Solving Climate Change Requires A New Social Contract
Climate change poses a serious threat to our survival. We have more options than ever for decarbonizing quickly. While they aren’t enough, increased government and corporate commitments, technological advances, trillions in dollars shifting towards clean technology, and an ever-growing civil rights movement all represent an unprecedented abundance of efforts toward our common goal of combating climate change quickly and efficiently.
The most valuable resource, however, is scarce. Trust is that resource. Our collective efforts will be held together by trust, even when faced with extremely challenging situations. This trust is not easy to win and it can be easily lost. Unless we intentionally rebuild trust—in ourselves and in each other—our work to secure a liveable future for humanity will falter and ultimately fail.
We must first rebuild our trust in ourselves. This means trusting that we are capable of doing what’s necessary within the limits set by science. A recent poll of youth revealed that more than half feel doomed and believe humanity is in peril. They are taking to streets. This pressure is a welcome sign that they feel the system needs it. However, it is also a question of historical fact whether we have proven that our ability to rise to meet the current challenges. Amazing feats have been achieved by humans.
We’ve conquered deadly diseases, expanded girls’ education, and brought millions out of poverty. It is now possible to communicate cheaply with all corners of the globe instantly. We have also dematerialized information and music. Energy from the sun, wind, and everlasting rain is being channeled into all kinds of power grids.
While none of these achievements are complete, the progress we’ve made is amazing and shows just how creative humans can work together to achieve seemingly impossible goals. This current crisis of doubt, disbelief and inability to change our world is something we cannot afford to continue to bear. The urgency of the moment in history is being met, thankfully, by the agency for disruption. So, as we enter this extraordinary transition, let’s welcome the messiness of change, but improve our accountability and disclosure mechanisms so that we can communicate our achievements and deepen trust in the progress we are making.
Second, trust must be built between developed and developing nations. This is especially important in the area of financing. In the run up to the Paris Agreement in 2015, it was through the careful and intentional development of trust in each other’s intentions, that countries were able to collectively agree a way forward on climate. Now, that trust has been hard earned must be renewed after the agreed targets for financing developing nations have not been met in time. Without the $100 billion needed annually by 2020, these trust ties will break.
The third is that the near-term action must be taken to make climate promises and commitments by investors, governments and companies. It is entirely understandable that Vanessa Nakate responded on behalf of millions to the announcements heralded at COP26 with the words, “We don’t believe you.” Too many climate targets set have been missed. We must achieve emissions reductions that can be compared to a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This will also help us protect the remaining ecosystems, as well as actively regenerate any we have lost.
In 2022, we must see evidence of actions beyond the promises, intentions and commitments. If not, then public distrust will grow and allegations of greenwash will increase, which will make it more difficult for real efforts to be recognized for their true nature.
Corporates and investors need to align their climate positions with their own internal decision making and share all relevant information. At a crucial time, public trust is at risk when those who pledge to net zero then lobby against it. In 2022, I anticipate a rise in climate litigations. This will, ironically, accelerate accountability that the public demands now. It will also help corporations and investors to keep their climate promises.
We must also build trust among the different parts of the climate group, which all work towards the same goal, but have very different approaches. The binary mentality that identifies who is right and wrong only results in mutual condemnation and blame.
This has recently come to the fore in arguments about “net zero.” There are those in the community who believe it is the way forward and are avidly pursuing it, and those who believe it is a dangerous trap and advocate against it, pushing instead for real zero. Both net zero and actual zero emissions require drastic, immediate emission reductions.
As with any ecosystem functioning well, there are many approaches that we require. For the change we want, all of us will need to work together, with honesty, compassion, respect, and cooperation.
The most valuable and strongest human capacity is trust. All efforts will fail without trust, but with trust we can create the future.
This essay is one of several on the concrete goals that the world should set for 2022 to prevent climate-related catastrophe. Continue reading