A set of slides from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, who’ve just published their latest research on planetary boundaries.
Yesterday saw the launch of action/2015, the new global campaign on poverty, inequality, and climate change that will rally more than a thousand campaigning organisations around four crucial summit moments on these issues that will take place over the year ahead.
It’s the right campaign at the right time, because now more than ever, power is so distributed that only mass mobilisation and values change will be able to bring about the transformation needed – something I realised vividly during the profoundly disillusioning experience that was acting as the author of the UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability in 2011 (more on that sorry tale in the first couple of pages of this talk of mine from 2013).
But just what kind of values change is it that we need? I’ve written before, over at Eden 2.0, about the importance of stories for mobilising change – so what is it that those stories need to be about?
In our forthcoming report for Tearfund – working title The Unfinished Jubilee: Towards a Restorative Economy – Rich Gower and I argue that three themes are especially important. You can sum them up in just ten words: A larger us. A longer future. A different good life.
1. A larger us
First up, we need to think less of “people like us” and more of “people – like us”. The whole sweep of human history is a story of expanding the size of the ‘we’ with which we empathise – from itinerant bands of hunter-gatherers to chiefdoms, from city states to kingdoms, and on to modern nation states and the staggeringly diverse communities of affinity and ethnicity in today’s globalised world. This expansion of empathy was perfectly captured by Martin Luther King in his 1963 ‘letter from Birmingham City jail’:
I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
Above all, we need to get back to thinking in terms of the common good – and to do so at planetary scale, because in a world of global interdependence and planetary boundaries, only a 7 billion ‘us’ will do.
2. A longer future
Second, we need to face up to the fact that we’ve fallen out of the habit of thinking about the long term. Instead, our political leaders rarely have the luxury of thinking beyond the next election; our business leaders, the next financial quarter; our journalists, the next 24 hour news cycle. Scientist and author Danny Hillis observed in 1994 that:
When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. Now, thirty years later, they still talk about what will happen by 2000. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life.
In particular, there has been a catastrophic implosion of the implicit covenant between past, current, and future generations. Today’s young generation in developed countries face a far more uncertain future than their parents, with unaffordable housing, costly higher education and student debt, and the end of ‘jobs for life’. And globally, the next generation faces a future of steadily increasing climate change and resource scarcity – unless decisive action is taken now to prevent that from happening.
3. A different good life
Third, recent years have seen a wealth of research challenging the idea that material consumption levels have much to do with happiness, at least beyond a certain point. Surveys that measure people’s subjective wellbeing routinely find that the correlation between life satisfaction and income starts to break beyond a certain level of GDP per capita. Robert Kennedy recognised this nearly 50 years ago, when he observed that,
Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
So our stories need to focus on a broader idea of human flourishing, encompassing not only material security but also goals further up the ‘hierarchy of needs’ – such as friendship, family, a sense of connection, confidence, achievement, and the respect of others.
Never have I seen such a wave of social media euphoria as the one that swept through my Twitter and Facebook feeds this time yesterday, as news broke about the US-China deal on climate change. But now that it’s the morning after, a few quick reflections.
China’s 2030 peak emissions date may be a big deal politically, but it won’t help the climate much. Since 2000, China’s carbon emissions from energy consumption have risen from 3 billion tonnes to around 9 billion tonnes today. They’ve tripled in ten years. China’s per capita emissions are now bigger than the EU’s (though still a long way off those of the US). So forgive me for not cracking open champagne at the news that China may be willing to taper off this unbelievable rate of emissions growth in another sixteen years. I admit that the 20% renewables target is a big deal – right now China’s at about 7% – but even this still leaves plenty of space for emissions to rise as energy demand and coal capacity continue to grow.
On the US side, too, all the hype about a 26-28% cut below 2005 levels by 2025 strikes me as overdone. Obama had already committed to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. He made that announcement five years ago, at Copenhagen. So 26-28% by 2025 does no more than more or less extrapolate that forward another five years (in fact, as Maarten Hajer at PBL points out, yesterday’s commitment is actually a little less ambitious than the forward curve implied by the 2009 promise) – there’s no actual ratcheting up of ambition.
The policies and measures unveiled in yesterday’s US-China announcement are awfully thin. There’s a “renewed commitment” to technology cooperation, with no funding numbers attached. Some stuff about a demonstration project on carbon capture and sequestration, which people have been talking about for over a decade now – it’s starting to sound like nuclear fusion. More cooperation on reducing HFC emissions, which do have massive global warming potential, but are incredibly easy for China to reduce – cynics like me think that China was actively inflating them so as to score Clean Development Mechanism permits, and is only now talking about a phase out because demand for CDM permits has collapsed along with EUETS prices. There’s a “climate smart low carbon cities initiative” which is basically a plan to convene a summit. And that’s pretty much it.
It’s kind of amazing how European progressives coo about anything China does on climate, but give Europe and the UK zero credit for the vastly more impressive lead they’ve taken on climate change. There was a particular classic of the genre yesterday in an extraordinary blog post on LabourList by Sunny Hundal that called the targets of the US (which work out at 16% below 1990 by 2025) and China (emissions can rise for another 16 years) “historic” while slating the EU (40% below 1990 by 2030) as – get this – “weak and lazy”.
Even more breathtakingly, the post was entitled “It’s time Labour joined the world in fighting climate change”, without at any point mentioning the small matter that Labour passed legislation – so far retained by the Conservatives – that (a) commits the UK to an 80% emissions reduction by 2050, (b) frames this in terms of a legally binding carbon budget, and (c) mandates an independent Climate Change Committee – of scientists, mark you, not politicians – to monitor progress and advise on whether the carbon budget needs to be tightened. (“Where is Britain? Nowhere”, the post concludes.) Would that the world followed Britain’s lead by setting a global carbon budget, and creating an independent monitoring body.
On which note – regular readers will have seen this coming several paragraphs ago – this is still, as it always has been, about the need for a global carbon budget, which (as usual) no-one is talking about. Instead, the UNFCCC process lumbers on, with its usual focus on something called “momentum” (whatever that is) as opposed to actual results. Not one person I know in the UN process expects Paris to agree a global plan for limiting warming to 2 degrees. Not one.
I was talking last night to a veteran climate negotiator from a developed country government, who observed that the climate priesthood has, for years, been having far too nice a time meeting up every six months for drinks and per diems. No one wants the party to end. There is no sense of urgency. No real deadline. She’s absolutely, 100% right. I started going to UN climate summits when I was a student. Next summer I’m 40. And the conversations in Warsaw last winter had basically not moved on since the first one I went to in the Hague a decade a half ago.
The only way this will ever end, she continued, is if policymakers give them six months to work out a solution, and make clear at the outset that at the end of this period, they can all piss off home. For good. She’s right about that too. This is what they should agree, on a full global basis. I’m really not sure what else there is to say.
Updated: news is just emerging that there are some flickers of discussion of a carbon budget in the UN process. This has the potential to be a much bigger deal than the US-China announcement – more on this later.
Tearfund has always been one of my favourite civil society organisations – above all because they have such a great track record of being a ‘pathfinder’ for other NGOs. They had climate change as a top campaigning priority long before most other development NGOs had really started to engage with it, for example. And now I think they’re about to do it again – with some deeply exciting work they’re doing on their future advocacy and campaigning strategy (which I’m involved in as a consultant).
Tearfund’s starting point in this work is a pretty radical one for a development NGO: a recognition of the basic paradox that the more the world succeeds on development, the more it fails on sustainability.
It’s a point we see most vividly in the fact that those countries deemed to have finished this process we call ‘development’ – developed countries – are also those with the highest per capita environmental impact. But you can see it as well in the fact that those countries that have seen most poverty reduction in recent decades are also the ones where emissions have risen fastest; China’s per capita emissions are now higher than those of the EU, for instance.
One purpose of their ‘Horizon’ project, then, is to start imagining what it would look like for us to move to an economy that was both just and sustainable – at all levels, from global policy right down to what it would mean for individual families. (You can read a background think piece that sets out some of our early thinking and ideas here – n.b. it really is just a think piece, and not in any way a statement of Tearfund policy.)
At the same time, the project also has a second purpose: exploring the new kinds of influence and change that will be needed to unlock change on this scale. Tearfund have recognised very candidly in their internal thinking that traditional ‘insider’ lobbying strategies will have limited power here. (Having spent the past ten years trying to support change in the multilateral system, I’ve reached a similar conclusion myself.)
Instead, alternative approaches will be needed – ones that propagate different norms, built new kinds of movement, create new coalitions for change, and use environmental, social, and economic shocks to fuller effect.
To help get this process underway, we ran a couple of fascinating conversations in London last week with various leading thinkers from government, think tanks, other NGOs, and business. Oxfam’s Duncan Green, who participated in one of the events, has written up a blog post with some reflections here. I distilled some of my own take-aways in a talk I gave at Tearfund after we’d run the two conversations, which you can read here.
Update: Green Economy Coalition’s Emily Benson, who took part in the other event from Duncan Green, has blogged her reflections on the conversation here.
The post-2015 agenda is at a turning point, with the intense discussions of the last year about Goals and targets giving way to a new focus on how the world will achieve the high ambitions set out in the draft Sustainable Development Goals.
Over the next eighteen months, we’ll see a veritable blizzard of summitry, including a critical OECD meeting looking at the definition of aid this December, a major summit on financing for development in Addis Ababa next July, the key final decision moment on the shape of the new Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, a make-or-break climate summit and a WTO trade ministerial in December 2015, and high-potential summits of the G7/G8 in Germany, and the G20 in Turkey.
All of these moments have the potential to yield elements of a global political deal on ‘means of implementation’ for the post-2015 agenda. But what are the options for those elements – and which of them offer the highest potential in terms of development impact and political achievability?
These are the questions I address in a new paper, commissioned by the UN Foundation, and published today as a working draft ahead of next week’s UN General Assembly and climate summit, and in advance of a final version in October.
It includes both a 10 point ‘straw man’ package of measures on means of implementation that ranges from ODA, domestic resource mobilisation, and the role of the private sector through to trade, sustainability, and transparency; and a long-list of potential outcomes and asks – in each case with a brief discussion of the political and developmental pros and cons.
We are big fans of Norway here at GD. And look – in a bid to make oil production more environmentally friendly, the Norwegian parliament is hoping to force offshore oil rigs to use electrical power rather than burn gas or diesel. Hurrah, obviously – what’s not to love about the Scandinaviafication of oil production.
The Norwegians aren’t alone either. Environmentally friendly drilling (by oil workers in shiny lipstick, obviously), is a thing, it seems…
So yay and double yay. Let’s make oil production all green and cuddly and maybe we can stop worrying about those millions of barrels that are rolling up out of the sea every day and burning…oh wait a minute….