Podcast 008 – Mats Larsson – Mats Larsson – UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Mats Larsson author of “The Blind Guardians of Ignorance: Covid-19, Sustainability, and Our Vulnerable Future”

Show notes

Discussion with Mats Larsson regarding United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

Mats Larsson is author of: The Blind Guardians of Ignorance: Covid-19, Sustainability, and Our Vulnerable. A handbook for change leaders, young and old.

Mats’s web links:


  • 00:00 Intro – Music
  • 00:12 Episode
  • 29:37 Get in contact


00:01[Music]00:16so for this week’s00:17podcast the joshua sutherland podcast00:19we’ve got returning guest00:21mats larsen mass larsen is the author of00:24the book00:25the blind guardians of ignorance copin00:281900:28sustainability and our vulnerable future00:32invited mats back because we’re at the00:35beginning of the year00:37and it’s a time where a lot of people00:38are setting goals for their00:40professional life their organization but00:43also their personal life00:45and with matt’s expertise in00:50organizational change and also00:53what he views as a problematic future we00:55might be moving into00:57we thought it great to invite him on to00:58talk about goal setting01:01and in particular to take a look at the01:03united nations sustainable development01:05goals01:06which for people who are interested in01:08sustainability01:10could be a place in which they’re going01:12to be selecting their own girls for01:14their organization01:15so first of all welcome back matt how01:18are you doing01:19thank you very much joshua and i’m doing01:21fine01:23great great so last time we spoke about01:26boris johnson’s 10-point plan for a01:29um a green industrial revolution01:33and we thought we’d expand it out more01:35to the world as a whole with the united01:37nations01:38sustainable development goals i guess01:40what are your thoughts on on these goals01:43i01:43they’re 17 in total which seems like01:45quite a lot01:47yes um01:50the the 17 goals are01:54very diverse they cover almost01:59all areas of of sustainability and02:02improving the world they range from02:06from no poverty zero hunger02:10good health and well-being quality02:12education02:13gender equality etc02:17to the last one which is partnership02:21for the goals to to build partnerships02:25and um the um02:29the problem with with these goals that02:30they’re all they’re all02:32of course well intentioned and02:37it’s it’s of course there’s nothing02:39wrong with pursuing02:41any of them but in terms of02:45in terms of02:49functioning as guidelines for the02:51transformation02:52of countries or or the entire world02:56to sustainable um society and03:00sustainable way of living03:02they give too little guidance and they03:05give03:06too little focus almost anything03:09that you could think of to um03:13undertake in a project or perhaps also03:17in your personal life03:18can be covered within one of these03:22uh 17 goals and03:27the likelihood that any of the03:30the activities03:34that need to be undertaken would receive03:37enough03:37resources uh enough focus03:41in order to actually um drive03:44change in that area is very low03:48so there is a need03:52for goals but goals need to be much more03:55specific03:57they need to be much more that there03:59needs to be fewer goals04:01so that that more resources can be04:04focused into each goal04:08or into each area and that’s represented04:11by the goal04:12for example it’s deemed04:16well electromobility is deemed to be04:19a key aspect of the transformation04:22the implementation of04:26electro electric vehicles04:29and the the increasing use of electric04:32vehicles04:33and that needs to get or receive04:36much more investment than is than is the04:40case at present so um04:45and in in his ten point plan04:48uh boris johnson has set aside04:5112 billion pounds sounds like a very04:54large amount of money04:56for in order to04:59promote these 10 different05:03goals but then05:06we found we learned only a few days05:10before christmas05:11from toyota that they have calculated05:15that the transformation of japanese05:19transpo05:19transportation05:23uh cars trucks buses to05:26electro mobility will require05:28investments of05:30135 billion to05:33358 billion dollars05:36in infrastructure which05:40indicates the tremendous amount of05:43investment05:44that will have to be made in um05:48power infrastructure in power production05:52smart grid technologies and so on05:56in order to facilitate only05:59one of the transformations that will06:01become necessary06:02and having 10 goals like the06:06the the uk plan uh06:0910 10 points in the uk plan06:12and with a total financing of 1206:17billion dollars in a situation06:20where where there’s a such a tremendous06:23need06:24in if if you um if you go by06:28the figures presented by toyota in order06:31to only06:32um realize the the transformation and06:35the change to um06:37electromobility which which will require06:4250 or perhaps 100 times as much06:46as the ass is offered by by the ten06:48point plan06:49uh we can and because japan japan06:52as a country so you mentioned toyota06:54figures which are for japan as a country06:56which is06:57um the level of like electrified rail06:59infrastructure over there is very high07:01and people living07:02very dense cities and um yeah i07:05used to live over there and uh car usage07:09i suspect is lower than in britain and07:12it’s um i suspect over07:16of a nation to to move over to electoral07:18mobility they’re probably one of the07:20best place to do it07:21and it’s costing them a vast amount of07:23money so07:24uh in nations like the united states or07:26australia or things i mean the the07:28amounts of the sums are going to be07:30ginormous presumably yes definitely07:33um as a matter of fact japan has07:37almost twice as many uh cars07:40as the uk 78 million i i recall07:44uh compared to 40 million in the uk07:48and as i understand the cars in japan07:51are driven07:52almost a similar distance uh per year07:56to the ones in in the uk07:59so so say if08:03and the the population of course is is08:06uh bigger as well08:07uh almost twice the size and so08:11so probably uh the figures calculated08:14for japan08:15could be halved uh if you get08:18get a a relevant figure for for the uk08:22but it’s still a really really high08:26uh large amount of money a08:29tremendous amount of money to invest in08:32the next few decades08:34in the next few years and decades08:37in order to accomplish the08:40transformation to08:41electro mobility and so the point there08:45was08:45we were exploring the united nations08:49vast number of goals but if we just08:52e-mobility isn’t one goal i think it’s08:54um08:56affordable and clean energy is is the08:59goal they have09:00and also sustainable cities and09:02communities um09:03but if we take one sort of slice of that09:05of e-mobility the costs for the09:08transformation become09:10a vast and presume if we take any one of09:13these u.n goals09:14we can end up with numbers that are very09:17daunting09:18absolutely and you09:22you as you indicate there are uh09:25an area like immobility is covered09:29by uh more than one goal there’s09:32one called industry innovation and09:34infrastructure as well09:36which so so um the energy aspect is09:40covered09:41in one goal and and the uh09:43transportation aspect09:45and infrastructure aspect uh is covered09:48in another09:49so so these goals are like09:52are are have been developed09:55and based on10:00basically um including everything rather10:03than10:04focusing on the most important uh10:06changes10:08yeah there’s no sense of prioritization10:11i guess10:12um and maybe that’s a function of a body10:15like the united nations where10:18um all the different countries do have10:19different priorities10:22and uh how to even come up to a10:25prioritized sets without10:27some other nation um feeling it is uh10:32not a good prioritization or um10:35it the the privatization being dominated10:38by some10:39sort of bigger countries um who have a10:42loud voice or something i i guess it’s10:44difficult to to do that at that level10:47yes10:47um of course an organization that like10:52the un could not um10:55set goals that go against the10:58the policies of any of them their member11:01states11:02so uh that would account for for the11:05fact that11:05they tried to include that everything11:08but11:08there there are definitely11:12aspects of this transformation that are11:14more important and should be higher11:16prioritized11:17than others um such as the11:19transformation of of11:21uh transportation and the um11:26transformation of production and11:28distribution systems11:30because in in this11:33in a situation where countries are11:36facing the risk11:37of of um getting less oil11:41in the future oil being one of the11:45the raw materials and11:49and fuels that is challenged11:52um in the future and and all geologists11:56warn that the peak in oil production11:59could be12:00reached uh as early as in the next few12:03years12:04and after that peak it’s possible that12:08that um that oil production goes into12:12permanent decline12:13like it has done in a number of oil12:16producing countries12:17um not least the uk norway12:21and and a number of other countries12:24uh they they um that there is a need12:28to reduce the dependence on12:30transportation12:31and the need to reduce the um um12:35and the need to increase the use of12:38other12:39fuels than oil12:42yeah and i um in many science fictions12:46they will present scenarios where say12:48oil runs out12:50and show the sort of decline of society12:53um by that like the mad max films i12:56think12:56are based under this idea and while i13:00mean it can seem a bit silly to look at13:02science fiction it13:03it is a good way i think of13:04communicating to people what a13:07a future could be based on some13:10event and um like nuclear warfare like13:13what the earth could look like13:15or the lack of crops these types of13:18things that13:19as a communication tool to the wider13:20public yes13:23i think so uh but i also think that13:25there’s a risk13:27uh that if you portray13:30a situation or or depict a situation um13:34often people get used to it and they get13:37used to13:38to they think they understand it and13:41they get less alarmed13:45by um by the risk or that it will become13:49reality because they have seen13:51pictures of it and and they they have13:54seen uh13:55taken in accounts of this uh of this13:58development and they13:59they may think that um that14:02oh we can handle this in in some way and14:05and14:06um countries already have14:09started the transformation to to e14:11mobility and and14:13the um the news um14:16in the news they report on on um14:20new car models that tesla is14:23is growing very rapidly and and so on14:26and14:27that may get get people to become um14:31complacent and and feel that it’s oh14:34it’s not as dangerous as it sounds14:37because14:38there are already solutions on their way14:40and and i’ve seen this on films many14:42times and and14:45one way or another and they14:48always um get out of the um14:52of the problems and but14:56in this case um when the the decline15:00starts to set in15:01it’s um we don’t have the the means15:05of of building new transportation15:07systems15:08quickly uh in the way we should um15:13electric cars they’re all only one15:160.5 of all cars that are electric15:20um at present out of the 1.2 billion15:24cars15:24in in global fleets and in the case of15:29uh heavy transportation and and15:31transportation15:32by van and and the um15:35the development has come hasn’t come15:39as far and it has barely even started15:43so we are at a very early point15:47in this this development and as the15:50toyota calculations indicate there is15:52not only a need to build up15:54more car production and install more15:58charging posts15:59there is a need to expand power grids16:02and invest a lot of money in in new16:05power generation in order to16:07be to generate16:10the electricity that we need to to fuel16:14the a growing fleet of electric cars16:18so and that will take decades16:21to do that and um16:24we can’t sit here and and be complacent16:26and16:27and think that oh uh the government will16:29solve this16:30and or the uh the car industry are16:34already on track with a number of new16:36um electric car models16:39because because16:42the development hasn’t come as far as16:44many people believe it has16:48so what do you think is um what advice16:51would you give to people so16:52we’re now right at the beginning of 202116:55uh16:56people are setting their goals out for16:58the next year or16:59a few years either they17:02they lead a small team or as an17:04individual17:05like what advice could you give people17:07who they they recognize the problem that17:10you’re talking about and they want to17:11contribute17:12but they’re not so really sure how well17:16i i’d give the17:19advice that um they need to17:22to learn more and they need to to17:24discuss with17:26with friends and the colleagues and and17:29get increase the awareness of uh of this17:33situation and17:34and make sure that um17:40a lot of of the relevant numbers17:43are are getting into the17:46the public debate in in the media17:50and in at work17:53uh discussions with with colleagues that17:56there are 40 million cars in the uk18:00and that there’s a need for18:03for the power equivalent of some18:0620 nuclear reactors in order to18:12generate the electricity to to uh power18:15uh the car fleet18:19and that there’s a need for18:21approximately the same number of of the18:23nuclear reactors to power18:25uh the uh heavy transportation and and18:29uh light light trucks and vans and buses18:32and so on18:33uh so and these are fairly simple18:37simple data it’s it’s really easy to18:40learn18:41and i’m i’m really happy to support18:44in various ways with with facts and18:47and providing uh18:50arguments and and discussing with people18:53because i think it’s it’s the only way18:56um18:57to do this to for for people to to start18:59to learn and for people to19:02to influence at first19:05one another and then get together19:09and try to influence um19:13media get journalists to write about19:15these things19:16and um as19:20a result get politicians to take19:23this this challenge seriously and and19:26really19:26try to understand um the numbers19:30and the uh the19:34set of activities and investment that19:37needs to be made19:39in order to drive the transformation19:42forward19:42at higher speed but it sounds like19:46if people are looking for new19:48opportunities for their19:49for their business or their career that19:53actually there are19:54um huge opportunities here for people19:56with the right skills and19:58capabilities i totally agree yes um20:02definitely and if20:06governments need to be be serious about20:08this because20:09it the uh the problem with um20:14the oil supply oil production20:18is not going to go away we don’t know20:21exactly when20:22when uh the decline will start to and20:26will start but we’ll we know that it20:30it will uh happen in the next few years20:33and20:34um and so governments need to take this20:37seriously and and they need to to20:40promote20:41uh the establishment and the um20:44expansion of uh electric electric20:48mobility systems in various ways and20:51companies need to make these20:53those investments um so20:56so there will be a20:59a huge um labor market21:03opening up for for various types of21:06of new roles in21:10electromobility in in building21:13car fleets car sharing systems21:16um building infrastructure21:19electric roads um roads with21:23with um electric tracks that that can21:27that can allow cars to charge21:32while they are driving and so on there21:34will be a large number of21:36of um different um21:40investments that will be needed in order21:42to21:44in order to go through with this um21:47change and i guess people can also21:51because there’s a lot of talk after21:52covid the21:54economic shock and economic uncertainty21:57due to21:59certain types of businesses doing very22:00badly due to covet22:02so travel industry restaurants these22:05types of things22:06but there is this huge demand22:08potentially for22:09all this infrastructure you’re talking22:11about so if people are looking to22:13career change into anything that22:15supports the sa22:17seems sensible22:20yes and i might even add the22:23a lot of people they’re like oh so i22:26want to build electric cars i have to22:27work for electric car company but22:29often you can do something which is22:32adjacent to it and will be later become22:34it22:35so working for a conventional car22:37company will probably put you in a good22:38place for working on electric cars22:40when that becomes the um the the default22:44of what they do22:45absolutely and that there’s a22:48big need for experts in the various22:52areas related to22:53to this transformation it’s not only22:56electro mobility22:57but in this in the area of electric23:00mobility there will be23:02a number of different areas23:05that need to be built up new23:08technologies that need to be adopted and23:10expanded23:11like electric roads charging for23:14infrastructure23:15um smart grid technologies23:18but countries also in the face of in the23:22face of declining oil production23:24countries also need to reduce their um23:28dependence on transportation overall23:32so um there will be a need in various23:35ways23:36to to change other things as well um23:40to increase the share of local23:42production23:43regional production um of primarily23:47um23:51necessities of life um like your food23:56clothes medicines24:00and not not least24:03the um uh um spare parts24:06for for society’s critical24:09infrastructure like water24:11sewage and um24:14um for um24:19digital infrastructures for example24:22so so there are a number of areas that24:25need24:26that where a large investment will be24:29needed24:29and where where countries countries and24:33companies need to focus24:34their activities in the next few years24:38yeah and so if you are making your goals24:41for the next24:42five years or so taking on board this24:45conversation24:46i think should be very helpful and24:49i guess the other piece is get specific24:52get24:53um those high-level un goals are24:57are too high level or too25:01ambiguous to apply directly to what25:03you’re up to25:04but uh you can zoom in on anything and25:08make it very concrete and then actually25:10have an impact on25:12what you’re doing um so matt i mean do25:15you have anything else to add25:17on this topic yes25:20yeah yes i’d like to say in general that25:24that it’s25:27having a set of goals like the un goals25:31could be detrimental to to the25:34development25:35it it sounds as if it’s it’s uh25:39it’s a good idea to to25:43launch this a set of 17 goals that25:46covers almost everything25:48but um they basically25:51uh give every one of us a card blanche25:55to to do anything that’s25:59related to sustainability er and and26:02it takes fo it takes our attention away26:06from the areas uh and from the knees26:09that we need to focus26:10on so um i i i’m not so happy about26:14these um these various goals26:18um by the un or or26:22to a lesser degree of course the26:2410-point plan26:25and countries need and the26:29uh the world at large needs to26:33to develop strategies and26:38decide which activities they want to26:41prioritize26:42in in the near future and in order to26:46um in order to build uh sustainable26:49societies and to26:51to promote the areas of development that26:55are most important for them26:57not pursue a27:00widespread set of goals that that27:03aren’t likely to lead anywhere27:08and for that prioritization27:11where should people turn are they going27:13to have to prioritize themselves for now27:15or um27:20i think at present27:24there are not enough27:27guidelines available i’ve tried27:30to to outline um to set27:33guidelines and and to give um27:37to write a handbook uh for for change27:40leaders27:41um young and old uh as i call it in the27:44subtitle of my book27:45uh the blind guardians of ignorance kovi27:4819 sustainability and our vulnerable27:50future27:52and so in that book i try to to set27:56guidelines and27:57and provide some ideas28:01um of how we could uh28:04approach um strategy development28:07prioritization and how we could build on28:11on building blocks that are already28:13available28:14in in countries and but28:18and then there’s the calculations28:21by by toyota about28:25about the implementation of28:27electromobility28:29as similar but not as28:32extensive perhaps calculations by28:36the organization danish energy for the28:38situation in denmark28:40um for for how much needs to be invested28:44in28:44in the expansion of power grids28:47to fuel or to charge one million28:50electric cars and so on28:52there are these scattered uh28:56initiatives and to to um29:00develop um guidelines and29:04and to to capture29:08uh the the complexity and the scale29:11of the transformation but there’s no29:14overall um overall set of guidelines29:18except i believe uh it’s fair to say29:21my own book29:24great well i think they should uh go and29:27buy your book then and and use it29:29to to guide uh their own goal setting29:32uh if they want to have an impact on29:35this29:36important topic yes may i say29:39if if um someone finds another29:43text or some other expert who has done29:46something similar29:47i’d love to come and uh get in contact29:50with29:51him or her and and to continue this29:54discussion because i i don’t think it’s29:57a good idea29:58that uh different people develop30:00everything on their own and30:02uh and and develop their own set of30:06of um priorities guidelines30:09i think to a much larger extent than30:12than30:13what’s done today uh we need to30:15collaborate and we need to30:17discuss and we need to find30:21identify the most viable ways forward30:23and how how we can30:25can achieve the best results or the30:27biggest results30:28uh with at the smallest possible cost30:32or and at the smallest cost possible30:34effort and investment30:36yes yeah that makes sense so um yeah if30:40anyone does come across materials or30:42other researchers um who’ve30:45looked into what this prioritization of30:47the goals could be30:49to get out reach out to mats matt how30:52should people contact you30:54well they could just send me an email30:57matt30:59get institute dot com get31:03institute d dot com31:07okay great um it’s a match do you have31:10anything else to add31:12um no i i think i’ve31:16i’ve said the mo31:19the things that that are closest to my31:21heart at present31:23great great well it was great to speak31:25to you mats again and31:26i encourage everyone to read matt’s book31:30the blind guardians of ignorance if you31:33look um31:34on the video you’ll see the31:37cover page of the uh the book the book31:39cover31:40which is it’s quite interesting it’s got31:42um these um31:45i guess politicians or leaders around a31:47a map of the earth31:49but uh sadly they are blindfolded so31:51they cannot see the uh31:53the uh the city behind them is about to31:55be engulfed into31:57some kind of uh terrible weather31:59terrible storm32:00ahead um so matt it was great to speak32:03to you as ever32:04and um uh i wish you a a happy new year32:07happy 2021.32:09thank you very much joshua i i wish the32:11same to you32:13thank you