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905. Transition to Sustainable Consumption-Production Systems

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905. Transition to Sustainable Consumption-Production Systems


Humans have met their needs for food, energy, and other resources using the earth's resources and human knowledge, mediated by markets, institutions, politics, and power, but often in unsustainable ways. On November 21, PNAS published a special issue Sustainability Transitions in Consumption-Production Systems. The following is a definition of "sustainable consumption-production systems" from the discussion that summarized the special issue.

The original concept of "sustainability transitions" was too general and hindered discussion of what specific transitions should be promoted. Recent studies have shown that "transitions to what", "transitions of what", and "transitions over what temporal and spatial scales" are conceptually well defined, opening up the possibility of specific research on transitions to sustainability.

1:Transitions Toward What? More Sustainable Development Pathways.

The answer to the question of what to aim for is that there is a clear need for more sustainable development pathways. Methods for assessing progress have only recently begun to receive attention, and at the conceptual level there is a growing consensus on "development that meets the needs of future generations while satisfying the needs of the present". There is also a growing understanding of the "inclusiveness" of wealth that contributes to human well-being, such as human and natural capital, which cannot be captured by economic flows alone. If a similarly inclusive perspective is needed for indicators to assess the transition to sustainability, a realistic starting point might be to assess the degree of transition based on the impact of the SDG targets, which reflect both the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability.

2:Transitions of What? Consumption-Production Systems.

There is a growing public understanding that the quest for sustainability ultimately leads to a complex, intertwined nature-society system on a global scale. Humans have used the Earth's resources and human knowledge, mediated by markets, institutions, politics, and power, to meet their demands for food, energy, and other resources. As a result, development pathways are unsustainable, but the transition to more sustainable pathways requires intervention in one or more parts of the natural-social system. In practice, middle-range theory (an approach to sociological theory that aims to integrate theory and empirical research) has failed to advance sustainable transitions because natural-social systems are too complex. On the other hand, progress has been made in research that focuses on the consumption-production system (CPS), a relatively simple component of complex natural and social systems as a whole. Many studies use CPS as a useful analytical tool to examine how development pathways are shaped by the push and pull factors of different actors through knowledge, technology, infrastructure, resources, markets and policies. Research aimed at understanding and promoting the transition to sustainability now provides a more useful discussion by focusing on the current transition from consumption to production systems.

3:Transitions at What Scales? The Large and the Long.

Transitions in which nature and society interact can occur at all temporal and spatial scales. On the other hand, given the environmental and equity concerns at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, the utility of research on sustainability transitions increases when it focuses on broader and longer scales. In particular, the spatial axis needs to be broad enough to address situations in which consumption that improves the welfare of people in a particular region consists of production practices that cause problems in other regions and inequitable exports of pollution. In light of contemporary globalization, research on sustainability transitions should have a global perspective. Similarly, intergenerational equity should be considered in terms of time horizons. The prosperity of the present generation should not be at the expense of the quality of life of future generations. In light of these considerations, research on the transition to sustainability should have a global, multi-decadal spatial and temporal horizon.

Frank W. Geels, Florian Kern, and William C. Clark, Edited by Ruth DeFries. Sustainability transitions in consumption-production systems. November 13, 2023 PNAS. 120 (47) e2310070120. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2310070120

Contributor: IIYAMA Miyuki (Information Program)

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