The “Global” in Climate Change
When we hear about global climate change its scale can be overwhelming. One of two responses can override our rational brain. One response by some could be the thought that global climate change is such a big problem it is difficult to fully comprehend. You would not be alone in thinking it is technically complicated and the issues, impacts and risks associated with climate change are not easily understood. Because we have difficulty grasping the full significance of global climate change to our life, we decide not to worry about it and its implications to ourselves. Cross our fingers, climate scientists will solve the problem for us!
Someone Else Will Fix It
The second response to global climate change is similar to the above scenario but with a different spin. This second scenario acknowledges climate change effects are on a large scale – affecting the whole of Earth – and thus we rationalize that the problem must be dealt with at that higher scale level: at the country, government level and/or at the international realm, noting that some of the most touted agreements are at this multi-continental, global-body realm such as the Montreal Protocol, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris climate accord. Again, this thinking is quite rational. Global climate change must be dealt at the highest level – where countries agree to take action in a coordinated yet independent way to combat rising global temperatures and GHG emissions. But it fundamentally misses a more important feature of global climate change: its effects are felt and realized at various scale levels and scopes – globally, continentally, nationally, regionally, locally and yes, individually.
Solving the Problem at Various Scales
It is important to discuss a relevant idea called the ‘principle of subsidiarity’, which has its origins in the Catholic understanding of community as was formally enshrined by the Maastricht Treaty that formed the European Union on how decisions are decided and put into action. Herman Daly, an influential ecological economist details how to think about the principle of subsidiarity when it comes to solving problems through policymaking. The principle’s main idea is to “deal with problems at the smallest domain in which they can be solved…” Taking that further into policymaking action, problems should be addressed by the relevant institutions (or organizations) on the same scale as the problem. In regards to climate change, indeed there is a need to set a global policy structure to its mitigation. Here is where the international agreements mentioned above are important and relevant.
The Biggest Scale: Inter-Governmental Agreements
When a problem is identified as harmful to all inhabitants of a planet, it needs to be named, quantified, and then measurements developed and put in place to reduce the actions creating the problem. This is part of how international agreements work. The Montreal Protocol called for the gradual elimination (through the production and consumption) of substances (chemicals) that were identified to be known ozone depleting in nature. Those substances were named and identified. One hundred and ninety-seven countries ratified the treaty and worked independently but with a collective spirit to rid their individual use and production of those chemicals. And the participating countries (effectively all countries on the planet) worked hard at all levels of government, municipalities, and industry to make the Montreal Protocol the most successful international treaty to date. Successful in that it has been widely effective in closing the hole in the earth’s ozone layer.
Example: The Kyoto Protocol
Another example of an international treaty that helps guide and govern the actions of nation-states is The Kyoto Protocol. It is an international agreement that asks its country participants to commit to binding emission reduction targets. Specifically, each country was given a GHG emission target to achieve over a given amount of time. How each country went about achieving that target was up to its own discretion. Countries could go about achieving their determined emission targets in various ways such as by:
- implementing a carbon tax (flat tax on industry or individuals) on GHG emissions; or
- developing a cap-and-trade scheme (tradeable permits that reward low GHG emitters with profitable permit sales, and penalize high GHG emitters with costly charges) for certain high polluting industries to meet nation-state target goals; or
- mandating industry to implement technological upgrades that decreased GHG emissions into the atmosphere, or
- requiring the adoption of renewable energy (RE) sources to drive industry output, altogether closing the tap on GHG emissions where RE inputs were implemented.
The Most Recent Inter-Governmental Agreement: The Paris Climate Accord
The latest inter-governmental agreement related to global climate change was the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, an agreement by 195 countries that acknowledged climate change is real and that as many countries as possible need to work independently, but collectively, to keep the global average temperature from rising no more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels. The way forward for each country to support this agreement was up to them to determine individually. The only ask from the Paris Agreement was that each country submit a comprehensive ‘national climate action plan’ (INDCs) that arguably, laid out a detailed way forward on how to limit global temperature rise from individual national action.
The Scale of Community and Individual
Let’s get back to the idea behind the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ and how it applies to individuals, not countries or inter-governmental agencies. Rises in global temperature affect each and every one of us, who live on this planet. No one is not affected by rising global temperatures caused by anthropogenic climate change. We are all at risk from the mal-effects that are occurring and will continue to occur from global climate change. A global policy must be accepted as necessary for action to occur at many levels. And indeed, there is broad (almost universal)* agreement that global climate change is real and is currently and will continue affecting every nation and inhabitant on planet Earth. Action must be taken at various scale levels where that action can and will make a difference. Thus, nation-states have a real stake at making significant progress towards keeping global temperatures from rising 2oC above pre-industrial levels with a comprehensive national plan. Additionally, at a smaller yet still effective scale, regional provinces with countries, for example those in Canada (of which there are 10) as well as some of the 50 individual states in the United States are each working on their own climate change mitigation action plans to develop, implement, measure and monitor GHG emissions into the atmosphere. Actionable, measurable, and impactful action towards the mitigation of climate change and global temperature rise continues to be valuable at the city, town and individual levels as well. Don’t believe me? Not so sure of the value of impact at all scale levels mentioned herein? Then note that the Paris Agreement explicitly recognizes “the role of non-Party stakeholders in addressing climate change, including cities, other subnational authorities, civil society, the private sector and others. In a call to all, the European Commission invites these “non-Party stakeholders” to:
- “Scale up their efforts and support actions to reduce emissions;
- Build resilience and decrease vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change; and
- Uphold and promote regional and international cooperation.”
The horn has been blown. The call to action is now. All individuals have the capacity to positively influence the mitigation of climate change. Now, where to begin? It is useful to begin this march of sustainability responsibility by scale, from the largest: global, to the smaller yet fundamentally important scales of continental, country, region, city/town, and individual. We, individuals, need to fully own and internalize how climate change impacts the relevant concentric circles of personal priorities and communities (e.g., immediate family, friends, home, work, neighborhood, town, city, state, region) where we place the most personal value.
*Only two countries did not sign the Paris Climate Accord in December 2015: Syria and Nicaragua. Syria was and is currently in the midst of a civil war. Nicaragua did not sign because it felt the Agreement “wasn’t tough enough” in combating climate change. In June 2017, the Federal government of the United States said it will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Contact Kate Gaertner today to see what Triple Win Advisory can do to help your business and industry increase sustainability to result in a “triple win” for company profit and long-term competitive advantage, societal well-being, and successful environmental pollution mitigation.