Antropoceno XLIII – ciência, politica e ação individual no antropoceno

We are now entering  in final module on this lecture series on Planetary Boundaries and Human Opportunities.

In the previous module, we dug ourselves into the challenges of translating our Planetary Boundaries science and challenges in the Anthropocene into global governance, the role of technology, the transitions humanity face in terms of energy, food, urban, pathways towards a future of growth and development within a safe operating space.

We looked into the challenges related to sustainable and resilient urban development and trying to position our new thinking on global sustainability within the realm of opportunity and development for humanity in the future.

Now in this eighth and final module, we’d like to integrate and synthesize and summarize all the insights across the entire set of lectures. We’d like to do that in the context of the big global policy agenda on transforming the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals.

We’d like to do it also by sharing the latest thinking in how science is organizing itself and also opening opportunities for young scientists and bright minds to engage in the new opportunities around not only interdisciplinary research but also research for solutions and exploring avenues towards a future within a safe operating space.

In doing so and inspired by all your inputs into the forum and personal insights, we’ve also gathered the entire team of lecturers to share with you their personal reflections and insights, originating and being inspired by the contents of the entire course and engagement with all of you during these weeks.

We’d also like to remind you that even this week, please do keep the discussions and connections and ideas lively on the forum. We still hope that we together can take this course as a starting point to engage further in the future on exploring solutions for global sustainability.

So see this week as an opportunity and a Launchpad to start a dialogue that will go way beyond the weeks that we’ve had together over the past two months.

 

Anúncios

Antropoceno XXXIX – Caminhos de transição: a energia

For the world to develop within a safe operating space of planetary boundaries one of the grand challenges is a global transition to a renewable world energy system. This is a double challenge because it’s not only about biophysical operating within a safe operating space, it’s the recognition, shown in this graph, of the tight connection between energy use in the world and economic growth. In fact there’s a linear relationship so far between growing economies and growing energy use. And that is projected to continue, even though in [at] a slightly lower pace, up until mid this century. 741

There’s also the recognition of how our past looks like. And just check out this development of the extraordinarily rise in energy use since the great acceleration started in the mid-1950s. And what you see here is the growth of coal, and particularly oil and gas, as the predominant sources of energy.

So one simply has to recognize that if we’re seriously talking about sustainable development we can not escape the fact that we need not only energy, we will need more energy in the future if we take an ethical responsibility for the wealth of a world of 9 billion people.

The challenge, thus, is a transition into a zero coal or non-fossil fuel-based economy in the future. What may help us here is in fact not only technology advancements in renewable energy, which is remarkable, it’s also the fact that we are approaching or are at peak of many of the most cheap fossil fuel energy sources.742

And in this graph you see that already from the mid-’80s, 1980s, and onwards we have actually bypassed the point of access to cheap sources of oil. This has a risk of course of a transition to other cheap but even more polluting sources, such as coal, and the transition we’re seeing today in terms of fracking for natural gas, which is methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas. But overall it shows that however you twist and turn the analysis the era of cheap oil is behind us, which may help us also as an incentive to a transition to renewable energy systems.

But a very important challenge in terms of this transition is to recognize that not only is there a linear relationship between economic growth and energy use, what has enabled our quick economic growth is that energy has been cheap. And if you look at a key parameter in this regard called energy return on investment, meaning how much value do you get out for each input of investment into your extraction of energy.743

We have been privileged, in fact enormously privileged, of having a very large return on investments on oil over the oil era, since the early 1930s and ’40s with energy returns on investment often exceeding hundred in the early days of the oil bonanza, and today moving down quickly to levels of 30 to 15.

But look at what happens with, for example, nuclear energy, biomass, photovoltaics, oil sands, with energy returns on investment being very low. And in fact this really worries scientists and analysts because we’re not even sure how to operate a world economy with energy returns on investments going below 10 to 15, so another reason to really explore innovative solutions in the space of renewable energy systems.

And just look at this trajectory into the future indicating that we’re moving increasingly towards a point where we bypass this magical level of energy returns of investments below 10, which again means that energy becomes so expensive that it may no longer contribute to the economic growth we’ve seen in the past.744

So these are sharp reminders that the planetary boundary analysis showing the necessity to stay within a sustainable global carbon budget is coupled to the recognition also that the polluting, dirty and climate-destroying energy systems we have today are also becoming less attractive because they’re becoming more and more expensive, and less and less efficient in delivering to the human endeavor of economic growth.

Now if you look into the future the drama is equally stark. This is an analysis from the Global Energy Assessment showing that even in a transition to a sustainable energy future, here illustrated by the label Global Energy Assessment efficiency, or the Global Energy Assessment mix, which if you look carefully shows a very rapid rise in renewable energy systems and a contraction in the use of particularly oil and coal, but still the overall picture is growth of energy demand in the world.

So in 2050 the estimate, as you see even if we have very high optimistic projections on energy efficiency, we’re still seeing a future where we’re moving from our current use of roughly 500 exajoules of energy to a future of 600, 700, 800 exajoules of energy in the future. So a reminder again of the enormous challenge.745

Now what’s the solution to this? Well, most analysts would agree today that the long-term future is a future world basically or predominantly supplied from solar energy systems. We’re not there yet, but look at these graphs, which originate from fantastic work among energy researchers at Chalmers University in Sweden, showing the exponential rise in photovoltaics and wind power in key countries in the world.

And what you see here is that up until 2002-2003, we had a very slow rise in technology and uptake of these renewable energy systems. And then we have a takeoff and exponential rise where for example today countries like Germany, after all the world’s fourth largest economy in the world, if you wake up a Saturday morning in Germany you’re likely to get in the order of 30-40% percent of your electricity from wind and sun. So we’re starting to see solar and wind systems coming to scale also in the large economies of the world.

So there’s promise that this transition is not only necessary, but in fact possible to achieve at economically competitive rates, but also desirable. because they provide clean energy systems with very high benefits for health and also interestingly in a much more democratic way.746

Many of these energy systems are provided from small-scale distributed households, farms, small businesses, that produce their own energy and buy and sell energy to a flexible energy market. That’s why, to close, I believe that journals like The Economist even put at the front page of one of their recent issues a dinosaur and an oil pump in their hands, making the analysis that in fact those who invest and keep investing in dirty, risky, undemocratic fossil energy sources are the dinosaurs in terms of meeting the demands and needs and opportunities in the future. While a transition in terms of energy in a safe operating space can be, should be, and must be the opportunity for a much more clean, modern energy system for a world that of course will demand more energy to truly achieve sustainable development, but which needs to be sustainable.

7.4.2.. The role and risks of technology in the anthropocene

This will be about technology, and this is one of my favorite topics. When we talk about the Anthropocene, I think we seldom miss the point that so much of what happens in the Anthropocene, and the fact that we might be in the Anthropocene, happens through technology; it’s been through technology.

And one of the favorite examples that I take up with some of my students and some of my talks is this example. A couple of years ago an NGO and a couple of researchers discovered a new monkey type in the Amazon called the Titi Monkey, a new type of Titi Monkey. And they needed money to promote conservation efforts for the monkey. So they decided to make an option, an online option to sell the naming rights of that monkey. So they did that, and it was quite successful. They managed to get $650,000, and the company that won that auction was an online casino called GoldenPalace.com.

So GoldenPalace.com officially gets to name the monkey, so the official name of this Titi monkey is actually GoldenPalace.com Titi Monkey. And it has a Latin name called Callicebus aureipalatii, which I believe means golden palace.

And it’s quite a bizarre example, of course, but I find it quite intriguing that we’re modifying – we’re affecting nature at such a deep level that we’re even auctioning out the naming rights of a monkey species to an online casino.

I think the three interesting topics in here that are more general that this quite bizarre example. One deals of course with biodiversity and how we protect biodiversity. And there’s another issue related to politics of course. I mean where are we, is this a good idea should we really pull in private funding in this way? And giving – selling out naming rights in this way? And of course the third topic [is] about technology. Who would have thought 10 years ago that an online casino would have bought the rights to name this particular monkey?

Now I think this really brings us to an illustration of the next generation of environmental challenges in the Anthropocene, and new governance challenges facing us.

This is a quote from a New York Times article from one of the researchers a paper showing that the west Antarctica ice sheet was collapsing irreversibly, risking to create very large increases in sea level rise. And the quote from the scientist of course is, “This is really happening. It has passed the point of no return.” So it brings us back to the issue of tipping points and new risks.

Once these news were out there of course you hear discussions about trying to stop this from happening through technology, so essentially geo-engineering interventions. Sending out ships to spray out salt particles in ways that would make clouds whiter and then cool down the area, and hopefully, ideally, theoretically, cool the area down so much that you could stop the glaciers from collapsing. And of course this is just one example of many, many of these tipping point elements. This is a famous image from Tim Lenton’s work on tipping points in the Earth system.

And the issue here is of course if there are tipping points, and some of these might be a very, very large scales, and affect the Earth system as a whole, are there ways by which we can use technology to stay away from these, or mitigate these, or adapt to these in smart ways? And of course that triggers a lot of controversy and political conflict. And geo-engineering is a brilliant example of the interplay between risky tipping points, technology, and technological interventions and the political conflicts and debates those sort of discussions trigger.

And it’s not just about climate. I mean I just gave you a climate example. Some scientists propose that you would need to promote a new generation of conservation efforts that are more active to cope with climate change in ways to protect coral reefs.

So one example of tangible interventions were to create artificial coral reefs, or create big umbrellas, or to protect and cool down coral reefs, to create gene banks, etc., etc. Another interesting observation is from a workshop that was a few years ago in the UK where researchers and NGOs got together to discuss whether we can use synthetic biology to promote conservation and to maintain biodiversity. And there’s an emerging discussion about something called the extinction, so essentially using DNA from extinct species and use that DNA to bring these species back, and would that be a way to maintain and protect biodiversity?

Highly, highly controversial of course, and quite intriguing. I think one of the general reflections and reactions to this from the public and other scientists would be, but are we allowed to do this? Doesn’t this inflict on the precautionary principle? Now the precautionary principle that states that we shouldn’t do anything that might create harm. I mean that would be the popular perception of that.

But in fact if you look into international agreements, such as the Commission on Biological Diversity, it states something different. It says that, and I’m goint to quote here, “Where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.” So essentially actors, NGOs, a few researchers, used the precautionary principle as support for these sort of intervention[s].

And is that the proper framing of the precautionary principle, or should we have a more moderate interpretation of that? And what would that look like? So I think that’s just a simple illustration of the sort of challenges that tipping points, emerging technologies, get mixed up in a way that create[s] new political controversies and new governance challenges.

Antropoceno XXXVIII – Passara para um novo paradigma de governação

We’re in the Anthropocene. Our environmental challenges are now global and we face environmental risks that could actually lead to catastrophic consequences if we cross tipping points. What does all this mean for the global development agenda? Well, it truly puts into question some of our fundamental ideas of our relationship between environment and development.731

The first is the belief in the environmental Kuznets Curve, which so much dominates the way we deal with environmental policy and environmental impact reduction strategies. The belief that in the early days of development in the pre-industrial economies environmental impacts are large because of inefficiencies and poor capital availability, and that industrial economies somehow in the early days peak in terms of negative environmental emissions which comes from the empirical or the experiences, particularly from air pollution, from industrial activities, and the richer we get the better we are in improving our environmental conditions.

This is profoundly wrong. All empirical evidence shows that in the hyper-connected and globalized world in Anthropocene what has happened is potentially, or in fact in reality that we’re improving local environmental conditions often but we’re pushing environmental impacts across Earth system components in the entire planetary system. So we might have clean air where we live locally, but we’re ruining the planet system at the larger scale.732. In fact it’s so important that also fundamentally reshapes the way we think of sustainable development.

You’ve all seen the three pillars of social, environmental, and economic development which forms the basis of our modern thinking on sustainable development, but that has translated, as we all know, into a strategy of advancing economic growth as one sector and trying to reduce environmental impact as far as we can.

In the Anthropocene this will not be enough. It was okay when we were a small world on a large planet where we could always so to say find free environmental space in the atmosphere, and the biosphere, and the cryosphere. Now we’re in [at] a saturation point. We’re hitting the ceiling where we need to, all citizens of the world, all nations in the world, operate within the same space. And we must be honest. This three pillar approach has after all become what we could call a Mickey Mouse economy, where economy is occurring and developing at the expense of natural capital, the environment, and human capital; cheap labor and subsidized labor forces enabling hyper-consumption across the world.733

So let’s simply agree it’s time to scrap this obsolete model of separating social, environmental and economics. We need to transition into a paradigm which looks like this, namely use our economy as a vehicle to serve and meet societal needs, and have societies that operate within the stable confines of a resilient Earth system. Or, as we’ve been talking so much across the science that we’re now advancing, development within a safe operating space of planetary boundaries.

This changes profoundly economy, it changes profoundly governance, and it changes profoundly relations between nations, because suddenly planet goes first. We need to set global environmental goals within which we can have economic growth and development. It also addresses, which is shown in the now famous donut model for economic growth, that if we have a biophysical ceiling defined by planetary boundaries there must be a social floor, a floor of how we distribute the absolute amounts of remaining environmental space in a fair and just way among all citizens on Earth.

So in summary, the change in the paradigm includes number one, once and for all reconnecting world development with Earth resilience. We simply have to recognize that Earth is the basis for our well being and that development occurs in an integrated fashion. We must therefore accept that economic growth and economic development must occur within a safe operating space of absolutely set boundaries for the Earth system.734

This means that we’re moving from the current realm of relatives where we normally assume that if we just put the right price on the environment we’ll be so efficient that it will actually take us to sustainable development. The problem is that when we rush towards an economy that will grow three times, the world economy will grow three times over the next 30 years and the world population 9 billion people, even if we become relatively better and more efficient if that all adds up to us transgressing planetary boundaries we’re still going to cross tipping points.

So we’re moving from that reality, relatives, to the reality of absolutes. Now we simply need to respect an absolute amount of carbon remaining to emit. We need to respect an absolute maximum amount of fresh water to use, land to use, phosphorus to use.735

This is a profoundly different approach because it puts a cap on the playing field within which we can develop. It might seem very utopian, but you know we’re applying this kind of thinking very often in many, many other areas. In fact the history of how we have developed policies around chemicals is largely applying this kind of absolute planetary boundary thinking. Think of the Montreal Protocol when we in the mid-’80s recognized that emissions of chlorofluorocarbons were destroying our protective ozone layer. We did not take a relative policy of percentage reductions of these, uh, damaging ozone-depleting substances, we forbid them, we put a cap and we operated within a boundary.

And this is often the way we operate in many areas where we forbid toxic substances and we operate within a safe space. Now we need to do that for all components in the Earth system.736

But is this then going to be a paradigm that only operates at the global level where we have some kind of steering committee running the planet? Of course not. It is absolutely clear that in the Anthropocene we need to strengthen Earth governance, we need to collaborate all nations in the world to set planetary boundaries, but we also need to recognize that all action occurs from below, individuals, communities, businesses, nations, and that as the famous Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom pointed out that one of the most exciting opportunities we have is to invest in stronger polycentric governance systems where we connect local informal institutions and collective action among engaged citizens with formal institutions across different levels of society to work from local to global, and that this actually works.

We show it for water management, we show it for agriculture management, that in many parts of the world this actually can function. So it’s not a contradiction between the global and the local, it’s actually an integration between the different scales.737

But what does all this mean for the economy? And I’ll just give you one example of how this changes our thinking. Often the question is raised well, if you apply a planetary boundary thinking isn’t that actually saying that we’re limiting growth, we’re limiting economic growth? And what we’ve argued as the scientists behind this is: not at all. In fact what the planetary boundary analysis shows is that we need to stay within a safe operating space. But what happens within that operating space is up to us; it’s our choice. The economy should be able to grow within a planetary boundary safe operating space, what we have a bit jokingly called a planetary souffle, meaning that the economy should be able to grow within this space. A souffle also alludes to the fact that this is quite a challenging and innovative pathway because, you know, if we don’t manage this in a sustainable way it may in fact abruptly collapse, which we sometimes see in the financial crisis.738

Now can we actually envisage an economy growing within a safe operating space? Absolutely. In fact in our innovations, technology breakthroughs and advancements of business models that are not only resource-efficient but even circular, mean that we can produce value and generate well being within the confines of a safe, resilient Earth system.

And just to give you a few examples of how this could translate, even in conventional economics. Conventional economics had developed macroeconomic analysis of how expensive or beneficial It will be to solve the climate challenge. One of the most famous of these models is called DICE and here is just one example of how this looks like for climate.739

This is a graph from 2010 until end of the century, 2100, in terms of what it will cost to the world economy, so it’s GDP on the Y axis, if we continue as business as usual and move towards a very risky 4 degrees C future, or if we reduce emissions to a 2 degrees C, 450 ppm future. And this is the classical graph showing that GDP would only go down with a few percent if we stay with our business as usual, which we scientists criticize very, very fiercely because we say these economic models are not considering the devastating costs to the economy if we cross dangerous temperature levels. But let’s for a moment assume this is correct, that in fact it is such a small difference in terms of cost whether or not we reduce emissions.

Exactly this data can actually be plotted in a different way, and this is shown in this graph where we’ve just taking [taken] the growth of the economy on the X axis, so this is global GDP, but on the Y axis we show the difference in concentration of greenhouse gases, the planetary boundary. And what you see here is of course the blue line which goes up all the way to 800 ppm in the business as usual, the 4 degrees C pathway, and as you see it reaches year 2100 a world economy of 500 trillion US dollars. But look at the 2 degrees C future, which bends at 550 ppm and actually is projected to also reach 500 trillion US dollars slightly later, a few years later. And then you have the 450 ppm which stays at 450 ppm, but actually reaches a very high degree of economic growth as well.

But let’s not put in a boundary here. So we’ve taken not the planetary boundary that we have so strong, robust support for of 350 ppm. We’re taking the climate skeptics’ boundary, we’re taking a boundary that everyone will agree upon, because nobody wants a 6 degrees C future, a totally catastrophic future that will not support human civilizations on Earth. So we’ve taken the 5% risk of reaching 6 degrees C and put that on this graph, and that is shown by the upper horizontal line here which is at 550 ppm. So if we accept moving towards a boundary of 550 ppm, the world moves into the realm of a 5% risk of reaching 6 degrees Celsius, which is a probability that nobody, no reinsurance company, no bank, no government, ever, ever would accept.

Well what is this? Well actually that is a hard boundary. It means that the business as usual trajectory hits the ceiling at already 200 trillion US dollars. The world economy can not go beyond this point, which shows that the only pathway to its prosperous future for humanity is in fact that we bend the emission curve within a safe operating space, because it’s the only trajectory that can allow us to reach 500 trillion US dollars which is required to actually support a world of 9 billion people.

Everything above this level is not acceptable, it’s actually outside of the realm of economics. It’s the realm of ethics, it’s the realm of political leadership, it’s the realm of a new development paradigm where we accept that there are certain ceilings that we can not transgress.

And this ceiling is not even a planetary boundary, this is the ceiling of ultimate unacceptable movement beyond anything that anyone ever would accept. So this is quite an interesting way of illustrating, I think, that we need to reconsider the way we operate in terms of future development. (energia, Segurança alimentar, Urbanismo sustentável, Gestão da Biodiversidade)

Now these transitions are dramatic of course, and can they actually be achieved? Well so many analysts are showing that yes, a global energy transformation inside a safe operating space is possible. We can envisage a low carbon world economy by mid-century, a food security transformation where we feed the world with sustainable food is possible. Yes, we need to increase food production 50% by mid-century, but through sustainable agricultural innovations a lot of evidence indicates we can feed humanity in a safe operating space. An urban sustainability transformation is necessary but also increasingly possible. Two-thirds of the cities we need by mid-century are not even built yet. Let’s build them in a sustainable, resilient way. Biodiversity management is increasingly shown to be both effective, economically  beneficial, and builds resilience that’s shown by many, many studies, for example, on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity team.

So it’s not as if a transition to a safe operating space is the dark story of doom and gloom, it seems increasingly to be the desirable, more attractive story of innovation, transformation and human prosperity.

Now it won’t be an incremental journey. Together with colleagues at the Tellus Institute we recently tried to ask ourselves the question well how deep is this transformation into a safe operating space?

And that tentative analysis using a model called PoleStar indicates that it won’t be enough with only taxes and measures in terms of policies and technological breakthroughs, we will need to change lifestyles. It appears that we need to reconnect our own values with the biosphere, we need a much stronger emphasis on well being rather than just consumption, and that it actually is a shift also in our lifestyles. So it is a social, technological, and political journey we are embarking on if we truly want to endorse and kind of take in the latest science of the realities in the Anthropocene.

But to summarize, that recognition which we are the first generation to be knowledgeable about should not be used as a big, black blanket, putting a stop on development, it should rather be used as an encouragement for a new type of development, a new type of economic growth where we can meet the needs of both the poorest in the world and the aspirations ostrom

Antropoceno XXXVII – Estruturas emergentes de Governação Global

So speaking of global environmental governance, how should we reform it? So we know we’re facing fragmentation, we know we’re facing complexity, we know we’re facing gridlock.

So what are some ways by which we can modify global environmental governance to better cope with the challenges of the future?721

And of course there’s no clear, simple answer to that. And I would say there are different schools and different approaches to address that issue. So I’m just going to present a couple of these different approaches.

One of them, and I would say the most popular one in my community, I would call deep institutional reform. And deep institutional reform builds on the idea that if you manage to reform critical pillars of global environmental governance then you would create an architecture that’s better able to deal with these challenges. So there are different ways to look at that reform and there are some very tangible reform proposals in that.

So for example, one would be that you need to reform the United Nations Environmental Programme. So you would reform and upgrade the UNEP, as it’s called, and give it a bigger mandate, better resources, and better capacities to coordinate the fragmented setting up of international institutions.

Another idea or another very tangible proposal would be that you would look into economic institutions at the international level and put a much stronger sustainability focus into these. You would design and put into place mechanisms that would guide economic development at the international level, taking sustainability into consideration.

Another reform proposal that has been discussed is to modify the voting rules in international bodies. You would move from decision making that’s unanimous into where you just need majority, or a qualified majority. And the idea would be that if you change the voting rules in these bodies then you would get faster decision making and it would become more ambitious.722

So that’s just a few examples of that way of thinking, that the way to reform the environmental governance is through deep institutional reform.

Another school of thought or another stream within this community would be to focus less on institutional reform but more to strengthen networks. And that mode of thinking I would call network revolution.

So essentially you would say no, it’s impossible to move ahead with institutional reform, it’s very difficult to get all these countries to agree on something tangible, so let’s focus on strengthening partnerships that exist between states, or between public and private actors. Let’s invest more in building global partnerships and networks across state and non-state actors. Let’s focus on allowing fewer number of countries to create more ambitious goals, for example within climate policy, and have them create benefits for themselves and then hoping that that club will expand over time. So that’s the club approach.

Another way to look at this is to talk about polycentricity. So polycentricity essentially means that you have several independent bodies of decision making that collaborate and create rules through that collaboration. And the idea is that these modes of more network polycentric governance are more flexible, they’re more apt to changing circumstances, they’re better able to cope with complexity, and they can expand over time essentially.723

So that second approach focused on networks where it’s less about institutions but more about creating a network revolution at the international level.

There’s a third stream that I find interesting that focuses more on law. And that stream I would call legal transformation. And the idea there would be that you would create different interpretations of existing law in ways that would push us towards sustainability, essentially redefining international human rights law, for example, or creating some sort of planetary boundaries declaration. That’s one example, so you would create a planetary boundaries declaration between nation-states. And that sort of development would trigger changes in international law to better address sustainability.

And one interesting observation within this community is that these sort of norms, for example, to protect the environment, or a norm around stay within planetary boundaries, can evolve nonlinearly, meaning that you will have actors lobbying for that sort of change for a long time but nothing happens, but then suddenly you see a nonlinear change, so suddenly it becomes from something being discussed just amongst a small group of people to something that suddenly becomes a global institutional norm. So that has more focus on legal issues.

And then the fourth stream in this focuses more on citizen and participation, global democracy, cosmopolitan democracy. And the idea here, and the assumption here is that we’re getting into these processes of gridlock, we’re not able to agree at the international level, because people are not being part of decision making. Decision making is happening behind the scenes, in small groups, in small clubs, with limited insights from citizens. And the idea would be here to reform international organizations in a way that allowed for wider participation from citizens, civil societies, and NGOs. And the idea would be that these sort of reforms would open up decision making and create more ambitious environmental decision making at the international level.

So those would be four different streams in the debate that I would pick out, so:

  • deep institutional reform,
  • network revolution,
  • legal transformation,
  • and global citizenship.

One thing to keep in mind though, and I think that’s one of the interesting things, is that these are ideas that might start out as something different, but that actually start to become recombined. So you see interesting combinations of these ideas out there emerging; combining legal transformations with network revolution, or combining deep institutional reforms with global citizenship. And this nice visualization by one of my colleagues, Diego, shows how actors or authors start referencing to each other over time and start to combine these ideas into different proposals on how to reform global environmental governance.

So how are these related to planetary boundaries? I think that’s a critical issue. I think what we’re interested in is not only dealing with incremental global change, or separated problems by themselves, not just only climate change, biodiversity and ocean acidification in parallel. We need to start to look at: how do these reforms try to address very complex interactions between these problems? How do these proposed reforms in institutions, how well are they able to address the nonlinear properties of these problems? Do we need additional institutions to, for example, pick up early warnings and respond to early warnings that we’re moving towards bad tipping points in the Earth system or in regional ecosystems, how do we look at that? So it’s also a matter of function in these governance structures.

So just to summarize the key message in this very complex issue, I would say the takeaway message is there are multiple approaches to governance. There’s no simple, quick fix solution through reformed governmental governance, there are different traditions, there are different streams, they all have different flavors in a sense.

But there are also interesting combinations emerging between these different streams. And we also need to take a step back and look at these proposals, and look at the dimensions. What are the distributional implications of these proposals in terms of risks, or resources, or power? And how well do they function, not only to deal with incremental environmental stresses, but also very complex interactions between global environmental problems, some of which might be linear and some of which might be nonlinear and lead to rapid unexpected shifts?

Antropoceno XXXVI- Estruturas Existentes de Governação Global

This talk will be about global governance and structures to deal with complex global environmental problems.

Normally when we think about the Earth system and planetary boundaries we start to think about: so how do we cope with these problems at the global level? And normally people would assume that you would need a world government, which is I believe an incorrect assumption for what governance is.711

We talk about governance in terms of different set of partnerships, international agreements, the way state and non-state actors interact with each other, the involvement of scientific communities, NGOs, etc., etc. So essentially governance in this setting is a much more messy and complex interaction between state and non-state actors at the global level. And it’s not about creating a one static body on decision making in a world government.

I think that’s one very critical, important thing to keep in mind when we talk about these sort of issues. What are some critical developments in global environmental governance? I would say there are several trends that we look at.

I mean, this is a simplification that one thing that we normally discuss in this community is the rapid increase of international environmental agreements. So normally people would think that one of the key challenges at the global level is that we don’t have proper international environmental agreements, but in fact if you look over time there’s been quite a rapid increase of the number of agreements.712

So in 1857, there was one multilateral environmental agreement and in 2012, the last count that I have, we had 747. So it’s quite a rapid increase of international environmental agreements, and that’s one important trend to keep in mind.

Another thing that we also know in global environmental governance is that it’s not only do we have more international agreements, we also have more actors involved. There are more nation-states that have ratified agreements of this sort over time, and there are also more non-state actors getting involved in these arenas where global environmental issues are being discussed. So more international environmental agreements and more actors, those are two critical trends.

One of the biggest debates within my community is what the impacts of these trends are. And one general conclusion from my community is that this sort of increased density of agreements and actors have created fragmentation and segmentation.713

So essentially you get different layers of decision making that become practically decoupled from each other; you lack coordination, and you lack a system’s overview to tackle the sort of challenges we’re facing. So that’s another important trend. So more agreements, more actors, fragmentation, and segmentation.

There’s an interesting development though over time if you look at it. And you can see that in this short video by Rak Kim is that you also see increasing inter-linkages between international environmental agreements.

So that short video shows the number of international environmental agreements, and how they start to link to each other by referencing. So it starts in the end of the 1800 and then moves rapidly into today. And you see that massive increase of inter-linkages and notes linking to each other, so it also implies complexity, it’s becoming more complex, the landscape of institutions at the international level.714

This creates something that people also explore called gridlock. And gridlock is a phenomena where you have an increasing number of global challenges but where nation-states are not able to agree on something tangible to address these stresses.

So essentially you get more actors involved in more roles, but each of these actors also have veto power, so essentially they are not able to get to a point where they manage to create effective institutions to address critical challenges. So the transaction costs to get to collective action increase over time, because of more actors, more complexity.

So here’s an example that we’ve been working on for the last years dealing with ocean acidification, and marine biodiversity, and climate change. And these are three so-called planetary boundaries. The interesting thing with these three phenomena is that these are not separate global problems they interact in different ways. So climate change contributes to ocean acidification; ocean acidification affects marine biodiversity at the same time as these two changes modify the carbon uptake capacity of oceans, hence contributing to climate change. So these are three interacting processes.715

The question we asked in our research is: who’s responsible to cope with not only the isolated problems but their interactions? And again if you look into the institutional landscape, if you look at what are the relevant international rules that affect these three interacting areas, you’ll see a long list of different international agreements. You see Agenda 21; the CBD, which is the Conventional Biological Diversity; the Millennium Development Goals; the UNFCCC, which is the international climate agreement, etc., etc. So it’s a long list of international rules that somehow are related to this problem complex.

And again if you look, what are the relevant international organizations somehow partly being responsible to address this issue? It’s also a big – essentially a big soup of acronyms moving around and trying to one or the other address this issue. So you have the World Bank, UNESCO, UNEP, the World Fish Centre, Human Ocean, the Food and Agricultural Organization, etc., etc.

One of the things that we find interesting though is that it’s not only chaos and anarchy at the international arena with all these messy institutions. Actually what we see are emerging patterns of collaboration, information sharing, experimentation, of attempts to navigate this combination of complexity in the problem, essentially in the Earth system, and complexity in the social institutional system.

So we see this pattern of networks emerging. That’s something that we’ve been studying for one particular case that we call PaCFA, the Partnership on Climate Change and Fisheries. And this we believe are interesting networks to keep an eye on if you want to understand the challenges facing global environmental governance to cope with sustainability challenges in the future.

So there are three key messages from this in terms of how global environmental governance has evolved and its capacities to deal with sustainability issues at the global level. One is that you see increased fragmentation over time, but also complexity in terms of institutions and actors linking to each other in very complex ways. And sometimes these create processes of gridlock, essentially the number of challenges are increasing over time and becoming more severe, but the landscape of actors and institutions is so complex that actors are not able to come to robust agreements on how to deal with those challenges. So those are the three key messages from this first lecture.