Sustainability and internationalism: driving development in the 21st century


People’s lives and livelihoods face profound threats from unmanaged or badly managed climate change as we continue to follow paths of unsustainable growth and development. At the same time discontent is growing in many countries with both internationalism and the prevailing order at home. But the world also has an immense opportunity.

In this paper, Nicholas Stern contends that embarking on a path of strong, sustainable and inclusive growth can deliver the zero-carbon economy and the Sustainable Development Goals, and the pursuit of these objectives itself delivers sustainable and inclusive growth. He argues that such a strategy both requires, and can help create, a new internationalism, and shows that for each of these theses the two-way causation is fundamental.

The paper covers:

  • How the world has changed, the role of ideas and internationalism in driving change, and the implications of that change for climate, environment, oceans and biodiversity
  • Rising discontent with internationalism and with elites
  • The challenges of climate change and the great new opportunities for creating sustainable and inclusive growth

Professor Stern’s concluding points include:

  • Research and innovation are showing us how to respond to climate change. We can identify the policies that can unlock the new growth story and we can show that we have the finance and technology to make a rapid start.
  • We have growing political recognition of the need for action. There is real momentum as countries, sectors and technologies change. But we must be very clear that we are not moving fast enough. The power of ideas is essential to the acceleration we need. Academics have a duty to be clear, analytical and strong on the risks and on the policy issues.
  • Leadership and political will are of the essence. Public understanding and pressure can drive leadership.
  • Acting together on climate can help rebuild internationalism and that internationalism can help tackle climate change.
  • The drive towards the zero-carbon economy will generate strong inclusive growth and that growth can take us not only to a better climate but also to the delivery of the SDGs.

This paper is an extended version of the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture in the series ‘Globalisation, Sustainability and the Power of Ideas’ at the University of Cambridge, delivered by Nicholas Stern on 25 February 2019.