If global heating exceeds an average of 1.5ºC across the world, we will collectively face so much risk and damage, the costs will spill over into every area of human experience. The climate system does not respect political borders or bank account balances.
An Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund once framed the crisis in these simple, haunting terms:
When a small island nation can lose 15% of its GDP in 3 hours of rainfall, you can no longer say precisely what a dollar is worth.
Budget projections become obsolete, and the artificial convention whereby money holds stable value disintegrates.
Insurers are already reporting that costs for their services might soon be too high for most people. This means cost and risk will fall harder on most people than in the past, even as the cost of extreme events and the risk of their likelihood intensify. It means inefficiency will spread through the whole economy and the reinsurance, insurance, and wider financial sectors will all face stresses they are not prepared to manage.
- Some small island nations have seen 200% of GDP vanish in one major hurricane and its aftermath.
- A major city can collapse amid record storm surge. The institutions of everyday civilization can disappear in a flood.
- Agriculture, which depends on such a rich combination of artificial conventions and natural benefits, can fail due to unchecked climate disruption.
You can wield influence or deepen the climate emergency; you cannot do both.
Some countries have attempted to use the UNFCCC negotiating process to call into question the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Those countries are sacrificing geopolitical capital on a staggering scale, in exchange for the small victory of getting some irresponsible words into the news cycle. And they are not even “winning the news cycle”.
- The G20 Communiqué released just yesterday recognizes the role of science to build human capital, empower decision-makers, drive sustainable innovation in food production, protect environmental systems and services, and yes: to combat climate change.
- It also calls for the redirection of public and private-sector finance to ensure progress toward and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, all of which are needed to secure future prosperity, and all of which involve some element of the response to climate disruption, while building prosperity more efficiently than we do today.
- At this writing, India is experiencing the worst water crisis in modern memory; police have been assigned to control the distribution of water, to prevent violence. Meanwhile, France, Germany and Spain have all seen their hottest temperatures ever recorded, and the German autobahn is melting.
The High Cost of an Illusion
Regardless of how much petroleum-based wealth they now enjoy, the nations that are attempting to negotiate science into irrelevance are wasting political capital to purchase their own diminishment. To understand this, it is worth looking at what has happened on the question of Conflicts of Interest rules:
- Many believe entities that profit from carbon pollution should not be allowed to participate in a diplomatic process that has an explicit mission to avoid the damage they cause.
- This has led to the proposal that Conflicts of Interest rules should be established that prohibit any funding or participation from these interests in the negotiations.
- Efforts by nations that have also sough to sideline scientific evidence have so far held off the proposed rule, but their actions have resulted in a call to disallow any text in any document that seeks to protect conflicted (polluting) interests.
Rights are inalienable and transcendent, but freedom of personal sovereign decision-making is constrained by the rights of others. When nation states attempt to serve their perceived sovereign interests in a way that infringes on the rights of others, their choices lose legitimacy.
Intergovernmental cooperation is necessary to deal with challenges that extend beyond borders. There are cases where rejecting multilateral negotiation is not a legitimate choice. And in those cases, abuses of sovereignty cannot be treated as equal to legitimate exercise of sovereignty.
The core controversy of all human conflicts is the never-ending struggle of human intelligence against the ravages of entropy, or system-breakdown. Buckminster Fuller said “The human brain is nature’s most powerful anti-entropy engine.” And so it is.
To make decisions that are smart and just, and capable of securing future prosperity, we need to know what we are doing. Science cannot be negotiated into irrelevance. The need to move away from high-volume investment in activities that cause harm to planetary systems, to avoid direct harm to human rights and the sovereignty of other nations, is now well established.
As the Secretary-General said today:
Taxpayers’ money should not be used to boost hurricanes, spread drought and heat waves, and melt glaciers.
Those nations that worry about the impact of climate crisis response measures on their biggest incumbent industries need to work constructively with other nations to engineer rapid transition strategies that mitigate harm to vulnerable people — smart, science-based strategies for a just transition.
- If they are constructive and creative, they might find ways to use structural incentives and financial instruments to efficiently accelerate the depreciation of carbon-heavy assets, to reduce carbon liability and avoid the worst costs from the stranding of assets.
- If they don’t work constructively with others, such efficiencies will almost certainly go to others and not to them. However long they hold on, this will only make the sharp decline in their fortunes more sudden and more damaging.
High Ambition at COP25
So, the SB50 negotiations have set up the COP25 to:
- Integrate ocean, ice, and land-use science into national climate action plans;
- Examine the climate-forcing consequence and carbon liability of non-linear non-market trade-related decisions;
- Achieve bold new strategies for adaptation investments that draw down atmospheric greenhouse gases and build resilience;
- Highlight and spread the climate innovation leadership of non-Party stakeholders; and…
- Detail the opportunities inherent in whole-economy climate-smart investment and action.
The NDCs that do the most to secure future wealth and wellbeing for the people of their nations will be economy-wide national climate action plans that operate at all levels of authority and investment. That is because the science is not a recommendation or a policy view; it is a report on what is happening to the natural systems that make life as we know it—and that includes agriculture, energy, technology, and civilization itself—possible.
The COP25 will be our opportunity—all nations and all generations—to raise the ambition of our climate crisis response and meet the ethical call inherent in the science.
Reports into & Out of the SB50
From CCE, Engage4Climate, Resilience Intel & the Acceleration Dialogues:
- Interactive Risk Tracking to Finance Resilient Prosperity
- Adaptation Affects the Value of Everything
- The Day the World Stood Still (On the IPCC’s 1.5ºC Report)
- WEAVE: Whole-Earth Active-Value Economics
- Invest at the Source (to Achieve Ocean Health & Resilience)
- How SB50 can Help Achieve the Climate-Smart Future
- UN Climate Talks are Shortcut to Security & Prosperity
- Long-Term Finance Brief: Invest in Interactive Earth Systems Value at the Human Scale
- ACE Dialogue: Reduce the ‘Otherness’ of Climate; Involve People
- Closing Statement: Science is Not Negotiable (Return to Top ↑)
Originally published July 1, 2019, at Engage4Climate.org