Global to local - people are at the heart of change


Professor Jan Bebbington photoProfessor Jan Bebbington
Ruth Wolstenholme photoRuth

2015 has been a year of international milestones - springboards for change for the future of our planet and those living on it.

Sniffer MD Ruth Wolstenholme and newly appointed Chair Professor Jan Bebbington look at what some of the international agreements reached in the past year could mean for how we work on sustainability and resilience issues going forward.

Notable amongst the 2015 milestones is world leaders accepting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and creating 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This agenda aims to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. The vision is that countries will work in collaborative partnerships will implement this plan.

More recent is the agreement at Cop21 in Paris, where nearly 200 countries agreed to specific actions to limit climate change. In a first for the international negotiations both ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries are responsible for reducing their emissions with the aim of limiting global temperatures "well below" 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, and an "endeavour to limit" them to only 1.5 degrees C.

What strikes us as being important is not only the content of these agreements (and, indeed, there will be many years before we can become sure of the measure of their contents) but the processes whereby these agreements were reached. Whilst not perfect, COP21 teaches us the importance of the art of negotiation and dialogue – a process that involved some carefully orchestrated ‘confessionals’ , ‘informal informals’ and conversations in Zulu style indabas.

Taken together, this might indicate that to make decisions collectively and achieve change means understanding people and our behaviour, as well as the nature and interests of particular groups in which we find ourselves working in. Taking those lessons closer to home, it seems that we can’t achieve a more sustainable or a more resilient Scotland by working solely within our organisational or community boundaries. We need to be bold and learn the ways to encourage local level participation and engagement, building on an evidence base that includes (but also moves beyond) science to include evidence drawn from participatory approaches to decision making.

This wider and deeper approach is becoming more embedded in Sniffer’s work at the national and local level within Scotland and with our partners. In the process we are seeking to move beyond that of knowledge brokers to enables of change.

We look forward to developing this further in 2016!

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