It is the next to last day of the COP21, according to the official schedule. The French presidency of the COP says the draft Paris outcome will be finalized and approved by 6:00 pm tomorrow, the scheduled close of the conference. Everyone is anxious to see if crucial elements of serious climate action are re-inserted, after having been removed, or if key policy elements are left for later. Most expect the COP21 will run into Saturday.
The world has come together in Paris to craft an agreement with a clear, vital, and transcendent purpose: to provide the logistical framework for an Aspirational Collaboration on Climate, Energy, Sustenance, and Security (ACCESS). Each of these is an essential part of the policy puzzle, and if we fail on any one of them, everything we aspire to do as a planet-wide civilization will be more difficult.
We are designing a route of access to the human future.
Because climate, energy, sustenance, and security, are so intimately interconnected, failure to achieve resilience in any one of the four will lead to degradation of conditions in the others as well. The climate negotiations are a global, consensus-oriented systems design congress, rooted in the knowledge that our lives and livelihoods depend on natural systems that are being disrupted, and we must all be part of the better future design.
Throughout 2015, we have watched the world move into the greatest period of humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. More than 60 million people are now displaced. More than 100 million people required humanitarian assistance last year. For the last two years, the number of people requiring assistance has jumped by more than 10% per year.
The design of our civilization poses threats to the structure and viability of our civilization, so the world has come together to redesign it. It bears repeating: this is about ACCESS to the future, to everyone’s future, and we all should have a say.
Last week, the word “oceans” was taken out of the text. This worries a lot of people, because the vocabulary of the consensus outcome document will steer the thinking, analysis, and policy design done by national governments. When the 2015 global development goals failed to include the word “girls”, 15 years of data were lost on one of the most crucial elements for determining the future viability of a healthy and open society.
Today, there is concern about where language on human rights, loss and damage from climate impacts, compensation, intergenerational equity, and carbon pricing, will fit. Will any or all end up excluded? Will any or all end up included? Will the final agreed text be genuinely operational, or operational only in the abstract?
Let’s, for a moment, take a look at the climate negotiations from the ACCESS perspective:
- Aspirational: Aiming for a healthy human relationship to the Earth’s life-sustaining climate system—1.5ºC is a good start.
- Collaboration: Working openly together to share capacity, accelerate time-scales, and improve outcomes.
- Climate: Avoiding dangerous interference with the fabric of thermodynamic energy transfers that shape the biosphere.
- Energy: Ensuring we use energy in a way that does not disrupt the Earth’s vital carrying capacity—keeping it clean.
- Sustenance: Climate disruption threatens ecological systems and the viability of the food supply, putting the entire economic landscape at risk of systematic degradation.
- Security: Achieving sustainable outcomes on all of the above means we can live in a secure world of non-warring nation states.
So, today, I propose a new acronym: ACCESS.
The standard for Paris must be to achieve an Aspirational Collaboration on Climate, Energy, Sustenance, and Security.
The agreed Paris outcome should include:
- A bold long-term goal, with both a scientific definition of “dangerous interference” and a technical definition of energy viability: 1.5ºC and 100% renewables by 2050.
- A cooperative framework, wherein nations collaborate to share technology, data, economic opportunity, and political decision-making capability in relation to our shared climate future.
- A comprehensive rebalancing of economic, political, and technical priorities, such that we can meet the 1992 Convention’s mandate to “avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
- Deep energy innovation that allows us to move to 100% renewables without slowing the level of human development, which is required to maintain political order, peace and security, and basic human dignity, in all nations.
- Economic incentives that motivate more sustainable practices, a more rapid shift away from climate-forcing fuels, and mechanisms for maintaining basic human sustenance, despite severe impacts.
- Peacebuilding measures including education, technology transfer, development assistance, humanitarian assistance, expansion of the civic space and other means of negotiating peaceful resolutions to emerging conflicts resulting from resource scarcity, with recognition that climate is now affecting issues that come before the UN Security Council.
If we maintain our awareness that ACCESS to the future is the crucial core of the Paris outcome, then we can make sure the level of ambition, the collaborative frameworks, and the incentives inherent in the 2015-2020 process, will be sufficient to start us on the pathway to lower than 1.5ºC global average temperature rise and 100% renewables by 2050. With that in mind, today, tens of thousands of people will dive deep into the details of the text describing how to achieve it.