The world stands at a crossroads: continue to invest in yesterday’s economy — a decision that will intensify climate change, accelerate biodiversity loss and deepen socioeconomic inequities — or embark upon a great global reset that will lead humanity toward a more sustainable, prosperous and just future for all. While the latter path is the obvious choice, actions to date have largely failed to spur change at the speed and scale needed to mitigate the global crises we now face.

Reaching net-zero emissions, halting biodiversity loss and building a fairer economy will require transformational change across nearly all systems. These systems include energy, transport, the built environment, industry, land use, agriculture and management of the world’s freshwater and ocean. Broader, cross-cutting transitions must also occur, such as how we measure economic well-being, deliver basic services, equitably distribute the costs and benefits of change, finance these transformations and govern the global commons.

The Lab has identified a series of component shifts that, together, can help accelerate the transitions required across each system. Transforming the world’s energy system into one that can deliver electricity to all without emitting dangerous levels of GHG emissions, for example, will entail decarbonizing the power sector, electrifying hard-to-abate sectors (e.g., transportation and heavy industry) and developing new solutions for those that cannot connect to the grid. 

In total, there are some 50 shifts required, and nearly all must happen concurrently to protect both people and the planet. Some are widely understood and already underway, with well-established multi-stakeholder coalitions driving change. But for others, progress has stalled or is only just beginning. 

Additionally, there is no focus on the bigger picture. Where is transformational change unfolding, and where is it lagging behind? What are the ingredients of effective systems change? Can lessons of success be shared across systems? 

The Systems Change Lab was formed to answer these fundamental questions. It will:

Monitor systems change globally.

The Lab will join forces with leading data providers to build an open-data platform (launching in 2022) that will enable everyone, everywhere to see a complete picture of progress: which shifts are accelerating, stalled or heading in the wrong direction entirely, as well as key forces driving these changes. The Lab will also produce annual reports assessing global progress toward these transformations.

Identify key drivers of systems change and share lessons learned. 

While monitoring progress will reveal where transformations are accelerating, it will not shed light on why they are occurring. The Lab’s research will focus on identifying the ingredients of systems change by partnering with experts around the world to produce analysis that not only instills greater confidence that change is possible, but also equips decision-makers with a roadmap for sparking and sustaining transformational change.

Campaign for systems change. 

Our open-data platform and research will provide existing coalitions with the knowledge they need to identify the most impactful levers of change. We will also focus attention on transformations that have stalled or are heading in the wrong direction, convening new coalitions to support these critical transitions.

Systems Change Lab infographic

Cover image credit: Chris Yakimov/Flickr


As a core component of the Global Commons Alliance, the Systems Change Lab is a joint initiative between WRI, the High-Level Champions, Bezos Earth Fund, the University of Tokyo’s Center for Global Commons, the Global Environment Facility and the World Economic Forum.