Part 4: Solution Stories


Transformational Change


There is no time left for incremental solutions.

Kimberly Byrd

Reflections on the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid, Spain from Kimberly Byrd, Institute on the Environment Educator at the University of Minnesota. Read this post in its original form on Kimberly’s blog page here

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.”


Synergy Now


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.

“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.


Nature-Based Solutions


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.”

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.

Getting to work

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.


Written and photos by Kimberly Byrd, PhD


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