The Importance of a Natural Social Contract and Co-Evolutionary Governance for Sustainability Transitions

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic offers an opportunity for dealing with persistent problems, through a transformative recovery process. It is a crisis that offers opportunities for dealing with three interrelated crises: the ecological crisis (climate change, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion, pollution and ecosystem destruction), the confidence crisis (people losing trust in government, politics, companies, regular news channels, science, each other and the future), and the inequality crisis (the widening of the gap between rich and poor). Our argument is that sustainability transitions will not succeed without a different economy and another social contract with rights and duties of care for the environment and the well-being of others, including future generations. A different social contract is not only desirable from the point of view of sustainability and fairness, and justice and equality, but it is also necessary to restore citizens’ trust in politics, government, companies and each other. In the paper we discuss mechanisms towards a Natural Social Contract: systemic leverage points for system transformations and possibilities for co-evolutionary governance by actor coalitions interested in transformative change. The combination of those three elements helps to synchronize different agendas and reduce the chance that they will work against each other.

Keywords: Natural Social Contract; co-evolutionary governance; transformative governance based on co-evolution; institutional change; policy mixes; transformative social-ecological innovation; sustainability transition

Patrick Huntjens & René Kemp (2022) The Importance of a Natural Social Contract and Co-Evolutionary Governance for Sustainability Transitions. Sustainability. 14(5):2976.

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