Back from the Future: Challenging governance and structural power

What’s stopping humanity tackling the threats we’re facing?

The Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health asked just this question.

Their report, Future Earth — linking research on health and sustainability by Professor Sir Andy Haines and his colleagues was published in the BMJ last July.

They identified three ‘categories of challenges that limit action on health and environmental change’. Represented in the info-diagram below, they are:

❖ Failure of knowledge/research and information challenge, including insufficient understanding and a lack of integrated approaches. As Haines et al say, however, we already have sufficient evidence to act.

❖ Failure of imagination/cognitive challenge; e.g. over reliance on GDP as a measure of human progress, pursuing economic growth et al. Until we can imagine what needs to be implemented, however, this cognitive challenge will persist.

❖ Failure of implementation/governance challenge. This is the key issue, how we are going to change within a rapidly accelerating, urgent when. And that means facing up to today’s vested interests.

Notice, though, that we’ve weighted the three failures/challenges unevenly as we wanted to emphasise the biggest challenge, governance.

Today’s successful organisations are unlikely to have the systems, capabilities or indeed perhaps the desire, to reduce the value of their current vested interests. But these are the very interests which, if unchecked, will continue to worsen the huge challenges we’re facing.

We need to turn our attention away from individual or city level action to the structural power that frames the agri-food system.

Hence our recommendation that the Government sets up a independent UK Food Security Institute as soon as possible, led by senior members of the MOD and/or intelligence community.

note: See also our recent horizon scanning project report Back from the Future.

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