As we enter 2015, it’s worth looking back at a valuable insight shared during a COP20 side-event relating to the building of country-specific roadmaps to a low-carbon economy. On Dec. 10, in Lima, Jeffrey Sachs answered an audience question about advanced technology research and then added, for clarity: “This is not a game.” Sachs is Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and of the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The SDSN is steering the biggest economies in the world to develop ambitious transition strategies that will result in true low-carbon prosperity, with the aim of preventing dangerous climate disruption.
The process set in motion by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is not a debate about opinions, not rudimentary guesswork, not idle speculation; in short, it is not a game. The work of charting a course toward a low-carbon economy that avoids dangerous climate disruption is a cooperative global effort to solve the most pervasive, costly, and threatening problem we have faced, as a species. Getting the solutions right will give us the possibility of a livable future for human civilization; failing will severely stress our ability to do so.
That each country wants to negotiate from a position of strength, and wants to achieve a favorable outcome, is natural. That does not mean the art of the deal is more the substance of the work than coming together for a viable transformative solution. In fact, any effort to wriggle out of a bold national contribution to the global climate response will directly undermine a nation’s future chances for reliable prosperity. The truth is: a bold national low-carbon economic strategy is the best guarantee of a diverse and robust future of reliable prosperity.
As thermodynamic energy accumulates in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, extreme impacts are becoming more common. Some nations face the prospects of their entire GDP being wiped out. Grenada lost 200% of its GDP in one hurricane. St. Vincent and the Grenadines lost 15% of its GDP due to three hours of unprecedented rainfall on Christmas Eve 2013.
Chronic pervasive drought, labeled “exceptional” due to the infrequency of its occurrence in recorded history, has hit every major agricultural region over the last decade. With glaciers melting at historic rates in every major mountain range, glaciers that normally feed river systems on which billions of people depend for fresh water, the world food economy is now facing serious vulnerabilities on an unprecedented scale.
No nation is free of the risk of economic, social, and political destabilization that flows from these extreme, and mounting, impacts. The United States Department of Defense rates climate disruption as the single greatest threat to peace and security in this century, and faith leaders across the world, including Pope Francis, are making the clear moral case: climate disruption already threatens the dignity, liberty, and lives of hundreds of millions of people; we all have a moral obligation to be responsible in our stewardship of natural life-support systems.
So, through the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), every nation that is party to the UNFCCC works to formulate a consensus draft of the agreement for a global climate response. By the end of March, every nation is expected to develop and publish its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to the global response—effectively, its roadmap to a developed and resilient low-carbon economy.
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, in connection with IDDRI and other partners, is building Deep Decarbonization Pathways (DDPs) that demonstrate how countries can transition effectively, efficiently, and in line with their needs, context, and capabilities. And, there is global consensus that an enabling policy environment must be established, in order to facilitate the low-carbon transition.
Smart, affordable enabling policies include subsidy reform and pricing carbon. The former simply means putting money to better use and getting a better long-term return on investment; the latter can be done in a way that protects consumers, builds local economies, and cuts emissions on schedule, all without requiring any new regulatory intervention. Success in the climate policy process means a more prosperous, more free and more dignified future for nations that make the right moves and for humanity in general.
It is easy, in the midst of the often dazzling complexity of the global negotiating process, to focus on one’s own priorities, to the exclusion of any consideration for the wisdom and validity of potential partners’ views and aims. Factionalism, competition, and commercial and political gamesmanship often flow from that dynamic. The greatest threats to our long-term prosperity, if we look at the climate crisis through the lens of this process, are factionalism, short-term thinking, and corruption. We need serious people developing viable strategies that will take root and lead to effective reductions in the amount of heat-trapping compounds we put into the atmosphere. No nation can afford to sabotage the process for the narrow odds of immediate short-term gain.
The effort to bring public policy and prevailing business practices in line with the interests of future generations, in line with the very possibility of a viable future, must be collaborative. Smart future economics will be characterized by the sharing of knowledge and technology. A true solution to this global market failure must be inclusive of marginalized stakeholders, must build local economies, and must privilege transparency.
Young people are serious enough about getting to real solutions to be proposing genuine structural improvements to national infrastructure, and to the global political process. Instead of waiting for the invitation to become leaders with office and the attendant pomp and nomenclature, they are simply sitting down and talking sense with political leaders. With collaborative intelligence and a focus on outcomes, they want to contribute their best ideas, for the benefit of the political process and the effort of leaders and representatives to serve their constituents.
The 20th Conference of the Parties, held in Lima last month, produced a consensus agreement among 195 governments, which provides the draft structure for "an agreed outcome with legal force" to be finalized in Paris, in December 2015. The Lima Accord is also known as the Lima Call for Climate Action, and it provides some important detail regarding specific motivating actions for enhanced ambition.
The Lima Accord adds the 1.5°C target for global average surface temperature rise above pre-industrial levels and specifies that all nations must mitigate the climate threat, in line with their respective capabilities. The Lima Accord also calls for "meaningful and regular" consultation with civil society, women, youth, indigenous peoples, and with "subnational authorities" that are actively engaged in confronting climate impacts or implementing policies that mitigate climate risk, cost, and harm. These are all serious steps forward.
We can’t afford to be excluding good ideas from the process. The world’s governments can’t afford to leave the insights of young people or marginalized groups out of the global policy response. And environmental advocates can’t afford to be leaving industry out of the coordination of a genuine, viable, effective climate response. Everyone who cares about the wellbeing of their family, their friends, their country, and this world, should focus their attention in 2015 on the historic opportunity we have to build a better world, from the ground up.
The climate crisis threatens severe degradations to much of what we take for granted in the way we live. It also provides an unprecedented opportunity to build fairness, collaborative intelligence, ethical decision-making and citizen participation, into the way we govern our world. 2015 is our moment; we can set a course for a future of bold, innovative, reliable thriving and prosperity.
The Pathway to Paris project is our way of making sure fairness, human interest, effective collaboration, and real solutions, are at work in the process. Please come back as often as you can for updates, events, and for opportunities to contribute your insights and talents to the treaty process that will secure our future.
- UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
- INDCs as communicated by the Parties
- UNFCCC COP20 Document Archives
- ADP Process Documents
- Lima Call for Climate Action / Our Report
- Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage
- UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network
- SDSN Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project / Full 2014 Report
- The Green Climate Fund / Background
- NAZCA: The Non-state Actor Zone for Climate Action
- The 1 Gigaton Coalition
- The Climate Vulnerable Forum
- WRI INDC Resource Page
COLLABORATING & ADVISORY ORGANIZATIONS
- International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
- Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI)
- World Bank Group Climate Change Team
- US Climate Plan