Time and Sustainability: What are we missing and what do we need to do?

How do we time our actions in a way that minimize the risks and maximize the opportunities associated with climate change and environmental issues? What role can the Sustainable Development Goals play in this?

The University of Oslo and CICERO Center for International Climate Research are hosting a two-day conference on the topic of time and sustainability in light of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The first day is aimed at the general public, while the second day is set aside for academic discussions.

Registration for the event is now closed.

DAY 1: 28 June

Programme 09:00-15:45

We will provide refreshments and snacks during breaks throughout the day, as well as a standing lunch at 12:30. 

Each session will be followed by a discussion between speakers and the audience. Use Twitter to ask questions both beforehand and during the event! Tag the project @UniOsloSMART and use our hashtag #SMARTproject. 

Welcome and setting the scene

Introduction by Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo and Benjamin J. Richardson, University of Tasmania

Session 1: Future time. Is short-termism the bane of sustainability?

Facilitated by Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo


Sustainable development is premised on long-term, intergenerational environmental stewardship because natural timescales such as climate change, biological evolution, ecological succession and other processes function indefinitely over long periods. Corporations on the other hand tend to focus on short-term economic performance even though the corporation has an indefinite legal existence. Business practices are associated with market pressure and shareholders' impatience for financial returns, and the legal context where financial reporting obligations and accounting standards devalue long-term future costs or benefits. Similarly, the short-termist character of current political institutions and political mindsets gets in the way of promising long-term strategies to tackle big structural challenges that our societies face today, and some political scientists have gone so far as to suggest that serious solutions to climate change will come from business, not government.  

Key challenges

  • How can businesses address long-term environmental risks, impacts and opportunities in decision-making today?
  • Will serious solutions to climate change come from government or business?
  • Should short-term issues continue to take precedence over long-term outcomes, given that the future is uncertain?
  • How can we reconcile long- and near-term issues in business and politics?
  • Is there a substantial public demand for long-term decision-making?
  • How can the law help instill a long-term outlook in business and politics?

Session 2: Tempo. Too fast and too slow

Facilitated by Benjamin J. Richardson, University of Tasmania


  • Glen Peters, Research Director at CICERO Center for International Climate Research 
  • Megan Bowman, Reader (Associate Professor) in Law at King's College London
  • Monica Mee, Sustainability Specialist at Nordea  

Sustainable development also requires that we change our tempo. The fast tempo of economic development and its accelerating environmental impact is tied to economic production systems and technologies. The law is complicit in time compression through economic deregulation, fast-track legislation to expedite approvals of prestige economic projects, and curbing opportunities for public consultation and access to judicial oversight of economic development. The fast tempo has not gone unchallenged: various slow movements, such as Slow Food and Slow Money, offer voluntary standards and governance prescriptions to tackle the fast pace. Simultaneously, we are in a situation where efforts to mitigate climate change cannot take place fast enough: rapid deployment of negative emissions by mid-century need to happen if we are to hit our collective 2-degree target.    

Key challenges

  • What options do we have in politics and business taken that we need to see negative emissions by mid-century if we are to avoid dangerous climate change?
  • Does capitalism, through its dynamics of innovation and market competition, have an inherently fast tempo? How does globalisation affect tempo in this context?
  • How can legal governance foster a better tempo in the business sector to meet environmental objectives?
  • Should or could the law impose speed humps in the economy?  
  • Could or should sovereign wealth funds provide a viable means to foster slow money or patient investing?

Session 3: Timing. Risks and Opportunities

Facilitated by Monica Mee, Sustainability Specialist, Nordea


  • Christa Clapp, Research Director at CICERO Center for International Climate Research
  • Benjamin Richardson, Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Tasmania
  • Frank Fagan, Associate Professor EDHEC Business School

Action on climate change is heavily connected to timing. We need timely deadlines for meeting carbon emission reductions in order to minimize the risks of irreversible environmental impacts. We also need timely stress testing of financial institutions and investments in order to avoid climate change induced financial risks and stranded assets. Timing is also key when deciding when companies should conduct environmental due diligence, or when to report on their environmental performance. Regulators on the other hand need to determine how much time to allow for public consultation in decisions such as issuing pollution licences, and providing timely access to justice for victims of environmental damage. Meanwhile, risks and opportunities associated with timing are often poorly understood or investigated in different sectors and across sectors, while legal processes are mired in their own mechanisms of timing that either help or hinder the sustainability agenda.

Key challenges

  • How do we need to time business, government and societal actions in order to minimize risks associated with climate change and environmental impacts?
  • What are the opportunities associated with timing of action on climate change?
  • Is the best timing for business decisions congruent with the optimal timing for decisions about sustainable development?
  • How do different modalities of law (eg negotiation, executive regulation, parliamentary legislation, judicial decisions) affect timing in these contexts?
  • By what mechanisms can the law most effectively influence the timing of business decisions that have environmental ramifications? 
  • How does CSR and sustainable finance contribute to better timed decisions?

Summary and way forward

Concluding reflections by Beate Sjåfjell and Benjamin J. Richardson. 



DAY 2: 29 June

Programme 09:00-15:00

We will provide refreshments and snacks during breaks throughout the day, as well as a standing lunch at 12:15. 

Session 1

Chair: Megan Bowman, King's College London

Looking forwards or back? On the temporal orientation of law and corporate  responsibility , Lilian Moncrieff, University of Glasgow

Corporate Governance and Climate Change: short-termism, risk horizons and temporal dissonance, Lisa Benjamin, University of The Bahamas and Blavatnik School of Government (Presenting author. Co-author: Stelios Andreadakis)

Do we have time to leave sustainability to the markets? A regulatory ecology analysis of European market actors in global value chains, Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo, Faculty of Law (presenting author of co-authored paper)

Session 2

Chair: Vijaya Nagarajan, Macquarie University

Financing the future: cultural impediments and legal innovations for timely change? Megan Bowman, King’s College London

Market changes and digitalisation as path to strong sustainability, Jukka Mähönen, University of Oslo, Faculty of Law

Can access to justice make industrial facilities law sustainable? Agnes Hellner, Uppsala University, Faculty of Law

Session 3

Chair: Benjamin J. Richardson, University of Tasmania

The place of time in the governance of transnational business activities, Vijaya Nagarajan, Macquarie University

Could corporate governance stop climate damage faster? Ewan McGaughey, Kings College London, University of Cambridge

Far beyond strategy: how organizations can engage with the deep time of natural resources. Christina Berg Johansen, Copenhagen Business School

Summary: joint discussion and closing remarks

Chair: Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo



Participants on Day 2 are encouraged to read the book Time and Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press, 2017) to familiarise themselves with the foregoing themes, which author Professor Benjamin J. Richardson will discuss.




Tags: sustainability, SDGs, politics, business, financial investments, corporate law, society, human rights, timescales, timeframes, tipping points, futurability, intergenerational equity, short-termism, tempo, timing
Published Mar. 6, 2018 1:03 PM - Last modified Aug. 9, 2018 1:43 PM