What Experts Say on Breaking the 2020s Green Impasse

In early 2020, faced with Covid-19 lockdown, we launched a survey. The idea was to leverage the 5,000+ database of sustainability experts generated from the Global Green Economy Index to ask a simple question: how can policy, markets, and people better align to address the climate crisis and promote a global green economy in the 2020s?

The online survey contained 11 total questions and received approximately 1,980 responses. The questions were divided into two main sections: a look back at what we can learn from the 2010s and a look forward at new approaches to accelerate change in the 2020s. A summary of the results can be accessed here.

Through support from a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency, we expanded the project in 2023 to dig deeper into an emerging climate paradox: the idea that there has been notable green progress in the 2020s, yet key metrics like carbon emissions, environmental degradation and social inequity continue to worsen. What drives this climate paradox in people, policies, and markets and how might we begin to resolve it?

Through two waves of surveying in 2023, experts provided their candid, anonymous feedback. The online survey contained 10 total questions and received approximately 1,050 responses. You can access the raw survey results by clicking here.

Summarizing the feedback from the 2023 surveying has been challenging. Unlike in 2020, where clear themes emerged – around the power of market forces and people-driven movements to promote change, the importance of placing climate risk at the center of economic decision making, and the vital role of “bottom-up” approaches – the 2023 data were more ambiguous. On most of the questions assessing the current status of the sustainability movement, respondents did not coalesce around one answer. For example, when asked about which actors play the most important role in advancing green progress (e.g. national government, sub-national, NGOs, investors, grassroots), responses were evenly distributed.

Tellingly, when asked to assess generally the state of the global sustainability movement in 2023, the most popular answer was that many of these entities were merely paying lip service to sustainability issues. Have we reached a moment of collective fatigue where so many solutions have been designed, debated and then diluted that a certain cynicism now prevails that any of our institutions can actually address the scale of this problem? Or perhaps this survey finding illuminates another dimension of the climate paradox: sustainability initiatives remain primarily focused on appeasing stakeholders (i.e. voters, shareholders, employees) with the least disruptive approach possible, rather than one that could realize genuine systemic change?

Despite this general theme, the 2023 survey did reveal some clear feedback. Phasing out fossil fuels remains a top priority, along with the global subsides supporting them and other policies that incentivize investment in these sectors. Like in 2020, respondents continued to favor strategies where “bottom-up” pressure from employees, customers, and shareholders compel companies to reach net-zero targets faster. Regarding the UN Convention Framework on Climate Change (COP) negotiations, the survey revealed clear support for making the process more accountable. Respondents favored ideas like parallel negotiations for biggest emitters and introduction of an international climate tribunal or a similar compliance mechanism to enforce national emission reduction pledges.

Again, to access the full results from these 2023 surveys, please click here. And I would love to hear any feedback – you can reach me through our online feedback form here.

Photo credit: Kevin Cooley

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