On May 5, Worldwatch Institute’s flagship publication State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability was launched in Copenhagen. This year’s event took place in the Dome of Visions – a futuristic building, created as a house of inspiration, as an experimental space, where both daily life and ambitious climate goals can be balanced and as an arena for discussion about a sustainable future.

Ed Groark, president of Worldwatch Institute, started the event by presenting the State of the World 2014, which is critically assessing the role of governance for achieving sustainability. We as a species have outgrown the planet and our individual footprints are too high in order to be sustainable. But as decision-makers are paralyzed by inertia and as technological development is too slow, how can true sustainability be achieved?

A crucial point is that governance is more than just the political and governmental sphere; it includes the socio-economic sphere and how these spheres interact with each other. Often economic interests outweigh sustainable decisions. Ed Groark gave as an example the ongoing increase of global subsidies to the oil industry, whereas in comparison the subsidies to renewable energies are significantly smaller.

The biggest challenge is for decision-makers to cooperate and to promote a way towards sustainability. So, Ed Groark asked, “how can we get better at this”? There is not the one solution for achieving sustainability, but strong and consistent bottom-up pressure is now needed more than ever. Grassroots movements can make a change, but they will have to cooperate more strongly. It is all about citizen empowerment, equity, and giving a voice to the voiceless.

In addition, personal action is needed. A difference can be made through personal lifestyle choices, through getting involved in grassroots movements, through being a concerned citizen. It is time to empower ourselves and live up our responsibility as a human, planetary species.

Nathalie Girouard, OECD Green Growth Strategy Coordinator, talked about how ‘green growth’ is mainstreamed at the OECD. As a cross cutting process, green growth is multidisciplinary and inter-governmental. There is a strong need for including green growth in the different OECD departments, so that it is more ”than just a chapter in the end”, Nathalie Girouard says. She also pointed out the importance of coordination of different actors for achieving a more sustainable society. For OECD one of the key challenges today is how to keep community structures healthy within future change.

Martin Manthorpe, Head of strategy and business development at NCC in Denmark, kicked off his speech by providing the audience with hard facts: 15% of all economic activity in society is due to the building industry, 40% of all energy use is consumed by the building sector and 90% of time lived is spent indoors, at least in the North. These facts make cities and companies important actors within the sustainability issue.

So, what can these actors do to achieve sustainability? As an answer he points to the venue of the day, the Dome of Visions. The Dome of Visions has not only been built to provide a possible solution for sustainable living, but also to start a dialogue between different actors about how to move on. It is clear that a discussion is not sufficient; outcomes have to be implemented.

In line with Nathalie Girouard, Martin Manthorpe points out that the cultural and social spheres are prerequisites for green growth. He sees the role of governments in supporting the private sector in starting to act sustainably and to tighten requirements for corporations.

“Are you unfair to business?” was the first question from the audience directed at Ed Groark. He answered by highlighting the adaptability of business, but that companies are still too fine off with creating income by producing CO2 in order to take steps towards a sustainable future. Therefore, governments are responsible for setting regulations.

Further questions from the audience to the speakers on job creation possibilities within green growth and drivers behind green growth initiated a lively discussion about the importance of the social sphere for the transformation towards a sustainable future.

The second session of the event examined the governmental perspective on governing for sustainability.

Lone Loklindt, Member of the Danish Parliament and chair of the Environment Committee, answered the question why political leaders are so slow in implementing sustainability policies by saying that “voluntary measures are not enough to achieve sustainability”. The triangle of governments, businesses and citizens is needed to overcome inertia and gain ecoliteracy. Endangering resource security points towards green initiatives, but sustainability goals have to be linked to social and economic goals in order to be reachable.

Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, opened his speech by saying that political actions takes courage. The challenge of choosing a sustainable pathway is not a technical one, because we have all the technical knowledge we need. The challenge is to overcome political barriers. A lot has been achieved already, but the ecological footprint of the Nordic countries exceeds a sustainable level by far. Governments are crucial for supporting green market opportunities and for generating larger markets for environmental products. Dagfinn Høybråten agreed with Lone Loklindt that governments alone cannot solve the sustainability issue, but that cooperation between citizens, grassroots movements and private corporations is needed.

Margrete Auken, Danish member of the European Parliament, found clear words for the European climate strategy when she - via livestreaming - stated that the EU emission reduction targets until 2030 are too low and even worse – the targets are not binding. “Climate change is a ticking bomb and Europe is facing a financial crisis, which has manifested itself in high rates of youth unemployment”, she said. The two crises can only be overcome, when tackled in the same step. Jobs can be created in the sustainable transformation, but the industry has to be on board.

The Commission and the Council will have to follow a responsible line, stronger and binding climate targets have to be set, and better conditions for industries for fulfilling environmental targets have to be created. Margrete Auken ended her speech with the statement that “it is not about competing now, but winning together in the long term”.

In the final panel discussion the speakers were challenged with specific questions about food waste management in the Nordic countries, how long term benefits can be balanced with short term costs and if the green transformation rather creates or reduces jobs. The questions sparked a vivid discussion between the speakers.

According to Lone Loklindt, the food waste issue is tackled by the Nordic countries through cooperation of private and public stakeholders. New regulations are planned and supermarkets are already changing their strategies, like reducing the prize of nearly expiring vegetables. Dagfinn Høybråten remarked, that in Norway supermarkets started to give products away, when they reached the expiring date.

Nathalie Girouard answered that jobs would be both created and lost through the ‘green transformation’. Training would be needed to make people fit for green jobs. Ed Groark ended the event by concluding: “I am optimistic, discussions like this help people to move forward. The public opinion about a green future is rapidly changing in a positive way. We have to become active and vocal about it.”

The Dome of Visions accomplished its purpose; it provided an arena where inspired discussions about a sustainable future could unfold and therefore was the perfect setting for the State of the World 2014 launch and seminar.

Coffee break at Dome of Visions.