarely implement with any pace – questions around where value lies in the production chain, around who really owns the world’s wealth and what rights we owe our planet and its inhabitants.

Through the perspective of finance, the question of the environment may represent the clearest opportunity of all. The sheer level of investment that is required to respond to climate change highlights the central role finance will have in creating a sustainable world. From supporting green investment banks to funding start-up renewable enterprises, finance will oil the wheels of the growth that comes out of our response to climate change. The politics of the environment is the true test of the ability of our international institutions to work together. How are commitments in international agreements to be judged, and should we allow new administrations to wriggle out of their responsibilities agreed to at forums such as the COP21? How does the distribution of power impact on our environment, and how and why might this need to change? Is it fair that the countries that have risen to wealth and influence on the back of the industrial revolution now dictate emission targets to developing countries?

Economics can bring us core insights into the incentives around climate change, and the mechanisms that produce not only efficient but also equitable results. Understanding the many interlinked markets that impact climate change, in particular the energy market, will ensure that any action will not result in unintended consequences. Questions of policy and which actions can ensure long-run, sustainable growth are at the heart of the climate debate, and economics provides a toolkit to with which to implement those policies. Law may at first seem like an area that follows other perspectives in its actions on climate change – but on closer inspection it could be interpreted as the most contested and complicated of the four perspectives when it comes to the environment. The legal status of international agreements will be a centrepiece of the global response to climate change, and questions over how to square stronger commitments with the assumed sovereignty nation-states may rest in the interpretation of a select few judges.

As the effects of climate change take effect, the fundamentals of law will be re-opened for debate – whether that be culpability for loss of property or what makes nationhood for small island states under threat from rising sea levels. Whatever the challenges, the law will set the tone for, rather than follow, debates from all perspectives around climate change. Aaron Chote Aaron Trying to put the key events of 2016 into a framework of understanding seems like a mammoth task. The vast range of events in different spheres, whether these be legal, political, economic or financial, may have all happened in their own contexts, but one thing is for sure – something often took for granted has been shaken, and shaken significantly, and many point to recent events as a challenge to the liberal order based on a capitalist democracy. After the tenets of the liberal order have been pursued and accepted for so many years, what was it about that order that caused such a backlash? The shocks of 2016 have meant that questioning how we organise public life has become a broader exercise much more loosely tied to the fundamentals many took for granted. We can look at the fact that few predicted the outcome of the UK’s referendum by taking Europe as a case study for the reasons behind this shock from our four perspectives. This highlights the effect of how shock allows the redefinition of the range of politically feasible responses – from free-trade deals to custom unions, from the single market to hard and soft approaches. How will Europe respond to the triggering of Article 50, and where are the red lines in the negotiations? Europe as political concept has, in many senses, been a changing and continual response to globalisation, whether it’s been about protecting member states from its adverse effects or encouraging them to make the most of the economic opportunities that the increasing interconnectedness of the world creates.

The European Union’s roots as a political entity were in the trade deals designed to prevent conflict after the horrific effects of the Second World War. Initially prioritising the advantages of intertwining the key materials of war (starting with Coal and Steel), the then European Community saw regionalisation as an answer to globalisation, with integration often being seen as an answer to foreign competition. However, more recent events, whether that be challenges to the EU Schengen Agreement, Brexit or the election of Donald Trump in in the United States, have been characterised as globalisation impacting not only how the European Union has to respond economically, but how the identity of Europe is at stake. How European citizens see themselves, as members of a voluntary association of sovereign states working together where interests align, or as members of an entity that seeks to promote common interests on the continent. Questions of the impact of identity can be dismissed as arbitrary factors in decision making, or ignored when branded as populism, but an understanding why people see themselves in a certain way, and how globalisation has impacted this, seems like the best path to avoid another shaken world in 2017. How has globalisation affected identity in Europe, or has how citizens see themselves always tempered the effects of interconnectedness?

The importance of these two factors in explaining the backlash against liberalism can be traced through the four perspectives we have chosen to focus on at Warwick Congress. Public life is analysed, understood and often reconstructed through the lenses of politics, economics, finance and law, and their interplay is what makes changes such as globalisation such complex issues. The question of in what form liberalism will survive will depends not only on the key political processes of the day, but how these processes are governed by the rule of law – shown most clearly by the Supreme Court’s dealings regarding the triggering of Article 50.

Economic liberalism has given rise to the financialisation of global markets – which have played a huge part in how citizens have lived, as well as perceived globalisation. These four perspectives, and crucially the relations between them, are where the future of Europe will be decided, which will deliver the verdict on liberalism after the challenges of globalisation and identity.

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