To solve the pressing global environmental problems and to achieve sustainable development, the scientific community and many intergovernmental organizations are now calling for “transformative” or “transformational” change.
To find out how socio-ecological transformations could be achieved, scholars in the field of sustainability science have recently paid a lot of attention to the concept of “Leverage Points”, originally introduced by Donella Meadows more than two decades ago.
However, scholars use the leverage point term in multiple contradicting ways, often confusing it with system outcomes or specific interventions. Accordingly, the underlying structural causes of unsustainability have received insufficient consideration in the proposed actions for transformational change.
In this article, I address these issues by clarifying the definitions for key terms relating to system change and by integrating a modified list of Meadows’ leverage points into a new blueprint for transformational change. The figure below shows the structure of this new blueprint.
Figure – A new blueprint for transformational change. The nine phases can guide the planning (clockwise) and implementation (counterclockwise) of directed and effective change to socio-ecological systems, using leverage points and addressing the underlying structural causes that can restrict system outcomes. All terms used in this blueprint are defined in the publication.
This new blueprint builds on an earlier framework by Chan et al., which is currently influencing the work of the IPBES, the CBD, and which was also referred to in the 2021 IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop report on biodiversity and climate change.
My blueprint is an improvement on the previous ones because it clearly separates leverage points from decision-making and actions, while also clearly categorizing and defining direct and indirect causes into threats, pressures, drivers, and the key underlying causes of problems.
Here’s how I define transformational change and leverage points in the paper:
Fundamental and comprehensive structural change that influences the components and functions of a system, thereby changing its emergent outcomes.
Key system properties where focused interventions can give rise to large changes in the behavior of a system.
In the paper, I theoretically demonstrate how the nine phases of my blueprint could be applied to both plan and implement transformational change in a socio-ecological system. Although the blueprint is designed to be applied for socio-ecological systems at national and international scales, it could also be applied to plan and implement transformational change in various sub-systems.
Any set of solution proposals that seek to make the socioeconomic system ecologically and socially sustainable, seeking true transformational change, must systemically and successfully identify and address the underlying causes of the global problems. The blueprint I have developed could help academics and societies achieve this, helping to balance the social, ecological, and economic net-benefits of consumption, production, and trade, thereby bring the scale of economies into balance with Earth’s carrying capacity.
When combined with the policies and modelling tools developed in the field of ecological economics, this blueprint could help achieve the targets set for mitigating global environmental problems and for achieving sustainable development.