Join the Next French revolution

06/09/2015 05:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2016

The COP 21 climate negotiations require a new solutions-driven approach if it is to succeed. But it is possible and illustrates why Paris differs from COP 15 in Copenhagen. Historians could remember Paris as the place where a new solutions revolution was born. The new revolutionaries are solution makers, not policy makers - and they are getting ready to take over Paris.

France needs a new revolution. The time and place have already been set: 30 November to 11 December 2015 in Paris. All of the world's political leaders will be there. They know their future depends on it: they must save the planet from the worst effects of climate change in order for the human species to be able to sustain itself. Pundits, activists, and diplomats are putting forward their predictions as we speak.(1) And few are optimistic about the results of COP 21.

But in order to make these predictions, we must ask: Are the politicians and diplomats meeting in Paris the true revolutionaries? For now twenty-one years, they have gathered annually to assess the damage. This work has been tremendously important. Without the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, we would not have had much of the knowledge we do today, nor the relative consensus on the predicament we are in. However, political stagnation on the issue of climate change is a fact. We must recognize that the time for a new approach has come.

The solutions-driven agenda

We must revolutionize the way we think about climate change and how to address it. This may seem like a daunting task. Climate change has become a politically toxic issue in some parts of the world, and among decision makers, it is saturated with questions of economic gains and losses.

That is exactly why the momentum and the action has to come collectively from somewhere else: below. The need for a bottom-up approach is increasingly recognized, which is why Paris is becoming the breeding ground for grassroots initiatives ahead of COP 21.

The good news is that the solutions are already out there. This very week, the annual Sustainia100 (2) is released, showcasing the 100 best sustainable, scalable, and implementable innovations in the world right now. Now in its fourth year, the "Sustainia100" publication was launched by the Scandinavian think tank Monday Morning Sustainia (3) to identify leading solutions from around the globe that are already creating a more sustainable future. Chosen from a pool of 1500 businesses and projects from six continents by sustainability experts from Yale University, World Resources Institute among others, the Sustainia100 solutions highlight the bottom-up potential for worldwide sustainable transformation.

The 3200 solutions that Sustainia has gathered over the past four years show that sustainable solutions not only benefit everyone; they are also good business. More than half of this year's selected innovations are not only competing on sustainability criteria, but also on affordability and convenience with e.g. new reuse, recycling and take-back models.

Once we really dive into these solutions and the promise they hold for transforming societies and creating new markets, the revolutionary potential becomes obvious: what if the gravest threat we ever faced as a species also became our greatest opportunity to build the world we want to live in?

The distance between risk and opportunity

This mindset of mapping new opportunities within the traditional risk-landscape is the driving force behind the Global Opportunity Network (4), now in its second year. Last year, the network gathered experts from around the globe and identified fifteen opportunities arising from extreme weather; lack of fresh water; unsustainable urbanization; non-communicable diseases; and lock-in to fossil fuels. The resulting 2015 Global Opportunity Report (5) functions as a catalogue of new markets shaping the society of tomorrow.

The network has now again identified five of the biggest risks (6) the world faces and is during these very weeks traveling the world in search of fifteen of the best sustainable opportunities to be unearthed from these global challenges. The five risks to be explored are resistance to lifesaving medicine; accelerating transport emissions; global food crisis; loss of ocean biodiversity; and a generation wasted to unemployment.

Together with Sustainia100, the Global Opportunity Network shows that we can shorten the distance between risks, opportunities and solutions. For each of the risks that the Global Opportunity Network has identified, there are three new market opportunities. Meanwhile, Sustainia100 shows just how many solutions are actually already there, waiting to be scaled up.

For example, outdoor air pollution kills more than three million people across the world each year, and the problem is increasing with accelerating speed. In India alone, the number of people killed by outdoor air pollution from by 12 percent from 2005 to 2010. Transportation is one of the biggest sources of pollution. How do we ensure that cities can develop and be properly connected, while still being places where people can live and thrive? Within this challenge hides an opportunity to develop new solutions and open new markets. The city of Johannesburg has recognized this potential and has issued green bonds worth approximately $143 million for climate-friendly city projects. Featured as one of the solutions in this year's Sustainia100, Johannesburg will work with the C40 Sustainable Infrastructure Finance Network and the Climate Bonds Initiative to share the model with cities across the globe.

There are numerous other examples of connections to be made between risks, such as the current global food crisis, and solutions, such as vertical farming and food waste management systems. When making these connections, the revolutionary solution can come from anywhere.

Gathering a revolutionary army

Like all true revolutions in history, this one is coming from below and building its way up through all levels of society. We no longer expect to find all of the answers in a policy paper, but perhaps in a new app invented by a teenager on the other side of the globe. This is both slightly frightening and hugely exciting. Most importantly, it means that the world that is trying to tackle climate change in Paris 2015 is a different one than in Copenhagen 2009. During the past few years a new breed of solutions - and opportunity makers have emerged and documented and demonstrated how far we have come in solving some of the biggest challenges ahead - and how big the potentials are.

They are exponents of this new and growing mindset, who are going to change the world. Our biggest task for the next six months is gathering these people in a revolutionary army, who will meet in Paris virtually or physically this December. The army will not be made up of policy makers, but of solution makers. As Sustainia's now more than 3200 identified sustainable solutions demonstrate, we have the tools we need to build a better world. If we mobilize and follow this mindset, the climate negotiations in Paris could be turned into a success before they even take off.

We are all hoping for the best agreement possible in Paris, but the change we need depends on more than the signatures on a dotted line. It depends on us. Let's launch the French Solution Revolution.