UN Climate Talks are Shortcut to Security & Prosperity

There is no such thing as a free lunch. That is important to remember in politics at all levels. Smart politicians know they cannot afford to be on the wrong side of major forces that will affect their constituents, so it is always astonishing to see climate policy treated as “highly partisan” or “divisive”.

The simplest story about climate science and climate solutions is this:

Everything we count on for freedom, security and prosperity is connected to the climate system. Deep, chaotic, widespread climate disruption is dangerous to human freedom, security and prosperity. Smart innovation that avoids climate disruption and expands opportunity favors human freedom, security, and prosperity.

No industry, and no particular way of making a living, is guaranteed a permanent place of privilege. Since even those industries that undermine climate stability depend on its pervasive benefits to society, delaying the transition to a climate-smart future puts even the most powerful interests at risk.

The UN Climate Change negotiating process was designed to ensure all nations are part of the solution, by requiring consensus agreement among all 195 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

  • This may seem like an inconvenience, especially to the most powerful nations: great powers cannot simply sideline the least powerful; logically, this complicates negotiations, and frustrates heads of government in world capitals.
  • But, the process is designed to ensure that negative consequences are foreseen, considered, and dealt with in practical ways, to foster cooperation and resource sharing, to accelerate the pace of widespread innovation.
  • The complicated, diverse, grinding process of multilateral negotiation among 195 nations, is a way to examine deep challenges, air grievances, come together around solutions, and mobilize resources intelligently.

For all its complexity, the UN Climate Change negotiating process is a shortcut to future security and prosperity. The nations that are best positioned to profit from this opportunity are the nations that most reward scientific discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

That there is no such thing as a free lunch does not mean zero-sum thinking is appropriate in climate policy and economics. In fact, quite the opposite. Favoring the momentary expediency of delay (procrastination) rules out a wide array of longer-term benefits of early action.

Global heating is a market failure. It injects radical inefficiency into all areas of economic activity. That radical inefficiency translates into a constant loss of value and a systematic undermining of the foundation for future wellbeing. There is no way around this: human industry can disrupt climate stability, but it cannot out-compete the sheer force of compounding disruption at planetary scale.

What we gain through climate-smart policy and innovation is a more solid foundation for future wellbeing.

Some nations’ leaders believe they will be best served by continuing business as usual. Those leaders are gambling the future of their nations against forces that far outweigh any directed help they can provide that might temporarily shield a climate-liable industry against rapid market change.

Put another way:

You can invest everything you have into saving an outmoded, intolerably expensive way of doing business, and your main achievement might be delaying your own innovation long enough to to rule out ever catching up to the market around you.

Playing zero-sum games in a landscape of evolving compounding value means whatever you take for selfish short-term gain is not an equivalent loss to someone else, but the degradation of your own future capability.

We are emerging into a future economy in which science, information, and innovation, are the biggest engines of value. Working to obscure the best of integrated Earth systems science, or to undermine cooperative innovation among nations, is self-sabotage.

Even the most carbon-intensive economies need to know, with as much precision as possible, how we are affecting the natural systems on which all economic value rests. Whether the information you trade is financial data, quantum computation, agricultural ecology, or the movement of electrons, you need good science, shared understanding, and fact-based innovation.

You need everyone you hope to do business with to be routinely able to access sound science and data, to avoid destructive spending and value the climate-smart innovation you are doing. The new economy is not just one that avoids climate-forcing emissions; it is a whole-Earth active-value economy (WEAVE) that comprehends and rewards Earth-systems intelligence as a contributor to all areas of value creation.

There is no more direct short-cut to future security and prosperity than supporting the success of the Paris Agreement and related sustainable development negotiations.

Major areas of opportunity