SOCIAL TIPPING POINTS

Centre research on social tipping points inspires push for new Dutch climate strategy

Demonstrations against climate change in Amsterdam in 2015

Centre research on social tipping points has inspired the creation of a Dutch movement calling for a better climate strategy in the country. Photo: Chantal Bekker/Greenpeace via Wikimedia Commons

Open letter to Dutch cabinet signed by over 100 NGOs, universities, grassroots organisations and artists

Story highlights

  • The Dutch Social Tipping Points Coalition has written a letter urging the new government cabinet to include a “Social Tipping Point Strategy” in its coalition agreement
  • The proposed strategy is inspired by a research article on social tipping points co-authored by centre researchers Jonathan Donges and Johan Rockstrom
  • It is based on the idea that relatively simple social changes accelerate transitions to sustainability

THE SNOWBALL EFFECT: “Dear Ms. Hamer, you are faced with an unprecedented task to put together a cabinet that will tackle both the corona and the climate crisis, as you yourself write. In this letter, we present a new, effective solution direction."

So begins an open letter written to the new Dutch cabinet by the Social Tipping Points Coalition, pushing the new government to include a “Social Tipping Point Strategy” in its coalition agreement to effectively tackle the climate crisis.

The proposed strategy is inspired by a research article on social tipping points published in PNAS, which was led by Ilona Otto from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-authored by centre researchers Jonathan Donges and Johan Rockström.

It is based on the idea that relatively simple social changes can accelerate transitions to sustainability.

“We can't afford to gamble on 'solutions' that still emit a lot of greenhouse gases, turn green in ten or 20 years, or even hit the market then,” urges the letter.

It is high time for an integrated, strategic climate policy in which social forces also have a place.

Overwhelming response

The letter has now been signed by over 100 NGOs, universities, grassroots organisations, artists, scientists and other individuals from around the Netherlands, reaching several national newspapers, including a front page headline.

"The response to our call for a social tipping point strategy for climate policy has been overwhelming,” says Femke Sleegers, founder of Social Tipping Points Coalition.

“So many organisations, scientists and other people support the idea and want to join us.”

But what is a social tipping point? “It is much like the contagious spread of behavior or opinions in social networks, resembling the spread of epidemics,” says Donges.

“Many small changes can lead to even bigger advancements on a larger scale”.

For such contagious change to happen, certain structural improvements, or “interventions”, must occur.

Drawing from this, the letter written by the Social Tipping Points Coalition calls for the Dutch government to abolish subsidies on fossil fuels, introduce mandatory climate certification on products, stimulate citizen initiatives for clean energy, ban fossil fuel advertising, and increase climate change education in schools.

“It is such a great incentive for politicians to stop making excuses, and just get started,” says Anne-Marie Pronk, a signatory and prominent Dutch climate activist who has played a large role in disseminating the social tipping points research within the Dutch community.

A powerful and vital force

Since it was released in early 2020 Pronk has used the Stockholm Resilience Centre's accessible coverage to relentlessly promote the research on social media, and among others has introduced the concept to Urgenda, the Dutch environmental organisation best known for suing the Dutch government (and winning) for failing to do enough to prevent global climate change.

At the same time, the research had fallen into the hands of Sleegers, who aside from the Social Tipping Points Coalition runs an NGO campaigning for an advertising ban for fossil fuel companies.

Sleegers is pushing for governments to embrace civil society as a powerful and vital force to achieve the 1.5 C Paris goal.

We are very grateful to all the scientists who worked on this important research that inspired our movement.

Femke Sleegers, Social Tipping Points Coalition

Published: 2021-06-02

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