What is the ecological transition?

Ecological transition, also known as the green transition or sustainability transition, refers to a fundamental shift in the way societies operate, aimed at achieving a sustainable and resilient economy, protecting biodiversity, and mitigating climate change. It involves transitioning from a linear economic model based on the extraction, production, consumption, and disposal of resources towards a circular economy that promotes the reuse, repair, and recycling of materials.

The ecological transition encompasses a range of interconnected policies and practices aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting sustainable energy sources, developing sustainable transportation, promoting sustainable agriculture and forestry, and protecting biodiversity. It also involves transforming social norms and values to promote sustainability and equity.

The ecological transition is a complex and long-term process that requires collective action at all levels of society, including governments, businesses, communities, and individuals.

What is Circular Economy, a core concept of the ecological transition?

The ecological transition is built upon the core concept of the circular economy. The circular economy is an economic system that is designed to be regenerative and restorative. It is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. The circular economy model is designed to decouple economic growth from resource consumption, reduce waste, and promote the regeneration of natural systems. The circular economy is a core element of the ecological transition because it provides a framework for designing sustainable systems that reduce waste and promote resource efficiency.

The necessary shift towards renewable energy sources

The shift towards renewable energy is critical because our current energy system is based on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, which is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions, at the origins of climate change. The shift towards renewable energy involves reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and transitioning towards clean, renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, and hydro power. For example, the NEC metric ranks different solutions of electricity production from -100% to +100% to identify what are the “contributors” to the ecological transition and the “destructors” (detailed example of the electricity production framework here).

The shift towards renewable energy is already underway. In 2020, renewable energy sources accounted for more than 70% of new global power capacity additions*, and renewable energy investments outpaced investments in fossil fuels for the first time. Many countries are setting ambitious targets to transition to renewable energy sources, and some are already achieving significant success. For example, Denmark has set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2050, and it is already generating more than 40% of its electricity from wind power. This is also the trajectory drawn by the Paris agreement in 2015 which aims at limiting global warming below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. It was singed by more than 190 countries.

* Source IEA : https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2020/renewables

How to develop sustainable transportation?

Transportation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately 25% of global emissions**. Sustainable transportation involves promoting alternative modes of transportation such as cycling, walking, and public transportation, as well as transitioning towards electric vehicles. This shift not only helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also improves air quality and reduces traffic congestion.

Sustainable transportation requires a comprehensive and lifecycle approach that includes investments in infrastructure, public transportation, and for example electric vehicle charging stations. Many cities around the world are already implementing sustainable transportation initiatives. For example, Paris has launched a plan to ban diesel cars by 2024, and it has already implemented a network of bike lanes and electric car-sharing services. In addition, the city of Oslo has set a goal to make all cars in the city electric by 2030, and it has implemented policies such as tolls for driving in the city center and free public transportation for electric car owners. Electric train is today considered as the way of transportation that contributes the most to the ecological transition according to the NEC metric (more information on the dedicated methodological document about transportation here).

** Source UN : https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/media_gstc/FACT_SHEET_Climate_Change.pdf

An urgent need for action.

The ecological transition is not only necessary for addressing the current climate crisis but also for building a more sustainable and equitable future for future generations. It is essential that we take immediate action to transition towards a more sustainable and equitable economic model. This requires a comprehensive approach that includes transitioning towards renewable energy sources, promoting sustainable transportation, adopting regenerative agriculture practices, and implementing circular economy principles. It also requires collective action at the individual, community, and governmental levels.

Governments must play a leading role in promoting the ecological transition by implementing policies that incentivize sustainable practices and promote the adoption of circular economy principles. Individuals can also play a critical role in promoting the ecological transition by making conscious choices in their daily lives. This includes reducing energy consumption, using alternative modes of transportation, supporting local food systems, and promoting sustainable practices in their communities.

In conclusion, the ecological transition is a crucial pathway towards building a more sustainable and equitable future. The ecological transition requires a fundamental shift in our approach to energy production, transportation, agriculture, industry, and social norms. We are at a critical juncture in our history, and it is essential that we take immediate action towards the ecological transition. Climate change, biodiversity loss (more info on biodiversity footprint here), and environmental degradation are urgent issues that require collective action at all levels of society. We must act now to build a more sustainable and equitable future for ourselves and future generations.

Written by Sophie Barnabé