Mission 2020

Mission 2020 (M2020) is an ambitious project identifying the need for significant governmental and industrial intervention by 2020 to avoid a turning point in Climate Change [1]. According the partner institutions involved, serious reduction in emission need to begin by 2020 to meet the temperature targets of the Paris agreement [2]. Therefore, this project calls for sustainable transitioning at a much faster rate than currently seen. The website boldly states “it’s necessary, it’s desirable, it’s achievable [3].” The latter is perhaps a little on the optimistic side, but not entirely impossible.

M2020 has garnered attention in recent weeks following a ‘Comment’ article by its authors published in Nature [4]. Outlined therein are six ‘Milestones’ or targeted fields where noticeable changes must occur. These are energy, infrastructure, transport, land, industry and finance. The milestones or plan outlined are aimed at ‘key sectors’ [ibid] and reflect a certain market realist pragmatism, which may lead to significant results, but may just as likely push problems down the line.

Below is a critique of each milestone coming from a degrowth perspective, aiming to reposition the individual and collective responsibility in the debate around a desirable sustainable future.

Source: Mission 2020

M2020’s proposal for addressing issues of energy involves an increase in the share of renewables in energy production, resulting in reduced carbon emissions through divestment of coal. However, there is no mention of reducing overall energy use, now or in the future. Nor is there mention of whether everyone’s energy needs can be met through technological innovation, or whether people will be expected to forego essential energy, for example in 2010 when China initiated blackouts to meet efficiency targets [5]. Furthermore, there is no suggestion about how the energy developed will be created and who will have ownership of it when it is in production.

In relation to infrastructure, M2020 proposes significant investment in better building regulations and practices, and incremental upgrading of current building stock. While homeowners and tenants will certainly benefit from better built homes, it is unclear who will foot the bill for retro-fitting, whether this will be centrally imposed or voluntary or how this might affect more informal settlements. Does increased regulation bring with it the risk of gentrification and less affordable housing?

As far as transport is concerned, there is no mention for reductions in journeys made and an increase in air travel is actually accounted for. There is a serious lack of ambition here, given that air travel is a very privileged mode of transport, frequently used by the scientific, political and business communities at huge expense to the biosphere.

The land use proposal is no less disappointing for failing to name meat production as a globally inefficient use of land, creating exclusive food at the expensive of crop prices and deforestation. Deforestation and biodiversity loss are challenged, but with no mention of how this may impact economic development in some regions. Furthermore an opportunity is missed here to propose land compensation measures for climate refugees.

The section on industry is the vaguest. Except for the desire for heavy industry to de-carbonise by 2050, all other measures seem to legitimise business as usual through the monitoring, measuring and management of the destruction industry causes to the planet.

The last of the six section deals with finance. In the vision of M2020, the role of market driven capitalism is firmly in place for the twentieth century with green bonds, carbon pricing and development banks. My own knowledge of finance is insufficient to comment on the validity of these measures, but perhaps the impenetrability of financial markets and industry alone are cause for concern.

As mentioned above, the project addresses ‘key sectors,’ which I identify as policy makers, big business, green tech companies, financial services and the scientific community. Although these sectors have a role to play, the opportunity should not be passed to point out that they have played a part in producing the unsustainable world of today [6]. I would refer to the political implications of M2020 as centrist liberalism, as the role of both the state and private companies are reified. These milestones do not account for the agency of everyone else, as people who do not operate within the key sectors addressed are excluded and become objects in a very important issue that defines their lives.

It is important to note that the failure to address the agencies of people appear from other ideological perspectives too. This emerges on the left in many ways including the scapegoating of big business [7] and the framing of any reductions in individual consumption as austerity [8][9]. Neither the accountability of firms nor their potential to have a significant outcome (good or bad) on a sustainable future is being disputed here. However, if the majority of people are not consulted, not addressed and not acknowledged as actors, they are less likely to be engaged or become involved in these debates. The consequence of this omission in M2020 is a complete lack of acknowledgement around the role of power. Results are proposed with little or no articulated consideration for who will be affected by the measures. This is of concern when the authors and their institutions are European based, minimising the voices, particularly those in the Global South.

If profit margins are not negatively affected, companies and governments will adopt more sustainable approaches and the ecological merit will be appreciated by the public. What is not guaranteed is the equitability of governments and companies in how they might execute these sustainability measures, thus resulting in undesired outcomes. Therefore, projects such as M2020, must ensure equitability and human welfare are meaningfully addressed in any proposal.

To conclude, M2020 is valuable in setting out the momentum needed for meaningful GHG mitigation to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The Nature paper introduces M2020 as a plan, however in reality what is proposed are merely desired outcomes. This approach disregards the needs and desires of many people and silences them from the discussion on sustainable futures.


Cited Material:

[1] Mission 2020 (2017) Website.

[2] Mission 2020 (2017) The climate turning point. Accessed online 13 July 2017.

[3] Figueres, C., Schellnhuber, H. J., Whiteman, G., Rockstrom, J., Hobley, A., & Rahmstorf, S. (2017). Three years to safeguard our climate. Nature, 546(7660), 593-595.

[4] Mission 2020 (2017) Website.

[5] The Guardian (2010) China resorts to blackouts in pursuit of energy efficiency. Accessed online: 13/07/2017.

[6] Malm, A. (2016). Fossil capital: The rise of steam power and the roots of global warming. Verso Books.

[7] Mercier, S. (2017). Climate change is not your fault. Village. Accessed online: 13 July 2017.

[8] Graham-Leigh, E. (2015). A diet of austerity: Class, food and climate change. Zero Books.

[9] Phillips, L. (2015). Austerity, ecology & the collapse-porn addicts: A defence of growth, progress, industry and stuff. Zero Books.


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