Is people-oriented sustainability possible? The answers in the 20th edition of confronti


Institutional Communication Service

4 December 2023

The transition process towards sustainability, particularly environmental sustainability, was the focus of the 2023 confronti. The fight against climate change is now more urgent than ever and requires both political consensus and economic benefits. However, building infrastructure that aligns with the approval of local communities remains a challenge, as highlighted by Professor Wüstenhagen in his keynote speech at the annual meeting organised by IRE.

The 20th edition of confronti was held on Tuesday, 28 November in the West Campus Lugano Aula Magna, drawing around 150 people, including political and economic figures, academics and the general public interested in the topic: a significant milestone for the initiative led by the Institute for Economic Research (IRE), which aims to create a platform for dialogue with the local community, as USI Rector Luisa Lambertini emphasised in her welcome speech. Looking to the present and, above all, to the future, the challenge of ecological transition is twofold: it requires investing in research and development of new technologies and listening to communities and their needs. The Rector emphasised that sustainable development is a crucial aspect of university policy planning. She mentioned several initiatives, including the House of Sustainability, which will be inaugurated in Airolo next spring.

In his speech, State Councillor Christian Vitta emphasised how sustainability can be an opportunity, inviting the economic sector to face the challenges and uncertainties that every change phase entails. The Canton has developed an Energy and Climate Plan that aligns with the objective of achieving climate neutrality and is supportive of businesses in this endeavour. Councillor Vitta emphasised the significance of academic institutions, particularly IRE, which has been observing economic trends in Ticino since the 1960s and provides valuable insights for political decision-makers.

Professor Barbara Antonioli Mantegazzini, vice director of IRE, introduced the theme of the meeting, starting with the definition given by Nobel Prize winner for economics Joseph Stiglitz: "Sustainability is growing, preserving the environment and sharing prosperity". This definition should unite everyone, but in reality, sustainability remains a highly divisive topic. Measures in favour of sustainability often face perplexity and hostility.

Professor Rolf Wüstenhagen of the University of St. Gallen addressed the reasons for this perplexity in his report. The switch to renewable energy sources is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Still, the construction of wind or solar parks often meets with opposition from the communities living in those regions. Community acceptance is now the main bottleneck in the decarbonisation pathway, as investment in renewables has become very cost-effective. 
Wüstenhagen pointed out that underlying opposition at the local level is often a problem of distributive justice - communities suffering hardship are cut off from any benefits - a lack of trust in the authorities and insufficient knowledge of projects and technologies. To address these oppositions, it is essential to ensure a fair distribution of benefits, greater involvement of communities even in the design phase, and more dialogue to show the real impact of the intended installations.

The morning continued with a panel discussion that included Professor Wüstenhagen, Damiano De Marchi (project manager at FVCMS/VSF), Beatrice Petrovich (senior energy and climate analyst at EMBER), and Nicola Tettamanti (president of Swissmechanics). The audience asked numerous questions, and the speakers answered, sharing their different experiences. The discussion emphasised the important contribution companies can make during the transition period, as it generates opportunities for savings and learning. Companies should be supported with targeted information tools and the easing of bureaucratic burdens.

At the end of the encounter, the Director of the Institute for Economic Research (IRE), Professor Mario Jametti, highlighted the Institute's long-standing involvement in sustainability issues. The IRE has conducted various research activities related to sustainability and has also conducted surveys to gauge the attitudes of the people of Ticino towards this issue. One such survey is the "Renewable Energy Barometer", now in its third edition.