COP21: Progress at last? Dr John Blewitt discusses Paris climate change talks

Dr John Blewitt
Dr John Blewitt, Senior Lecturer in Sustainability and Media Communications

7 December 2015

As ministers from all over the world gather in Paris today (7th December 2015) in a final push for a new global climate compact, Aston's Dr John Blewitt wonders if this is progress at last, or does more need to be done?

There is far more optimism and positive thinking surrounding the December 2015 Paris climate talks than there was in Copenhagen six years ago, says John.

"At last, governments and big business realise that something must be done and done quickly. Quite possibly, Paris is the last chance we have of avoiding catastrophic climate change." 

China and the USA have pledged significant carbon reductions and although India is still planning to burn more coal it has an almost unlimited source of renewable energy that it has yet to tap fully.

The increased efficiency and reduced cost of solar means that India could shift from having a fossil fuel based economy to a renewable one in a few short years. More generally, a significant public and private investment in renewable energy throughout the globe could save the day.

However, the ideology of economic growth still needs to be confronted and discussed. Governments and many businesses see it as the cure for virtually all our social and economic ills. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that: even though the idea of ‘green growth’, promoted by various global foundations, think tanks, big businesses and governments has generated considerable interest, we continue to produce more and more “stuff”. This will not help the climate.

We need to re-articulate our economic and social priorities to concentrate on well-being and social wealth rather than simply more stuff and more profit. We need to rethink our economic models and invest more in the circular and sharing economies. We need to recognise that despite the attractiveness of green growth theories, actual increases in energy use and material throughput have yet to be completely decoupled from increases in GDP.

It is imperative that businesses, governments, NGOs and ordinary citizens go beyond Paris and recognise that the future of our planet is intimately connected to changing the way we do business, organise our economies and live our lives.

Innovative business schools have a key role to play in developing courses that equip students with the skills to address these challenges in business. Aston’s transdisciplinary MSc Social Responsibility and Sustainability is one course that gives graduates the ability to add real value to business practices at international, national and local levels. Students develop the expertise to potentially help businesses to generate profit while reducing their carbon footprint and benefitting the wider society.

"In short, we cannot arrest the rate of global warming unless we rethink the way we grow our economy. We must focus on well-being and integrate social responsibility fully with sustainability in our business practice. Like it or not, we are living in a post-growth world."

Dr John Blewitt, Co-Director MSc Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Blewitt, J.D. and Cunningham, R. eds (2014) The Post-Growth Project: how the end of economic growth could bring a fairer and happier society. London: LPP/Green House.