Solution stories abundance at cop25

Transformational Change

There is no time left for incremental solutions

For me, COP25 was an exciting moment for science. There were clear calls for urgency, and clear calls for synergy and transformative change. This reflects the concerns of my students at home in Minnesota, and also the demands of youth, protestors, indigenous peoples, and Environmental NGOs throughout the COP25 conference.

Overall, I was awestruck that in all significant venues participants spoke of the need to move from incremental to transformative change pathways. These voices congealed in a way they hadn’t before: Even established institutions called for a radical and fundamental restructuring of societies, economies, infrastructures and governance institutions.

“Deep and rapid decarbonization processes imply fundamental structural changes are needed within economic sectors, firms, labour markets and trade patterns. This will require profound change in how energy, food and other material-intensive services are demanded and provided by governments, businesses, and markets."- 2019 Emissions Gap Report


The articulation of a transformative agenda highlighted the role of culture and values. The scientific and policy communities vocalized the need for new values and ways of being that are informed by, but extend beyond, academic and technological knowledge.

“Deep-rooted shifts in values, norms, consumer culture, and worldviews are inescapably part of the great sustainability transformation.” - 2019 Emissions Gap Report

“The available science has been here for 40 years. At the end of the day, this is not a technical problem. We need new ways of being. We are calling for revolutionary changes in the ways we live.”

One speaker reflected that it was his instinct to develop new policy to implement solutions, but then he remembered that “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”


A special interest of mine is synergistic solutions that deliver co-benefits across land, water, economies, and communities.

I was delighted to attend an SDG Roundtable on my first day (December 9) that centered on the intersections of aquatic health, terrestrial life, cities, and local management. Here I found David Suzuki telling stories about the management strategies of The Gwaii Haanas Gina ‘Waadluxan KilGuhlGa Land-Sea-People.

One of many posts I created to highlight the insightful words of David Suzuki.

“We can’t talk as if the land is separate from the sea. The Gwaii Haanas park extends 10 km into the ocean.”

Their plan sets a strategic direction for shared management and operation of Gwaii Haanas from mountaintop to sea floor and it was approved by the Council of the Haida Nation, Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

As an environmental ethics teacher, my heart danced a bit when Suzuki argued for an ecocentric perspective and the deep ecology principles of interconnection and reciprocity.

“Scientifically it makes no sense to discriminate between human and natural systems,”

said a UNESCO scientist, agreeing with David Suzuki’s assessment of reciprocity and integration.

“Don’t talk about land use, talk about land relationships.” -Arthur Neher of Wetlands International, recounting the words of a Canadian indigenous elder. The idea is to shift away from extractive relationships towards more reciprocal interconnections.


Biodiversity-Centered Solutions/Synergistic Solutions

My interest in transformative solutions was also evident in another side event track: Nature-based or synergistic solutions that deliver co-benefits. Nature-based solutions are a great way to avoid unintended consequences and solve the biodiversity and carbon challenge simultaneously. Many sessions discussed the potential of peatlands, wetlands and “blue forests” and the delineated the benefits of their protection. Research and management institutions are scaling up their interest in non-forest carbon sinks, and this will be a major focus of initiatives in 2020.

The Bottom Line: “How to create transformative change that achieves co-benefits.” -Nebojsa Nakićenović, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Vienna University of Technology, Austria

"We should not limit ourselves to leave no harm principles."
My post on December 13.

Please note: Nature-based carbon sequestration is not a substitute for mitigation (reducing anthropogenic emissions of GHG gases); nature-based carbon sinks must be restored and managed in addition to our mitigation efforts.


2020 is shaping up to be a "power year" for biodiversity, the climate, and oceans. The world is waking up to the need for synergistic solutions, and I believe that the nascent seeds for transformative change are spreading.

I would clearly say there is hope. We always find someone who is doing the action necessarily to create transformative change. -Nickolas Hohne

Hopeful Moments

Danish parliament passed a new climate law, legally calling for emissions to fall to 70% below 1990 levels by 2030.

The European commission agreed to a target of net zero carbon by 2050.

177 companies pledged to cut emissions in line with the 1.5C target as part of the Climate Ambition Alliance.

A group of 477 investors, controlling $34tn in assets, called on world leaders to update their NDCs and step up ambition.


In many ways, I feel that my education is just beginning. It's time for me to revisit again feminist critiques of power structures, new partnership models, and lessons from social movement organizers.

Scientists, though documents like the United in Science Report, are helping society come to terms with the role of scientists as advocates. I made peace with this long ago: My own field of conservation biology was explicitly created and inserted into the political system with a strategic end in mind. Conservation science tells us that the natural world, biodiversity, and ecological connections are good; the destruction of these systems is harmful.

I am resolved to continue my own work and research, which uses a hybrid qualitative/quantitative approach to reveal hidden assumptions in worldviews. Without fail, I discover that even when there are normative or ethical divisions between groups of people, there are always consensus areas in which they can move forward and develop trust.

"How to make change? Give small island nations more voice, and isolate specialized interests."

"We can't tackle the climate crisis without tackling corruption."

"The UNFCC needs a conflict of interest policy. Otherwise the integrity and legitimacy of the negotiations are at risk."

-CAN ECO COP25 newsletter Dec 13

Perhaps the most hopeful thing I heard all week was from our own Rose Brewer.

“People always win over power. They just have to get organized.”

-Written by Kimberly Byrd, PhD

December 26, 2019

Created By
Kimberly Byrd


Created with images by USGS - "The Lambert Glacier in Antarctica is the world's largest glacier. The focal point of this image is an icefall that feeds into the glacier from the vast ice sheet covering the polar plateau. Ice flows like water, albeit much more slowly. Cracks can be seen in this icefall as it bends and twists on its slow-motion descent 1300 feet (400 meters) to the glacier below." • Hudson Hintze - "SILHOUETTE SKY" • USGS - "The Lena River, some 2,800 miles(4,500km) long, is one of the largest rivers in the world. The Lena Delta Reserve is the most extensive protected wilderness area in Russia. It is an important refuge and breeding grounds for many species of Siberian wildlife." • USGS - "Jebel Kissu, in northwestern Sudan, emerges abruptly like an island in the vast Sahara Desert. The plateau is the eroded remnant of a granite dome. The bright linear features are truck tracks, common in the Sahara where there are no paved roads. Resembling graphic novel art style, this image could be an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, burning across a twilight sky. " • USGS - "Wetlands have a unique beauty when viewed from above. This natural color drone image shows the intricate interactions of forest and surface water in this high-altitude wetland called a fen in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Wetlands enhance water quality and provide habitats for diverse plant and animal species. Drones help with mapping fens for conservation and restoration studies." • USGS - "untitled image" • Ronan Furuta - "untitled image" • Jonas - "untitled image" • Markus Spiske - "Lorenzer Platz, Nürnberg. Global climate change strike - No Planet B - Global Climate Strike 09-20-2019"