Equity and Justice should underpin the discourse on Tipping Points


Radical and quick transformations towards sustainability have winners and losers, with equity and justice embedded to a greater or a lesser extent. According to research, only the wealthiest 1–4 % of the global population will radically need to change their consumption, behaviours, societal values and beliefs in order to make space for an equitable and sustainable future for nature and people. However, narratives around many ‘positive’ tipping points, such as the energy transition, do not take into account the entire spectrum of impacts the proposed alternatives could have or still rely on narratives that maintain current unsustainable behaviours and marginalise many people. One such example is the move from petrol-based to electric vehicles. An energy transition that remains based on natural resource inputs from the Global South must be unpacked with an equity and justice lens to understand the “true cost” of this transition. Another is the role of ‘nature-based solutions’ to address climate resilience, where ‘nature’ in some parts of the world needs to be maintained as an offset for the continued lifestyles of the wealthy, usually in different parts of the world from where this nature is supposed to be maintained. There are two arguments why a critical engagement with these and other similar proposals needs to be made. First, the idea of transitioning through a substitution (e.g., of fuel), whilst maintaining the system structure (e.g., of private vehicles) may not necessarily be conceived as the kind of radical transformation being called for by global scientific or governmental bodies like the IPCC and IPBES. Secondly, and probably more importantly, the question of positive for whom, and positive where must be considered. In this paper, we unpack these narratives in the context of what they mean for the idea of positive tipping points using a critical decolonial view from the South.

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