How can we in Britain achieve resilient sustainability when addressing most of the social, economic, environmental and cultural challenges we face today requires unprecedented levels of coordination and cooperation with our European neighbours, Trans-Atlantic partners, and even global institutions of governance? How can we build resilient institutions if we choose to limit our ability to access, influence, and shape pan-European organisations that represent important steps in this direction - however imperfect and unfinished they may be right now?
Recent events have shown and continue to show that the claim according to which each sovereign nation-state can protect what individual national élites perceive to be their country's "national interest" and at the same time achieve comprehensive agreements on climate change, fair trade, humanitarian intervention, refugee relief, financial regulation, or any other of the critical challenges we face today in Britain, Europe, and across the world is not just naive, but utterly unrealistic. We will achieve resilient sustainability as a united European continent working in close cooperation with our global partners, or not at all.
To do so, we need to re-form, democratise, render more efficient, effective, and responsive to our needs both our European and national levels of government and ensure they work together in a coordinated, cooperative manner, aiming to achieve the same objective: resilient sustainability.
Re-generating our systems of governance in Britain, in Europe, and globally so that they become sustainable and resilient to unexpected shocks is the ultimate destination of our common journey. Such a revolutionary approach must address the fundamental that our gridlocked institutions are incapable of today addressing in an effective, legitimate, accountable and timely manner.
The Bruntland Report defines sustainability as “[d]evelopment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. John Elkington, one of the pioneers of sustainability, recently made the point that “[w]ith no particular intention of doing so, we are inflicting a gigantic Ponzi scheme on future generations. It is time to break the Sustainability Barrier by embracing the fundamental intergenerational task of winding down the dysfunctional economic and business models of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – and evolving new ones fit for the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries” . Jon Hawes, whose The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability has transformed this concept, has argued that in addition to ecological, social, and economic sustainability, cultural sustainability plays a critical role in the well-being of our societies, “[w]hich is to say that the four pillars of sustainability are: Cultural vitality: wellbeing, creativity, diversity and innovation; Social equity: justice, engagement, cohesion, welfare; Environmental responsibility: ecological balance; Economic viability: material prosperity”.
But sustainability is not enough. We also need to develop the resilience that will enable us to survive the unexpected future shocks that by definition we cannot account and plan for today. Joshua Cooper Ramo argues that we need to create a “deep security environment” capable of learning how to use and adapt to chaos in order to become a complex, adaptive, resilient system. We have to stop living in a Cartesian world of simple causalities where we think we can calculate and predict our world with certainty, based on existing data.
Instead, we must get used to living in a world where our future is uncertain and unpredictable, but where we can build the necessary institutions that will ensure our system of governance and our societies are resilient enough to withstand any shocks, even those we cannot now foresee or imagine. As Ramo explains this requires a revolutionary approach to governance based on “relentless innovation” and “institutional experimentation” resulting in “…new, radical, and inventive approaches…” to how we manage our own affairs.