Atmospheric: Innovations for sustainability in a post-pandemic future


The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the world into turmoil and disrupted the status quo, but it is also providing opportunities for innovation in the way we live and work. According to the latest report released by The World in 2050 (TWI2050) initiative, the crisis can provide an opportunity to create sustainable societies with higher levels of wellbeing for all.

The third report released by the TWI2050 initiative titled, Innovations for Sustainability: Pathways to an efficient and sufficient post-pandemic future, assesses the positive potential benefits innovation brings to sustainable development for all, while also highlighting the potential negative impacts and challenges going forward. The document outlines strategies to harness innovation for sustainability by focusing on efficiency and sufficiency in providing services to people, with a particular focus on human wellbeing.

“The transformation to a sustainable future is achievable–we have the knowledge, means, and capacity, despite the magnitude of the challenge and the current unsustainable direction of development, additionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that this report will provide policy- and decision makers around the world with invaluable new knowledge to inform action and commitment toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in these interesting and challenging times,” explains Director of TWI2050 and IIASA Emeritus Research Scholar Nebojsa Nakicenovic.

According to the authors, with only 10 years left until 2030, there is a general lack of political will on the part of many governments across the globe to mobilize the necessary resources and make the required policy and structural changes to achieve the goals set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs. The level of global commitment and cooperation displayed during the development of the 2030 Agenda, however, needs to continue and deepen during this critical implementation phase. In this regard, the report aims to provide a way forward toward a sustainable future in a ‘new’ post COVID-19 world that will divert from the ‘old’ alternatives that both transcend the planetary boundaries and leave billions behind.

The new report highlights the need for better governance for integrated SDG implementation, inclusive political institutions, and the importance of science, technology, and innovation in providing possible solutions for achieving a sustainable future for people and the planet. In this regard, the authors for instance, point out that small-scale, granular innovations can be expected to have faster adoption and diffusion, lower investment risk, faster learning, more opportunities to escape lock-in, more equitable access, higher job creation, and larger social returns on innovation investment, which are all advantages that could enable rapid change. The six transformations required for sustainable development laid out in the initiative’s 2018 report, Transformations to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, namely human capacity, demography and health; consumption and production; decarbonization and energy; food, biosphere, and water; smart cities; and the digital revolution, are also reiterated.

“The current rate and direction of innovation is insufficient, in part due to a relatively narrow focus on technology innovation without also addressing societal, institutional, cultural, and governance innovation. It is time to rebalance, so that all dimensions of innovation are promoted simultaneously, while also addressing inequities. In light of the current crisis the world finds itself in as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch of this report during the UN High-level Political Forum, is timely,” comments Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

The report further states that transforming service-provisioning systems is about safeguarding human needs and sharing available resources fairly within planetary boundaries. The central question is which types of technological and social innovations can contribute to decreasing inequalities, increasing resilience and society’s collective ability to deal with crises, while also decreasing the pressures on natural resources.

“Achieving accelerated change will depend on the world moving away from a supply-driven model of development to one that is low-demand and services-driven, based on efficiency and sufficiency, while also focused on providing wellbeing and decent living standards for all,” says IIASA Emeritus Research Scholar Arnulf Grubler.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated system-wide weaknesses in implementing an early and effective global response. However, if the right lessons are learned, it provides significant opportunities to accelerate the societal consensus and political reforms needed to achieve the transformation toward sustainability.

“We highlight the prioritization and renewal of the science-policy-society interface for evidence-based transformations built on a culture of trust, academic freedom, communication of accurate information, and a reinvigoration of global science organizations, highlighting that transnational crises require global context-sensitive responses. In this regard, investing financial resources and nonmonetary support to assist local and municipal actors and international organizations is key,” concludes Julia Leininger, head of the department “Transformation of Political (Dis-)order” at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE).

The report is based on the voluntary and collaborative effort of more than 60 authors and contributors from around 20 institutions globally, who met virtually to develop science-based strategies and pathways toward achieving the SDGs. The report will be launched during a virtual side event of the UN High-level Political Forum 2020 on Tuesday, 7 July 2020 from 14:00 to 15:00 CET. Please register to join the event virtually:



TWI2050 – The World in 2050 (2020). Innovations for Sustainability: Pathways to an efficient and sufficient post-pandemic future. Report prepared by The World in 2050 initiative. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria []

Previous reports by TWI2050:

TWI2050 – The World in 2050 (2018). Transformations to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Report prepared by The World in 2050 initiative. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Laxenburg, Austria []

TWI2050 – The World in 2050 (2019). The Digital Revolution and Sustainable Development: Opportunities and Challenges. Report prepared by The World in 2050 initiative. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria. []


Researcher contact

Nebojsa Nakicenovic

Director TWI2050

IIASA Emeritus Research Scholar

Tel: +43 2236 807 411

[email protected]

Press Officer

Ansa Heyl

IIASA Press Office

Tel: +43 2236 807 574

Mob: +43 676 83 807 574

[email protected]

About IIASA:

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.


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