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Fr. Transition

Sp. Transición

® ecosystem, cosmopolitanism, globalization

The notion of transition first identified what could lead to cultural or civilizational developments, to refer first of all to the last 10,000 years that the International Congress of Geology in 1885 called "Holocene", that is, the "entirely new era" marked by the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to the advent of agriculture. More familiar, the notion of transition brought about by man's disproportionate influence on the ecosystem leads to the blurring of the classic distinction between nature and culture in the anthropocene, due to the central role played by humanity in the geological and ecological evolution of the planet and the now transnational challenges it involves.

A  basic actor of political changes, civil society first appeared timidly in Bodin's writings, between communitarianism and a kind of ill-defined universalism, to refer to a form of societas civilis in the Latin translation that Bodin himself made of his work, with no theoretical content but with reference to a transition from an absolutist sovereign to the observance of obligations and duties of justice that respond to the cosmic harmony desired by God (Ghils 1995).

In modern times, this notion applied to the influence of associations (today often called NGOs) in terms of democratic citizenship as conceived by Tocqueville, or of social institutions as conceived by Gramsci to question state power. In this respect, the civil society concept has experienced a revival, both in the various language phrases and studies that sociologists and political scientists devoted to it, in line with the renewal marked by the upheavals of 1989 and 1990 in Central and Eastern Europe. The hypertrophy of state systems that had reached saturation was brutally undermined by "deep forces" mixing political, national, community, religious and strictly social elements.

More recently, the (re)emergence of a civil society opposed to the authoritarian power of socialist states in Central and Eastern Europe is one of the factors that brought about its revival, as noted by Fedorowicz (1991), and corresponds to the original meaning that Adam Michnik gives to the term, i.e. a political strategy for transforming society based on the action of citizens, although in other regions this movement may just as easily mark a step back, as in Egypt today (Coleman 2013). The representative body that constitutes civil society is traditionally supported by the religious element, so that civil society is also fragmented, but differently from the previous case. The process of destructuring civil society has been carried out, as Gellner (1991) observes, with reference to the observations made previously by Ibn Khaldun, by the affirmation of urban society, politically unified by the colonial and postcolonial state at the expense of the rural, traditional and popular Islam of marabouts and dervishes and of tribal structures, which are politically differentiated. The vitality of faith has been transferred to this "superior" Islam, sober and moralistic, purged of its popular deviations and whose ambition today is to ensure that the political power observes religious law and ensures its respect. This led Gellner to conclude that, unlike post-communist societies thirsty for civil society and which have lost faith in state ideology, the Muslim world had remained committed to its faith, without seeking to empower a shattered civil society.

Used critically by those who note the decline of civic values in capitalist countries as well as in so-called political and institutional transition movements in Russia, China or Africa (Bratton 1992), the notion of transition has expanded to mean, in the context of research related to the notion of anthropocene, as noted in the 2017 call of 15,000 scientists on the state of the planet: "Transitions to sustainability can take different forms, but all require civil society pressure, evidence-based advocacy campaigns, political leadership and a solid understanding of policy instruments, markets and other factors. These are - in no order of urgency or importance - some examples of effective and diversified measures that humanity could take to make the transition to sustainability" (Foucart and Valo 2017).

The anthropocene reached its "phase II" (1945-2015) according to the scientists' names, refers to the "great acceleration" caused by man's control over nature, which has accelerated considerably during this period, so that "... 60% of the services provided by the earth’s ecosystems are already degraded" (Galus 2008). During the 1980s to 2000, humanity gradually became aware of the dangers that human presence poses to the global ecosystem, within the framework of the various international meetings on climate and as a result of the numerous scientific studies on the subject. As in various countries, the term is found in official titles like " The Ministry for the Ecological Transition” (Spanish: Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica) or “ministro da Transição Energética” (Minister of Environment and Energetics Transition) in Portugal.

In view of this state of affairs, environmental and political management implies three possibilities for dealing with phase III of the anthropocene (from 2015 and beyond). The first is avoiding any changes by relying on the resilience of societies, the economy and the environment; the second is to mitigate human influence through better environmental and resource management, the use of appropriate technologies, population control and the rehabilitation of degraded areas to initiate the transition to sustainable development. The whole implies "transition" to a decarbonized economy, social adaptability, openness to technological innovations and effective and coherent management by the public and private sectors; the third, if the first two were doomed to failure, would consist in a more utopian implementation of "climate geo-engineering" through the manipulation of the global environment to counterbalance the influence of the human factor. It is believed that this would involve sequestering carbon dioxide in underground reservoirs, spreading sulphate particles in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels and cool temperatures, etc., which could create a new Ice Age if more carbon dioxide is not added to the atmosphere in an endless predictable spiral.

However, these three options may quickly become obsolete if the inadequacy of the measures taken to date confirms scientists' fear that the earth will cross the threshold beyond which climate change will become irreversible, even if greenhouse gases are finally controlled. The "oven" effect would indeed make a large part of the planet uninhabitable, due to the vicious circle created by the combination of melting ice, warming oceans and dying vegetation (especially forests), leading to temperatures rising to a level not seen in 1.2 million years. The latest reports show that, while 157 of 197 Parties to the Agreement of Paris have set economy-wide emissions reduction targets in their NDCs (Nationally Determined Contribution or climate pledges), only 58 have done so within national laws or policies; only 16 countries (Algeria, Canada, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Japan, FYR Macedonia, Malaysia, Montenegro, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Samoa, Singapore and Tonga) of those are consistent with targets set in the NDCs, according to an analysis published on 29 October 2018 by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, both at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the World Resources Institute. Ahead of the COP24 UN climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018, there is such a gap between current pledges for action on climate change and the goals of the Paris Agreement (limiting the increase to 1.5° or even 2° in 2050) that the signatories are actually preparing a global warming of 2.7° to +3.2° as early as 2030, which would unleash a frightening set of consequences, according to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in October 2018.

In the first two cases, the notion of transition cannot avoid the social and political dimensions of what is described as sustainable, balanced, equitable and just development. In this respect, transition may takes a turn against ecological, technological, hygienic and nutritional transitions, as illustrated by obesity and its psychophysical and socio-economic consequences, which are linked today with food deficiencies, according to nutritionists and epidemiologists, i.e. for the urban poor, and no longer the richest segments of society. This is a global nutritional transition from a traditional diet rich in staple grains, meat foods, vegetables and fruits to one that is too rich in sugars and fats. Diets have not improved with the abundance of cheap food.

The first reactions of civil society are felt, through the multiplication or preparation of legal actions against governments deemed responsible for global warming or insufficient measures to protect future generations, in defence of the principle that "Climate justice is a human right". The IPCC report gives citizens arguments in this direction and opens the notion of transition to the dimension of justice and ethics: its title explicitly states that the objective must be to "eradicate poverty". Indeed, beyond ecosystems, the rights of individuals, quality of life, accessibility to employment and social balance in general will be affected in most sectors: energy, water and food production and distribution, health, public and private transport, migration to cities, industrial transformation.

In this regard, the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, proposes, in addition to the introduction of a single carbon price in the Union, an EU border tax equalizing the carbon price of imported products to that of those produced in the Union, and a "Fair Transition Fund" that should help regions that are struggling to engage in economic transition. The first proposal should put European producers on an equal footing with their competitors from countries with a lower carbon price than the EU and the second, at the very least, aims to reduce opposition from low-income countries below the EU average whose energy resources are mainly fossil, such as Poland.