O’Brien, K. (2018). Is the 1.5°C Target Possible? Exploring the Three Spheres of Transformation. Current Opinion in Sustainability 31: 153-160. 


Carbon roadmaps and pathways are important for describing, planning and tracking the technical, managerial and behavioral changes that are consistent with the Paris Agreement. Nevertheless, roadmaps and pathways for decarbonization often gloss over a fundamental question: ‘How do deliberate social transformations happen?’ Often the social complexity of transformation processes is downplayed or ignored in favor of technical solutions and behavioral approaches. In this article, I explain why they are incomplete and unlikely to ‘bend the curves’ to reduce emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. I first discuss the distinction between technical and adaptive challenges and why this is relevant. I then review and describe the dynamics of social change in relation to three related and interacting ‘spheres’ of transformation: the practical, political, and personal spheres. Finally, I explore how these three spheres can be used to identify leverage points for transformations that support the 1.5°C target.