Recent scientific reports highlight the urgent need for transformations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and long-term sustainability. This paper presents a new approach to partnerships that focuses on their role in transformations, the types of partnerships that may be needed and their enabling environment. It introduces transformation effectiveness as a criterion to evaluate a portfolio of partnerships and pathways as a tool to frame discussion of required partnerships. Guided by energy decarbonization and using a simple model of partnership formation, I highlight a (potential) mismatch between the types of partnerships required for transformation and the partnership types arising under the currently dominant voluntary approach. The model suggests the bottom-up approach can deliver some, but not all, of the partnerships needed. Five specific problems are identified—compensation for losers, partnering capacity, short-time horizons, inadequate coordination mechanisms and misaligned incentives. The paper then outlines some policy tools—transfers, regulation, public investment—governments could use to strengthen the bottom-up framework and orchestrate missing partnerships. The conclusion addresses two problems specific to the transformation approach: how to identify more systematically the partnerships needed (identification problem) and how to implement them (implementation problem); and outlines some ways to deal with these—science, deliberation, international leadership coalitions and frameworks/monitoring systems for transition partnerships.
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