Transforming the Future and Societal Metamorphosis

11 November 2021
Ahead of the Climate Change Leadership Friday event in the COP26 Nordic Pavilion, titled “Fair Climate Transformation Governance”, Laila Mendy at CCL reflects on the concept of metamorphosis.

Climate change and the need for just societal transitions to low carbon economies are not a new topic for us here at Climate Change Leadership. We hear all the time about the importance of societal transition to mitigate severe climate change, but transition has not grasped the more transformative nature of rapid reductions in emissions and lifestyle changes needed to reach this goal. How, though, might we transform into something which has already been decided? We look to nature for inspiration: Metamorphosis.

Image of butterfly metamorphosis from Piqsels

Perhaps this transformation could be considered in terms of societal metamorphosis. We know the quantified end goals and limitations that we need to follow in our transformations, whether they are mainly guided by the science of planetary boundaries, of carbon budgets or science-based climate laws. Here in Sweden the present end goal of our societal transformation means reaching Net Zero 2045. But the act of transformation into this fossil free future has yet to be decided and described. Contributing pathways have been proposed by industry in Fossil Free Sweden, and midway targets have been committed to by the Swedish Government and parliament. But the collective gathering of roadmaps and pathways in order to frame and name this transformative process, itself, leaves something to be desired. Transformation infers an openness that does not quite fit in this context.

When it comes down to it, the inevitably important but still nitty-gritty debates over priorities and rates of mitigation are fiery, particularly when justice and equity principles are centred. Electric cars are an important solution, but the mining of cobalt for batteries have dangerous consequences for human rights (read more on nature.com). Nature-based solutions are an option, but access and property rights within the broader implications of off-setting can be problematic. The responsibilities of wealthier countries, with higher cumulative emissions, to reduce emissions rates faster is likewise an issue for climate justice debates. For example in Sweden, whose Net Zero goal in 2045 is 25 years ahead of the goal recently declared for India, there is now pressure on the government to act faster. In essence, the process of societal transformation, like the metamorphosis of the butterfly, is a turbulent, bloody and challenging time guided by core principles and ends.

To stretch the metaphor further, metamorphosis is also the aspect which separates juvenile and mature specimens. They occupy different habitats and engage in radically different activities. Rejecting the categorisations of countries in as mature and juvenile, which is highly problematic in terms of climate justice and the historical responsibility of climate change, it is the separation that interests me. In the international climate politics sphere, the concept demonstrates how wealthier countries who may afford a quick metamorphosis have a responsibility to support developing countries with their transition or risk broadening a divide, continue to rely on fossil fuels and risk exclusion from the full potentials that new, green, technologies and 1.5 degree living might have to offer.

The open-ended term of “transforming the future” does not suggest an unknown future in the landscape of Net Zero, Fossil Free Sweden’s road-maps, and planetary boundaries. A metamorphosis, which describes a process of transforming into something already known, may offer a better description of the process ahead of us.


This reflection is written ahead the event Climate Change Leadership is organising at the COP26 Nordic Pavilion. Here we ask how societies may transform in order to fit within carbon budgets? The seminar describes Paris Agreement-based carbon budgets as a foundation for discussing the merits and shortcomings of various governance strategies, including potential COP26 outcomes, with a focus on social fairness and effectiveness in meeting climate targets. Key speakers include our own senior lecturer, Mikael Karlsson, and previous Zennström professors Doreen Stabinsky and Kevin Anderson. The event is facilitated by Jens Ergon and Isabel Baudish. Join us in CEMUS Friday 10.00 – 11.30 (CET) to watch the livestream or watch online here: https://www.norden.org/en/event/glasgow-fair-climate-transformation-governance

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