A profound choice is upon us and there is no middle road

  • October 16, 2019
Illustration by: Thomas Leach for Meckon

In the shadow of the climate crisis, humanity finds itself at a fork in history with two divergent pathways: one that limps forward with business as usual, and one that embarks upon profound action in creating global systemic change. Our future will be defined by the path we choose, and I challenge my colleagues and contemporaries to find the requisite courage and character to take the road less travelled.

Despite the sustained efforts of so many good people, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has failed to align stakeholder interests and build a critical consensus for global action. A glance at the timeline of the UNFCCC’s major ‘achievements’ on climate change (Figure 1) demonstrates that it has simply delivered too little, far too late.

Figure 1: Summary of UNFCCC achievements (Meckon Ltd)

What consensus there is among the UNFCCC does not bode well. We may have 11 years or less to implement major turnaround on carbon emissions, but this depends on us triggering profound change of direction in less than 18 months. Both of these possible futures will incur costs what varies significantly is when and where these costs are incurred and what control and choice we can exercise over them.

Ignoring, denying or deluding ourselves about the situation we are in and taking the business-as-usual path is one option. This choice leaves us the most exposed and unprepared for the economic and social costs incurred as a result of climate disruption and what I see as Damage. This Damage will be to agriculture, infrastructure assets, natural resources, biodiversity, and secondary follow-on consequences such as risks to business stability, global food supplies and mass migration, to name a few.

This business as usual path will without doubt deal great Damage to all of us — directly or indirectly. Even our ‘billionaires in their bunkers’ will not be immune. The world as we know it will be weakened and adapting to these conditions will be difficult without preparation and coordination and will incur uncontrolled Damage and costs.

Taking profound action, the second pathway is how we can invest in the future. Investment also carries a cost, but it puts this capital to proactive productive use, building for the future and giving us humans something of immeasurable additional value: a greater degree of control in how we adapt a changing world for current generations and those that follow.

In this vein, I believe it is time to bring an innovative lens to two forces that we already know and manipulate every day — the same two that have arguably brought us to this precipice — our human self-interest, and our capital market forces.

Although what each of us values varies widely, the majority of us are motivated by self-interest. If it is made obvious and tangible that it is in our interest to solve this crisis and if this is made likewise so in the self-interest of governments and organisations that we all work together globally, not only will humanity survive, we will continue to thrive as a species.

How might profound action on climate change be positioned to better serve our self-interest? By recognising that what is really at issue is Damage, not CO2!

We will all suffer Damage from climate change, one way or another, and it is time our governments and the global community started recognising and addressing this. The first step is to put a tangible value on the Damage we may incur, and one way of achieving this is through the implementation of the DRaCULA framework.

What DRaCULA does is creates a market for climate risk and Damage reduction, by allocating responsibility for the Damages from climate change between countries. This enables countries to use the very high cost of Damages to motivate and incentivise investment in action to prevent Damage, as the cost of action is so much lower. It is an economic tool to unblock the sluggish progress in climate negotiations, and deliver the rapid and dynamic action and impact that is needed. It does this through a set of balancing equations which determine a countries responsibility level. Taking into account the good things countries do to prevent climate change and associated damage, the bad things that give rise to climate change Damage, and global action in trading capability for responsibility overcoming the divide between rich and poor countries in the global climate negotiations.

In so doing it provides a massive leap forward for fair trade and investment and enables countries to develop without destroying the planet. It may seem counter-intuitive to frame a solution around Damage; however Damage is far more relatable to people than CO2 and it has many technical benefits. Benefits such as addressing externalities — fixing a major issue in our broken implementation of capitalism, providing the leverage to drive the financing required and through better governance ensuring delivery of Damage reduction.

Everyone has, at some point, delayed or avoided making an important decision and while a wait-and-see approach is sometimes advisable this is not the case with climate change. The science tells us that not taking early action will only equate to greater cost and risk.

Decades of mediocrity and weak action have brought us to this fork in the road, and whichever path we end up on, it will bring with it significant Damage, change and cost. What is very clear is that the cost of action is small when compared to the Damages, with the climate-induced Damages in 2018 already costing countries £50 Bn, with estimates that this could climb to $600 Tn in Damage due to the cascading of natural disasters.

What we must do is be clear in our intentions and not waste resources on trying to follow some middle of the road path which is really just another name for business as usual. We need to choose profound action and change and build a better world, and if we cannot come to a global agreement we should focus resources on protecting ourselves from the coming Damage. If like me, you are willing to imagine the power and potential of transformative innovation in our social and technical systems and recognise the importance of collaboration, do contact me to discuss the DRaCULA framework.

As Greta says: “The world is waking up, and change is coming, whether you like it or not!”

Author:Sacha Meckler

Sacha Meckler is an innovator, change maker and thought leader working across technology, economics and policy domains.