Overline: Sustainability Policy
Headline: Participation within Planetary Boundaries

IASS Director Ortwin Renn spoke about the current challenges of sustainability policy in an address to the Parliamentary Committee on Sustainable Development on 13 June. The following report is taken from the newsletter Heute im Bundestag, 412/2018  and published here with the kind permission of the Bundestag.

According to Ortwin Renn, societal transformation is shaped by globalisation, digitalisation und sustainability.
According to Ortwin Renn, societal transformation is shaped by globalisation, digitalisation und sustainability. istock/aristotoo

Berlin: (hib/HA) The sociologist and IASS Scientific Director Professor Ortwin Renn spoke about “Current Challenges of Sustainability Policy” in a recent address to the Parliamentary Committee on Sustainable Development. Renn told MPs that global developments are currently shaped by three major transformation waves: globalisation, digitalisation, and sustainability. Unfolding in parallel, these three processes are also characterised by inconsistencies and contradictions – anti-globalisation movements being a case in point.

Where digitalisation is concerned, Renn underlined the importance of social sustainability, especially the question of social justice. In today’s world, resources are not fairly distributed and globalisation is exacerbating this tendency. “While poverty has been reduced overall, the gap between the very poor and the very rich has become even wider,” Renn explained.

For the IASS Director, sustainability policy needs to examine how the three waves are shaping important policy fields like energy, food, labour, consumption and mobility. Existing contradictions must be picked up on and dealt with in a democratic and sustainable way. “That is also one of the principal tasks of the Parliamentary Committee for Sustainable Development,” said Renn.

In response to MPs’ questions, Renn elaborated on the concept of a post-growth society. Since the economy thrives on dynamism, striving for zero growth is too much to ask. And zero growth is not necessarily sustainable.

In answer to another question, Renn pointed to the huge changes that digitalisation will bring to the working world. We need to adopt new perspectives “so that entire occupational groups are not left out in the cold.” At the same time, our social services are massively understaffed, and we cannot rely on robots to do these jobs now or in the future. In Renn’s view, the government needs to acknowledge the valuable contribution made by people in these professions and reward them accordingly. In the light of greater value creation due to digitalisation, he also advocated a just taxation system “with a tax on robots for example” to ensure fair distribution.

On the subject of citizen participation, Renn said that there has to be a transition “from kitchen tables to round tables”. People are ready and willing to assume responsibility and take decisions, but they want to have a say in what really matters “not just on whether to plant ivy or Virginia creeper up the side of a wind turbine.” But we cannot cross planetary boundaries, even by way of a democratic decision. What’s needed in that case is communication “and enforcement by a majority vote if need be.” In this context, Renn emphasised that politicians and businesspeople also have to be committed to staying within planetary boundaries.