The Importance of a Natural Social Contract and Co-Evolutionary Governance for Sustainability Transitions
2. Transformation Pleas and Governance Approaches for Achieving This
- Does the project offer a contribution to a societal problem (challenge)? Which challenge is this?
- Is it informed by a vision of sustainable mobility? Is it designed to learn about this vision?
- Is it part of a transition path? If so, what path?
- Is it oriented towards demonstration or learning? Does it learn about sustainability aspects, markets, how various actors may be enrolled and how the project may be scaled up?
3. Quest for a New Social Contract
“The core philosophy of a social contract, as articulated by Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, Kant, Rawls and other political philosophers, emphasizes an implicit arrangement between citizenry, their respective societies, and legitimate government to create a healthier and safer society together. Social Contract theory states that legitimate, collective governance arrangements should be informed by the consent of the people (Weale, 2004), and this theory, therefore, informs our modern concepts of democracy. The question remains, however, if a social contract focused on individualism, materialism, privatisation, short-termism, the free market, and with a singular focus on economic growth, while paying little attention to social and ecological values, can adequately respond to the challenges of the 21st century. As Albert Einstein said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. The fact that ecological vulnerability translates into social and economic vulnerability, and a complex set of security and justice challenges, is an important omission in Social Contract theory, and political theory and economics more in general” .
“Nature has had little or no intrinsic value for most (but not all) Social Contract theorists” .
“Increasing wealth inequality, financial crises, ecological crisis, climate change, trade wars, migration issues, and even vulnerabilities to the coronavirus pandemic (related to global dependencies and interconnectedness), can be traced back to two common denominators: First, the schism between humans and nature and the dominant anthropocentric worldview that arose during the Enlightenment era. Additionally, second, the capitalist economic logic and in particular the unsustainability of infinite economic growth in a finite world and belief in the infallibility of the free market that arose after the Second World War” .
“Since the 1970s, many Western countries have too easily subscribed to an economic model that if the market arranges it, then it is better and more efficient. However, this has left us with market-based societies characterized by individualism and self-interest, materialism, privatisation, short-termism, and a dogmatic focus on profit and economic growth. The result diminishes social and ecological values and instead prioritizes excessive production, consumption and depletion of our natural resources and raw materials. This decades-long focus has resulted in loss of biodiversity and key ecosystem functions, as well as environmental degradation, and the depletion of natural resources and raw materials. We now experience first-hand that ecological vulnerability translates into economic and social vulnerability, and a complex set of security and justice challenges.” .
4. Four Proposals for Transition Policy
- Transition policy is often too sectoral, so that it does not take sufficient advantage of other agendas. Dutch policy between 2001 and 2009 was judged to be inconsistent  and not very democratic ). Attention to the contradictions between various agendas (sustainability, liberalization and democracy) helps to achieve better results, with the help of interministerial coordination, evaluative research into policy interaction effects  and integrated approaches for regional development based on multiple value creation (such as the Markemodel or Midden-Delflandmodel).
- Choices of instruments, direction and implementation matters receive too little attention. The Netherlands has high policy ambitions about a circular economy. Provinces have a circular agenda, but there is little power and money behind it. There are five ‘transition agendas’ and agreements such as the Plastic Pact and the Concrete Agreement, but voluntary action is paramount. Current innovation policies and mission-driven agendas are illustrative of the old-fashioned and blind belief that everything can be solved by stimulating technology, and therefore do not provide a sufficient basis for social innovation. A positive example is this regard is the Integrated Circular Economy Report (ICER), which provides an overview of the state of play of the transition to a circular economy in the Netherlands. The report describes actions by social parties and provides guidelines for government policy. As noted by EGT and transition management scholars, transition endeavours have to be institutionalized (via laws, agencies responsible for monitoring and evaluation) and should go beyond a push strategy by giving attention to strategic uncertainty, complex mutual dependence and a polyarchic power distribution in which partial interests have de facto veto power.
- Too little attention is paid to the unrest that transitions entail. Many voters do not like the unrest inherent in transitions. Marc Oosterhout says that “Voters don’t like change; they are conservative by nature. They are for safety and security. You see this, for example, with technological innovations. They only succeed if innovations are in line with recognizable routines. Of course, you can change people and move them to new behavior, but that almost always goes through the way of certainty and trust.” (https://www.volkskrant.nl/columns-opinie/opinie-de-kiezer-houdt-niet-van-verandering-dus-moet-links-juist-vertrouwen-bieden~b2bfef86/) (accessed on 14 March 2021) A commitment to a just transition helps to win support and pre-empt resistance. This can be achieved through projects of co-creation and (de facto) regulations that the benefits of renewable energy projects (solar panels and wind turbines on farmers land) are distributed fairly. However, even that may not be enough to take away feelings of anxiety. According to research by Kennedy and Givens : “participants in higher social classes experience environmental concern in a way that is consistent with a broader sense of competency and control to positively shape the world around them, including the natural environment”, whereas “those in lower social classes experienced environmental concern in a way consistent with their broader sense of lacking power to influence their surroundings”. This shows that there are also limits to an anxiety-reducing approach.
- More attention is needed for the adaptation of structures. Sustainable development can never be achieved through technology alone. Structures need to be overhauled , all innovation and transition researchers agree on this, but little is done with this insight. The triple helix model (cooperation between governments, knowledge institutions and companies for (open) innovation) works excellently for high-tech innovations but is not a good model for sustainability transitions , because it makes little or no use of civil society organizations and citizens, who are active in the hybrid sphere. Involvement of civil society organizations ensures that moderately sustainable options (such as biomass for energy production) are identified as such and that the capacity for change of civil organizations is used. Stimulating interdisciplinary research ensures that social science knowledge is used more and better.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Institutional Design Principle||Explanation|
|Adaptive, reflexive and deliberative approaches to governance||Governance taking account of ambivalence, complexity, uncertainty, and distributed power in societal change.|
|Equal and fair (re-)distribution of risks, costs and benefits||Through the involvement and strong representation of groups and stakeholders who will be affected or are particularly vulnerable.|
|Arrangements for collective decision-making||To enhance the participation of groups and stakeholders in decision-making processes.|
|Reflexive monitoring||This provides a foundation for reflection and social learning, while at the same time supporting accountability.|
|Conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms||Prevention and resolution of conflicts is possible through a variety of mechanisms, such as appropriate benefit sharing arrangements, mutual gains approach, timing and careful sequencing, transparency, building trust, and sharing or clarifying tasks, powers and responsibilities.|
|Embedded activities/polycentric governance||Governance and management at a level of scale that does the most justice to the complexity of socio-ecological systems. For example, in European law this is similar to the principle of subsidiarity: social and political issues should be addressed at the most immediate or local level.|
|Policy learning||By exploring uncertainties, considering alternatives and ‘reframing’ problems and solutions, as well as policy experimentation: a deliberate and coordinated activity (e.g., pilot projects) to develop and test new policy alternatives.|
|Key Characteristics||Old Economy/Social Contract||Well-Being Economy/Natural Social Contract|
|Overarching goal of the social contract||Protection (e.g., of property rights), maintenance of order, individual freedom||Broad welfare, through human security, social and environmental justice and planetary health. Well-being is pursued in less materialistic ways.|
|Worldview||Anthropocentric. People work for pay which allows us to consume.||Ecocentric or Earth-centric (people and society as part of larger ecosystem, that of planet Earth). Labour is a source of uplifting instead of a drag.|
|Vision of individual||Homo Economicus: a rational person who pursues wealth|
for his own self-interest; individual isolated from others.
|Homo Ecologicus: a model of human behaviour that is characterised by ecological consciousness and care for the well-being of others and the natural environment. It does not deny that people can be selfish and driven to material gains (Homo Economicus) but says that this denies another reality, of people being social and dependent on nature for their well-being.|
|Development paradigm||Neoliberalism: government is responsible for creating the underlying conditions that the free market requires in order to flourish||Hybrid sphere: collaboration between governments, businesses, knowledge institutions, civil society, and an important role for citizenship, characterized by penta-helix models and based on multiple value creation.|
|Policy concerns||Security and economic opportunity||Empowerment, social justice based on equity, environmental security and justice, planetary health|
|Response to climate change||Green growth and green technology (mostly large scale). Carbon capture and storage as important solution.||Cooperatives and platforms to ensure that costs and benefits of energy transition are fairly distributed|
|Innovation models||Triple Helix, shared value creation||Penta helix models based on multiple value creation, and Presencing/Theory U (Based on the work of Claus Otto Scharmer.)|
|Basis for social relations||Utilitarian||Mutual respect, solidarity, togetherness, social and environmental stewardship|
|Vision of society||Individualistic||Society is a social-ecological system, and individual considered in relation to social environment (human life is group life) and natural environment|
|View on the natural environment||Ecosystem is a black box; Natural resources to be used exclusively by humans, to serve the needs of humanity||Earth is the whole of which humans are subservient (but impactful) parts. Institutional and economic design based on natural design principles.|
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Huntjens, P.; Kemp, R. The Importance of a Natural Social Contract and Co-Evolutionary Governance for Sustainability Transitions. Sustainability 2022, 14, 2976. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14052976
Huntjens P, Kemp R. The Importance of a Natural Social Contract and Co-Evolutionary Governance for Sustainability Transitions. Sustainability. 2022; 14(5):2976. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14052976Chicago/Turabian Style
Huntjens, Patrick, and René Kemp. 2022. "The Importance of a Natural Social Contract and Co-Evolutionary Governance for Sustainability Transitions" Sustainability 14, no. 5: 2976. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14052976