Yesterday I participated in an academic workshop organised by the Climate Change Mitigation and Poverty Reduction project, ‘CLIMIP’, being undertaken by the Energy Research Centre. The aim of the workshop was to discuss the linkages between climate mitigation and poverty reduction – which has ‘triggered debate and caused confusion’ according to the workshop flyer.
It is no surprise that they have done so. Poverty and climate mitigation are issues of huge importance. They are also quintessentially complex or ‘wicked’. In 2012 I was asked to co-author a paper on poverty and mitigation, and I fell down a rabbit hole that I’m still finding my way out of. The complexity literatures have provided me with the ladder I need – albeit a tricky and twisty rope one!
This post captures the points I contributed in a discussant role to the workshop’s conversation – an attempt to bring a few insights from the complexity literatures to bear on the mitigation and poverty conundrum:
First, it is dangerous to simplify a wicked problem. The territory is infused with non-linearities, unpredictability, and unintended consequences. Wicked problems have no solutions, no stopping rule. We can only hope to move the issue along. ‘Zero poverty and zero emissions’: what do we lose by framing the problem in this arguably ‘simplistic’ and ‘solutions-oriented’ way?
Connections and relationships are important in complexity. Here we have two wicked problems; mitigation and poverty, and they are completely interrelated on a multitude of levels and aspects (in fact they are also related to many, many other things too). We need to understand these interconnections better. In the climate mitigation community we often talk of ‘development pathways’ to a certain date, such as 2050, How can we broaden this to capture interconnections on different scales, timeframes, from different perspectives?
Systemic transformation. The problems of climate mitigation and poverty reduction are complex systemic problems demanding systemic transformation. We therefore need to understand the properties of complex systems, such as tipping points, thresholds, and self-organisation. Why is our complex socio-economic system emerging high carbon, high poverty, high inequality and high unemployment, and how can we work to change these emergent properties?
And finally for now, the importance of Practise. We have looked a lot at ‘what’ we do. But in the face of complexity, where so much is unknowable and uncertainty is inherent, ‘how’ we do what we do might be more important than the ‘what’. We need to cultivate co-generation of knowledge, and interdisciplinary teams. We need more humility, the inclusion of ethics in our toolkit. We need a greater understanding of the principles underpinning complex systems, and ways of being, engaging, acting that are aligned with this view.