Pathways to system change: Transforming a world in crisis into a sustainable and just future

Why we talk about system change

System change is a powerful idea, and a political struggle for a better world. Powerful because it’s about addressing the root causes of today’s ecological, economic and social crises. It is about creating deep, and lasting change so that the gains we make today will not be rolled back tomorrow.

To do this we need to challenge existing power relationships in society, politics and economics. We must replace competition with solidarity. To change the system is to dismantle all forms of oppression and exploitation, rewrite the rules and change the structures.

2007 Shell gas flaring Nigeria adjusted
Shell company gas flare at Rumuekpe, Nigeria, showing kids sitting in close proximity.

What is a system? 

Systems are complex and the crises they produce are interconnected: the climate crisis is also a racist crisis, the biodiversity crisis is also an overconsumption crisis, hunger is a crisis of corporate power. Like with an iceberg, we only see what is on the surface while the deep causes are hidden. 

What is a system? Iceberg model
Like with an iceberg, most of the system is below the water line © One such source Ed Cunliff

Which systems do we need to change?

We are focused on transforming the economy, food and energy systems, as well as social gender relations and our management of and connection to forests and biodiversity. Like any complex system, the parts of the machine work together, and the crises it produces are interconnected.

The capitalist economic model, industrial agriculture, fossil fuel-reliant energy system and patriarchal relations are the current dominant global and national systems. The machinery of these systems are the policies, ideologies, special interests and institutions that put profit before people and nature. 

These systems are built on injustice and oppression – racism, heteronormativity, colonialism and imperialism – and on the exploitation of nature, working classes and the bodies and work of women. They shape politics, laws, trade rules, education, mass media narratives and cultures. 

Want to know more about system change? Download the “Pathways to system change” report or pamphlet.

What will a changed system look like?

We envision a society of interdependent people living in dignity, wholeness and fulfillment in which equity, human rights and peoples’ rights are realised. A peaceful and sustainable world based on societies living in harmony with nature. This means:

  • Gender justice, autonomy, freedom and equality for all. 
  • Everyone sharing equitably in the distribution of power, knowledge and resources. 
  • A public and 100% renewable energy system that guarantees energy sufficiency for all and the rights of workers and all peoples.
  • Food Sovereignty – Universal access to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced using socially just and ecologically sound and sustainable methods; and peoples enjoying their collective right to define their own policies, strategies and systems for food production, distribution and consumption.
  • A new economy that ensures the right to live a dignified life for all peoples through sustainable public services, the scaling up of cooperatives, fair trade and binding rules on corporations.
  • Thriving, healthy peoples and nature where community and democratic governance and control of the commons empower communities to look after and benefit from nature. 

To achieve deep and lasting change we need to change the system, to dismantle all forms of oppression and exploitation, rewrite the rules and change the structures. 

How system change works

Pathways to system change: our journey to change the system 

More of us than ever before understand the need to tackle the social, economic and environmental and political crises facing us. We also know that the solutions exist and that actions we take today will transform our future.

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Communities, social movements, and organisations across the world are already working together, building the solutions we need and demanding a seismic shift. Deep and lasting change starts at the grassroots. It begins among politicised communities and peoples who are mobilising against oppression and for justice – whether from a class, feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonialist or anti-capitalist perspective.

✅ Visit our photo exhibition and meet the people changing the system from the grassroots.

The pathways to system change are deeply interconnected. In the face of global crises, those connections appear to be more visible, more necessary and more urgent. They converge around participatory politics, food sovereignty, climate justice, gender justice, economic justice, biodiversity protection and the dismantling of corporate power and all forms of oppression and exploitation. Fundamentally, pathways to system change are based on rights, justice, equity and respect for life.

pathways to system change interconnected solutions

✅ Want to know more about system change? Download the “Pathways to system change” report or pamphlet.

Another world is possible

Friends of the Earth International is the biggest grassroots environmental federation in the world, with 73 national member groups and millions of members and supporters. As more of us take serious action, the pressure ramps up, making it impossible for governments to ignore the demands for deep and lasting change. 

Our achievements in the past 50 years show that together we can address the root causes of our crises and achieve system change. Progressing along those pathways together, we reaffirm our radical hope and claim the power to shape the world for future generations.

🌍 Expore the pathways to system change map to see how people are changing the system.