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Drivers of sustainability transformations: leverage points, contexts and conjunctures

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
Linnér, B.-O., Wibeck, V., 2021. Drivers of sustainability transformations: leverage points, contexts and conjunctures. Sustain Sci 16, 889–900.
Thematic Area
Development studies
While increasing hopes are being attached to deliberate societal transformative change to achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, questions remain about whether and whereby such profound systemic change can be governed. This paper analyses how transformative changes are intended to be encouraged and achieved, where and when. The paper explores critical drivers and how they relate to leverage points at different places in the societal systems. The paper builds on a comprehensive sense-making analysis of scholarly literature, policy documents, including countries’ contributions to the Paris Agreement and national reviews of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, international news media and lay focus group discussions on five continents. There are great variations in how drivers were made sense of in the data. The many ongoing interacting transformations across societies involve different social, cultural, and political contexts, while the implementation of the 2030 Agenda also contains goal conflicts and unavoidable trade-offs. The paper highlights four categories of drivers as particularly important to consider in view of international transformation efforts: technological innovations, political economy redistribution, new narratives, and transformative learning. Four features are important for bringing clarity on how deliberate transformations can be encouraged: (1) the function of drivers in enabling and restricting transformations of societal systems characterised by detailed or dynamic complexity, (2) cultural and geographical contexts of transformations, (3) where in the systems the drivers are intended to intervene, and (4) the role of critical junctions in time, where transformative trajectories can branch out.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
The main issue in this article is that societal transformation implies fundamental, systemic, non-linear changes and it explores how actors understand how transformations can be achieved. The article departs for societies as complex systems, and acknowledges the formidable task of disentangle the feedback loops that may lead to social changes, and the impossibility of plan such change. To grasp with this the authors suggest to distinguish between dynamic and detailed complexity, where the latter can be ascribed to social subsystems, such as agriculture, energy etc.

Suggestions from literature on systems change is analysed from the perspective of Meadows leverage points on where to intervene in the system. This perspective is supplemented by factors that comppel as system to change (Drivers),, processes that lead to targeted outcomes (governance mechanisms), and tnterventions to produce situations leading to desired outcomes

The authors distill four drivers as necessary, even if they may not be sufficient or the only drivers of importance:

technology innovations,
political economy redistribution,
new narratives, and
transformative learning.

These drivers interfere at different leverage points in the systems. The authors are critical to perspectives of too generic drivers and advocates for more situational perspectives. Another observation is the need to find the right combination of drivers in any context adequate to the social system they should intervene in.
Point of Strength
The elaboration on Meadows leverage points is very useful, as well as the desplay of possible combinations of drivers. It would be possible to build both lectures and seminars on system changes based on this article and a set of articles that it referes to.

In addition to these, the covid has illuminated the opportunities for systemic change induced by disruptors creating windows of opportunities and .