Theme 3

Dare to be

Some governments appear ready to challenge longstanding popular preferences in shifting policies towards sustainability. This might mirror changing values. Where it doesn’t, governments will have to be prepared to manage the opposition – or face civil unrest.


Amid a climate emergency and increasing concern that global warming will exceed 1.5°C, some governments appear ready to challenge popular preferences or vocal lobbies if that’s what it takes to adopt more sustainable policies.  Barbados this year reinstated its ban on single-use plastics [35], declaring its commitment to global environmental goals despite considerable local resistance.  Chile, too, banned single-use plastic [36] products for food.

From 2025, a new agricultural emissions-pricing system will tax New Zealand’s cattle farmers [37] on their livestock's emissions. Meanwhile global warming is leading the European Commission and some parliamentarians to consider allowing gene-edited crops [38] for greater drought resistance, despite the fact that European consumers have long been suspicious of genetically-altered foods.  Kenya recently lifted its ban on GMOs [39] as a way of tackling food insecurity, not without criticism of the potential threats to biodiversity.  

Colombia plans to raise the price of gas [40], while Kazakhstan, Ecuador [41], Nigeria and others face protests [42] against cutting longstanding fossil fuel subsidies. 

  • Climate shocks - more intense, more frequent 
  • Increasing polarization 
  • Rise in social unrest


Illustrative Signals
  • Barbados reinstates its ban on single-use plastics

  • Kenya lifts its ban on GMOs to tackle food insecurity

  • New tax planned on New Zealand cattle’s emissions

  • Kazakhstan, Ecuador & Nigeria face protests against cutting fossil fuel subsidies

So what for development

Should we be talking about a values-driven transition to sustainability? Global warming or food insecurity might persuade people to value climate-adapted crops more than they object to genetically-altered foods.  This might open the door to a more anticipatory approach: to spot openings where values are already shifting, and use those to introduce policy change in that spirit or direction.  

But this raises the question: whose values?  Different groups within a society may have very different values around a given question.  Unknown values can prove unexpected obstacles to change (Covid revealed surprising degrees of vaccine hesitancy). 

In that case, might the conversation focus more usefully on shared interests and the pathways towards collective goals, rather than divergent values?  

The stakes can be even higher when the impact of unpopular policies is felt unevenly. Without careful implementation that shields the most vulnerable, protests are likely. Civil unrest [43], in turn, could prompt tougher approaches to law and order.


Imagining the future

What might our world look like in 2040? 
Fictional snippets from a possible future!

Fictional newspaper article from 2040 with the following text: After tense negotiations, global agreement finally reached for a worldwide moratorium on beef production until ambitious climate change goals are met