Human Sustainability: Our Focus is all Wrong.

Over the past 40 years, a slew of treatises, accords, charters, and goals have emerged, spotlighting crucial global challenges. People genuinely want to help, some just want to be seen as wanting to help, but that is a topic for another article… We gather at CoP meetings, climate weeks, and various awareness days, among other events.

While these efforts are commendable, a pressing question looms: what tangible changes have been realized? The disheartening answer is very little. Based on different emission scenarios modeled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reaching the 2°C threshold could occur later this century if we do not change.

Note: I touched a little on this topic last year, but I now feel compelled to mount my soapbox and use my “dad voice”.

Why the CoP System is a Joke that no one finds funny.

The CoP (Conference of Parties) system, conceived under the umbrella of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, blasted off with the lofty aspiration of uniting nations against the looming shadow of climate catastrophe. Yet, its journey has been nothing short of a spectacular facepalm. I’ve attended several of these circuses myself and eventually decided to spare myself the agony and stopped going. And here’s why:

They produce paper-thin commitments that might as well be doodled on napkins, and nations so deeply mired in their self-serving agendas that any notion of a shared global future feels like a cruel joke. And let’s not even get started on those “look-at-me, I’m-so-woke” celebrities and organizations that latch onto the cause du jour, only to flippantly jump ship when the next trendy crisis emerges.

As for the heavy-hitting nations? They’re adept at a sly game of cat and mouse, consistently sidestepping their obligation to extend financial or technological aid to nations grappling on the frontlines. Rather than rolling up their sleeves and hunkering down for tangible solutions, these CoP galas morph into theatrical arenas of unproductive bickering and monumental ego battles. And those well-intentioned souls, brandishing their SDG flags, rubbing shoulders at swanky UN soirées, and spouting off about global objectives? Their efforts, tragically, feel like mere droplets in the vast, arid expanse of genuine transformation.


The Delusion of Top-Down Approaches: Professionals, It’s Time to Own Your Mess!

So why are we relying on grand systems like CoP and expecting magic? These top-down charades, with their grand proclamations and ceremonial handshakes, have been nothing but a circus of ineffectiveness. Burdened by bureaucratic bloat, skewed national interests, and the impossible juggling act of global collaboration, these top-down games have consistently choked under their own weight.

But here’s the kicker: whining about the inefficiencies of global organizations or playing the blame game with nation-states is a cop-out (see what I did there?). Waiting for saviors to drop from the sky? Good luck with that. Radical, kick-ass change doesn’t come from a lofty decree – it sprouts from the muck and grit of the ground up.

Every profession out there – yes, we’re calling you out – needs a reality check. Architects, stop obsessing over the next ‘iconic’ design and start thinking green. Agriculturalists, if your only love is yield, it’s time for a breakup; romance regenerative farming instead. Professionals across the board need to roll up their sleeves, ditch the usual excuses, and get their hands dirty for the planet. And Project Management, yeah… Big time change is needed.

Here is an example: Land Change

Land system changes, particularly the likes of deforestation, urban sprawl, and expansive agricultural projects, stands as one of the nine planetary boundaries identified by the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Trespassing these boundaries could instigate irreversible and catastrophic environmental shifts, and land system alteration is already witnessing alarming strides.
At the nexus of these land system changes is project management.

Every construction project, agricultural endeavor, and urban expansion is, at its core, a project, meticulously (or sometimes not-so-meticulously) managed from conception to completion. Yet, a considerable oversight in conventional project management is the inadvertent, or sometimes deliberate, neglect of environmental considerations.

But let’s face it: it’s no longer enough to simply sustain. Our planet is at a tipping point, and merely maintaining our current status is akin to placing a plaster on a festering wound. We must shift from sustainability to regeneration.

Project managers worldwide bear a significant brunt of this responsibility. It’s imperative that these professionals not only understand but actively embed regenerative practices into their projects. This means going beyond minimizing harm to actively enhancing and improving the ecosystems their projects touch. It’s about flipping the script — transitioning from projects that take away from the environment to those that contribute positively.

For instance, instead of just planning for the least disruptive way to erect a building, a regenerative approach would ask: How can this construction support local biodiversity? Can we integrate green roofs or vertical gardens? Could we harness renewable energy or create systems that give back more to the environment than they take?
In essence, every land-related project should aim to leave the land better than it was found.

Project management, with its structured methodologies and its ability to control resources, timelines, and outcomes, is uniquely positioned to drive this change.

The stakes have never been higher, and the mandate for project managers is clear: evolve from mere sustainers to proactive regenerators. Our planet’s future, teetering at the edge of critical boundaries, depends on it.

What is happening though?

Everyone wants to talk about AI which is nothing more than the newest shiny toy to distract us from what we are doing to ourselves. We need to change how we deliver change and do it now as time is not on our side.

Note: This is my personal opinion not the official GPM Stance.  Actually, yeah it is.  We all feel this way.

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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