The bank for a changing world

How does the way we anticipate a future under climate change impact present decision-making?

  • 24.07.2018

Future scenarios are increasingly used to support climate change planning under future uncertainty, by governments and multilateral organizations like the UN. Dr. Joost Vervoort, assistant professor at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, spoke with our colleagues about the RE-IMAGINE project on World Environment Day 2018 at BNP Paribas in London, United Kingdom. The project was made possible by the BNP Paribas Foundation’s Climate Initiative Program.

A growing interest from policymakers to engage with future climate challenges 

RE-IMAGINE aims to provide a new set of scenario tools to enable policymakers to plan for climate change in the face of scientific uncertainty.  

The project focuses particularly on some of the regions where people are most vulnerable to climate change - Central America, West Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. RE-IMAGINE bridges research on foresight, processes that help us envision what futures under climate change may look like, and climate governance, which includes the creation of policies focused on climate change. 

Why do we need to think about uncertain climate futures? 

During his lecture in London, Dr. Vervoort discussed how policy makers, businesses, NGOs and civil society are all struggling with thinking about a future under climate change. The future is shaped by a complex web of economic, cultural, technological and political developments that climate change interacts with. 

Scenario planning is a foresight method that can help us explore what different futures might look like under complexity and uncertainty. Foresight methods include both participatory and qualitative methods, but also trend analysis and climate models that build on data from experts, policymakers and other stakeholders. However, exploring the future has an impact on the present as scenarios that are developed have real impacts on ideas and plans that are being made in the present. 

What are the political implications of such engagements with the future? What kinds of scientific approaches are being used to think about what the future may bring? Whose ideas on the future determine the actions being taken in present? Are climate risks for the most vulnerable downplayed or ignored? RE-IMAGINE is investigating these questions to try and make foresight a more effective tool in climate change policymaking.

BNP Paribas and the role of the private sector in a climate change world

Joost Vervoort’s talk in London followed up on an earlier presentation at the BNP Paribas Amsterdam Office on June 5th this year, where he also engaged with BNP Paribas representatives on the topic. Similar to the discussion in Amsterdam, the audience participated in a lively debate discussing highly relevant questions: 

What is the role of BNP Paribas and the private sector in general in terms of limiting CO2 emissions? How can societal values be shifted more quickly? And what is the role of foresight in all of this? 

As Joost Vervoort put it, though strong action is urgently needed on reducing emissions, climate change is also already happening, and the poorest countries will be worst affected. “We need make sure these countries are equipped to adapt to an uncertain future under climate change,” he stressed.    

We need make sure these countries are equipped to adapt to an uncertain future under climate change

Sustainability and the next generation

At Utrecht University, a new Bachelor programme called Global Sustainability Science is educating 150 students per year on how to tackle sustainability challenges at all levels. “Global Integration Project” focuses on the challenges of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are 17 Global Goals for a better and more sustainable future that have been set by the United Nations with governments and citizens from around the world. In this course, students are stimulated to understand the challenges and possibilities of moving from global goals to national action. Their home city of Utrecht has been recognized as the most active city in the Netherlands in terms of its contribution to the 17 Global Goals. 

On 20th June 2018 and as part of this course, Joost Vervoort held a unique panel discussion on the role of different stakeholders in achieving these Global Goals. The afternoon was organized together with the Sustainable Development Goals Coordinator for the Netherlands, Hugo von Meijenfeldt (Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Nathalie Jaubert (Deputy Head of Group Corporate Social Responsibility at BNP Paribas), and Vanessa Timmer (Executive Director of Canadian think tank One Earth). The event brought together 150 students who were excited about learning how different stakeholders - policymakers, the private sector and civil society engage with the SDGs, and how we can work together towards achieving them. Here, as in London, lively discussions about the role of the private sector and international finance in achieving the SDGs took off.

Photo header ©Dmitry

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