It’s no secret that the world is moving deeper into the Decade of Action, with just 8 years remaining to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
At the same time, humanity continues to receive multiple signals of the need for urgent change to accelerate progress toward the SDGs, signals which are increasingly visible to all in the form of drought, fires, and floods, along with increased global food insecurity.
For example, the World Meteorological Organization’s State of Global Climate 2021 report listed many concerning indicators of climate change, including the continued rise in major atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions, rising global sea level (which reached a new high in 2021), rising ocean heat content (which reached records highs in 2019 and 2020), and exceptional ice melt and heat waves.
Ominously, the report indicated that at the current pace of global greenhouse gas emissions, the world continues on course to exceed the critical global temperature thresholds of 1.5°C or 2°C.
Further, the IPCC’s recently-released report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – which focuses on the interdependence between climate, ecosystems, biodiversity, and human societies – noted that climate change impacts have reduced food and water security while hindering progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. The report also stated that climate change is driving displacement of populations and contributing to humanitarian crises, and that the increase in weather and climate extremes has led to some “irreversible impacts” as “natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt.”
By itself, I’ve long felt that the theme of “irreversible” impacts is a very strong motivator for action.
Last, the IPCC’s 2020 report, Climate Change and Land, indicated that climate change creates additional stresses on land and exacerbates risks “to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure, and food systems” and that the stability of food supply is expected to deteriorate with increases in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events globally.
Amid all of these warnings, it is abundantly clear that the world needs to address climate change and the SDGs with urgency to secure a sustainable future for humanity.
Business organizations must step up with transformative, responsible operating models that prioritize social and environmental impacts along with financial results, while countries must enact policies, legislation, and national commitments to create high-level pathways to accelerate sustainable development.
For businesses, a sound model is the B Corporation Declaration of Interdependence, which guides purpose-driven corporations to create benefits for all stakeholders in society, not just financial shareholders.
The Declaration notes that “all business should be conducted as if people and place mattered” and that, “through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.”
It recognizes that we are all dependent upon one another, and that we are therefore responsible for each other and for future generations.
Italy Steps Up
Going up a level, the Italian parliament embraced those very themes earlier this month, approving a significant piece of legislation that modified the Italian Constitution to protect “the environment, biodiversity, and ecosystems, even in the interest of future generations.” Further, the amendment specified that private economic initiatives shall not be conducted “in such a way as to damage health and the environment.”
Such legislation is significant on several fronts – it serves as a framework that boosts the work of social/environmental groups while setting expectations for business organizations, and it is an approach that can be emulated by other nations. It’s also a point of inspiration for many, and reaction has been very positive.
Italy’s Minister for Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani, referred to the Constitutional amendment as an “epochal day,” while Virginijus Sinkevicius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, congratulated Italy for taking a “major step” in choosing to protect environment, biodiversity, and ecosystems through its Constitution.
Referencing the amendment, Sara Roversi, founder of Italy’s Future Food Institute, cited the importance of “bringing back an ecosystem balance between economy, society, individuals and Nature” in order to emerge from our current state of climate and environmental emergency. She also cited the importance of the supportive legislative framework for organizations such as the Future Food Institute working toward advancing regenerative agri-food systems.
Claudia LaRicchia, Head of Institutional Relationships and Global Strategic Partnerships at the Future Food Institute, elaborated further on the significance of this event, noting that as an Italian citizen and a climate activist, she is very proud of this additional step taken by Italy, which she believes has occurred at a pivotal moment in time.
She reflected that crimes against Nature continue to occur, compromising both planetary and human health, going on to emphasize that “Humans are living in a new era in terms of their relationship with Nature, biodiversity, animals, ecosystems and above all – the climate crisis – as mentioned in the Italian Constitution. It’s a new era of common consciousness, accelerated by the pandemic. We now know that it’s time to act fast.”
She added that we have more than enough science-based research indicating the need for action on sustainability and climate goals, and that we should be conscious of moving quickly to an action focus as “we do not have any more time to face the climate crisis.”
Further, she noted that the Decade of Action means that as quickly as possible, we must transform knowledge, inspiration, and youth protests into action, and she called for “new KPIs to measure business success and new integral ecology models for the sustainable development standards required by the 2030 Agenda.”
Last, she added that “the integration of the Italian Constitution is a perfect step for creating the proper framework to act at public and private levels, allowing multiple actors to accelerate their actions and impact. Nothing else matters in this new era.”
Like many others, she is clearly energized by the legislation, and her action focus is inspiring.
Liz Goodwin, Senior Fellow and Director of Food Loss and Waste at the World Resources Institute, noted that the Italian amendment is a “pioneering development” that could be far-reaching and a driver of real change. She added that such legislation is brave and shows “real commitment” – and that it should be welcome – noting that it will likely be source of learning from which other governments will benefit.
While it’s too early to gauge the impact of Italy’s amendment to its Constitution, there’s no doubt that it creates a valuable framing for all organizations by which to (re)orient their operations toward protecting the environment, biodiversity, and ecosystems – and to do so with a specific focus on protecting the interests of future generations.
Such a framework creates a basic expectation of responsibility for organizations, and one that, like B Corp principles, highlights our dependence on one another and on our natural world.
Businesses in Italy now have overarching guidance that their operations shall not do damage to health or the environment. That immediately suggests operations must transition from linear operations which externalize costs upon society to circular, regenerative operations.
And at a time when the world is hurtling toward critical climate thresholds, with increasing focus on the potential for irreversible impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, the world is in need of a massive transformation to responsible business operations, guided by supportive national policies.
Italy has stepped up, providing an inspirational framework that creates an expectation of environmental and social responsibility in keeping with the principles underlying the 2030 Agenda.
It’s an example that other nations would do well to follow, and future generations are depending on.