CONVERGE is an interdisciplinary research project funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme. The team comprises nine partners from industrialised nations (Sweden, the UK and Iceland), transition economies (Hungary) and rapidly industrialising nations (India).
Humankind depends on the natural environment, yet human activities are rapidly carrying us to an unsustainable situation at global and regional levels. We are exploring the idea of global equity in the light of biophysical planetary limits. We recognize that Earth’s resources are not equally distributed; some people, communities or nations are using much more, and some much less, than their fair share. At the same time, the rate of consumption of many resources exceeds the capacity of our planet to supply them. Our vision is of a world that stops 'borrowing from our children’, and shares our Earth’s resources equitably. We call this movement towards a 'fair share within the Earth’s limits' Convergence.
Our goal is to build up a body of knowledge in natural and social science around this complex global sustainability issue, and present a ‘CONVERGE narrative' developed jointly by academics, sustainability practitioners and a range of communities around the world who seek to translate the ideas of sustainability science into practice.
Our research has been inspired by the Global Commons Institute’s concept of Contraction and Convergence ™(C&C, Meyer 2002), which suggests a way to avoid dangerous climate change by stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases while promoting global social equity. C&C is based on the principle that every person has the right to emit an equal per-capita share of carbon. If safe, or acceptable, levels of global carbon emissions are estimated, then each country’s equitable allocation can be defined, and the world can begin to reduce emissions overall.
Extending from this framework of greenhouse gas emissions, Convergence combines complex ethical principle of human equality and fairness with the need for sustainability, it suggests the broad outlines of a global programme for change.
We view Convergence as a visionary concept that needs to be part of the pathway to global sustainability. We recognise the deep and complex interconnections between society, the natural environment, trade, energy, sustenance, governance, and human wellbeing. The fundamental challenge CONVERGE addresses is how do we manage, today, all of these dimensions fairly to ensure the survival and wellbeing of the world’s people into the future?
In tackling this challenge, CONVERGE uses a functional systems approach to identify the convergent and divergent processes at play in our globalising world. From this systems perspective, the many divergent processes associated with globalisation – growing income disparities, unequal access to resources, and to services like health, education, and so on – can be considered to be out-of-control feedbacks. Using a systems approach can help to reframe sustainability actions and policies in ways that maintain processes in equilibrium. Fortunately, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world has already gone a long way towards agreeing the principle of global equity, stating that everyone should have political and religious freedom and access to law, health care and education. Convergence embodies this philosophy and aims to translate it in practice.
- To explore and develop the concept of Convergence across social, economic and ecological systems in the context of globalisation
- To test Convergence as a framework for holistic sustainability indicators
- To evaluate how EU and other policies and agreements conflict with or support processes of Convergence, testing the Convergence frame with policy communities and stakeholders
- To investigate how different methods of community engagement can contribute towards building sustainable communities in the North and South, testing the Convergence frame with local stakeholders
- To identify processes of real-world Convergence through case studies
- To draw upon our wide range of academic disciplines and real-world experience to analyse the results of objectives 1 to 5, and synthesise new understandings into a multi-scale conceptual framework
- To recommend how to integrate Convergence into the internal and external policies of the EU
- To communicate and disseminate the findings of CONVERGE to different end-users through a range of media.
CONVERGE started in September 2009. We are in the process now of analysing what is already happening, both in the research and policy domains and in real communities that have taken steps on the path towards sustainability. We are investigating existing processes of Convergence, examining their characteristics and strengths to identify where intervention can make them more effective. This involves an exploration of those processes that lead to ‘malign’ forms of divergence or that limit Convergence too, and of ways to diminish, eliminate or reverse them.
We are looking at whether it is possible to measure and monitor the progress of Convergence initiatives through the use – or development – of indicators. We want to understand how and where convergent processes can start, including with the individual, with local community groups, and with businesses. We want to find out how convergent behaviour can be created and supported via policy. We are collating information on community initiatives, products, services, policies, and indicators of globalisation and sustainability. The collection of this information will enable us to test a multi-level framework for Convergence, which can then be used to promote Convergence with target stakeholder groups: communities and civil society organisations; governmental and inter-governmental organisations; and businesses.