The Pathway to Paris project aims to solve many problems at the same time:
- We want to raise awareness about the catalytic potential of the Paris negotiating process.
- We want to ensure enhanced citizen participation in the process of policy making and implementation.
- We want to raise awareness of the ways in which carbon pricing can spur economies while decarbonizing them.
- We want to foster an understanding of the ways climate disruption and carbon pricing cut across other areas of policy.
Why does this matter?
Working backwards, through the above list: Climate disruption adds cost and harm to every other area of policy or development consideration. Smart climate action enhances smart policy action in other areas. We have to first understand this if we are to make honest assessments of cost and benefit in any other area of development planning.
Carbon pricing has the potential to provide not only a fair and equitable internalization of fossil fuel costs, but to do so in a way that allows the entire economy to transition efficiently and effectively. The right policy design means lower-income communities and developing economies see added prosperity, not a constraint on prosperity.
Citizen participation is crucial to securing a good outcome. Diplomats represent governments, which have an interest in competing with one another. The landscape of differentiated responsibility means that competitive tendency is enhanced. Citizens engaging their representatives consistently bring a clear and resonant demand for a more moral outcome on environment, health and development issues.
Working as I do with citizen volunteers in countries around the world, it quickly becomes clear that many nations will take their guidance for comprehensive climate action from the UNFCCC process. Next year’s planned Paris agreement has the potential to guide and determine what kind of action is possible, or at least preferred, in which country or group of countries.
There is a catalytic potential for motivating smart, efficient, socially equitable, climate action, through the Paris agreement. The Paris agreement could ensure we have not only steep and timely emissions reductions, but real opportunity for ongoing economic improvement for all income levels.
Resolving the risks of policy interference
One example of the potential interference between policy areas is the preconception that putting a price on carbon adds unbearably to the cost of goods people need to live their daily lives. The fear is this can hamper economic growth and stunt development, a potentially unjust outcome, the prospect of which significantly slows the deployment of serious climate action.
The fact is: carbon pricing policy doesn’t have to have any of those qualities. Some policy designs add net cost to consumer behavior and shift the value of those transactions from the consumer or the energy sector to financial institutions. That can create efficiencies, in the right market environment, but it can also create deep inefficiencies, if there is no direct benefit to the macro-economy.
The right policy design can achieve the following:
- Steep and timely emissions reductions
- Economy-wide opportunity for carbon efficient enterprise
- A steady and predictable transition carbon fuel companies can plan around and adjust to
- A steady rise in routine household income
- The building of economic influence at the human scale
- Increased incentive for local jobs that can’t be outsourced
- An overall increase in generalized prosperity
This matters for all nations, because if only wealthy industrial countries achieve this virtuous policy outcome, then developing countries that don’t have some of the economic, political or technical advantages, will end up saddled with the dislocated pollution and the pervasive inefficiencies of the carbon-intensive development model.
That policy efficiency imbalance can slow progress on development priorities in general, and lead to a deeper coupling of fossil fuels to economic growth, where there should be a decoupling of the two.
There are other areas of potential policy interference, as well, which could flow from a lack of understanding about the cross-cutting nature of the climate problem.
One example is the impact on opportunity and equality for women and girls in societies where women spend a lot of time gathering water. If water is more scarce, not temporarily, but in a pervasive way that worsens over generations, due to climate disruption, breaking the cycle that limits women’s ability to advance will be more difficult.
The same applies to education in general, for all children. As costs from climate impact mount, and governments face mounting security risks, and the need for ever more significant technology investment and agricultural subsidies, value will be shifted out of education, instead of flowing into it. The potential impact on human development from that alone is dire.
Where we are headed
Our project aims to bring all of these together, by building new models for direct citizen participation, both locally and globally. That we are citizens of one country does not mean we should surrender the right to be citizens of the world, and to raise our voices and call for the best policy arrangements in the supranational policy space.
As we move into Lima, we will be working to accelerate citizen participation, through our global online policy forum, where anyone is welcome to bring their voice into the global policy process. In 2015, we will expand this process, to establish teams of citizen volunteers working on major global challenges, related to the climate issue.
Our aim, for the fall of next year, is to have built a new way for citizens to engage in global policy-making, facilitate understanding of the connections between climate costs and action and other human development priorities, and secure a place in the Paris agreement for real, substantive expressions of the four priorities listed at the beginning of this article:
- Catalytic climate action
- Enhanced citizen participation
- Fair, effective, efficient carbon pricing
- Clarity about linkages between climate and development
If we do all of that, we believe we can secure a Paris agreement that makes life better for people, and makes our relationship to the planet not only livable but durable and reciprocal.