Climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss all stem from human activity. This is why we have also passed six of the nine planetary boundaries that make life habitable for all species on this planet. But this is also why we have the responsibility and capability to be the architects of the planetary solutions that are urgently needed.
The Climate Governance Commission, an intergenerational and interdisciplinary group of former world leaders, policymakers, and scientists, was established as an initiative of the Global Challenges Foundation in partnership with the Global Governance Forum and The Stimson Center. It has identified key climate action gaps that can accelerate the transition to a net zero and nature positive economy.
Shaping a new climate governance architecture
The Commission, led by Chair Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, and Commissioner Co-Chairs Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, President of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, and Professor Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, aims to develop and propose ways to unlock collective human intelligence and ingenuity to tackle the existential risk of climate change together.
The Commission has focused on how to close three major climate action gaps in solution-action, policy, and governance that prevent the implementation of the solutions needed to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C or below. The gaps and the solutions needed were among the critical topics of discussion when the Villars Institute hosted the second meeting of the Climate Governance Commission in June 2023, where they developed their new recommendations to consider in the face of a “triple planetary crisis.” Their substantive work aims to inform and influence the most important climate conversations happening around the world right now with the launch of their report in conjunction with 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly referred to as COP28.
Key recommendations for a thriving and equitable future
The Commission's landmark report is built on a truly global consultative foundation, acknowledged by Chair Mary Robinson: “It has been very much a modern, collaborative approach to how we make changes at the global level. It’s the only way. We have to build collaboration in order to make change.” The report makes ten strong short-term recommendations for action on practical, tangible issues that can be resolved immediately, followed by five medium to long-term proposals.
The first of the recommendations, which was picked out for its importance by Mary Robinson and Johan Rockström during the report launch, is to streamline and reform climate COP with a focus on delivery, action and accountability. It is followed by the formal declaration of a planetary emergency, which predicates the broadening and strengthening of international security.
Recommendation four calls for enhanced scientific capacity through the establishment of a Science-Policy-Action Network. Mary Robinson looked back at the contribution of Chief Medical Advisors to those countries that handled the COVID pandemic best saying: “By and large they took the tough decisions early because the science was clear that they had to do that”. She used this example to make the case that there is a clear need for more recognition at the global level of how important climate science is, which would be bolstered by appointing Chief Climate Scientists in every government.
Amongst the longer-term recommendation is the need for an upgraded environmental programme with the establishment of a Global Environment Agency (GEA). “What we need is a fully-fledged environmental agency entrusted to set norms and standards on environmental protection”, said Maria Fernanda Espinosa. This would support countries to increase accountability, compliance, and implementation on their multinational environmental commitments.
Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces also highlighted the medium to long-term recommendations for financial reform, particularly of the Bretton Woods Institutions, which includes the IMF and World Bank. To scale from billions to trillions of dollars in order to meet climate goals they will need to devise new financial and governance frameworks that include increased access and lending for developing countries, which are amongst the most vulnerable and hardest hit by climate shocks.
These recommendations, and many of the others, are particularly focused on governance. That is because the science is clear about the challenges humanity is facing. Johan Rockström was clear on this: “It's not science that is limiting the ability for humanity to have a manageable, even thriving and equitable future…It's governance, it's our choice… it's our choice what future we want.”
Adopting and promoting new styles of leadership
Great transformations depend on new thinking and bold, effective leadership. One of the Commission recommendations is a call for responsible action of powerful leaders through ‘servant leadership’. This is antithetical to ego-based and self-interested leadership and instead prioritizes serving the greater good, in this case on a global scale for the planet and humanity. They include a call for global leaders of the major greenhouse gas-emitting nations to “fashion a ‘grand bargain’” of actions that will have immediate climate-positive effects.
The qualities of a servant leader form an essential part of the five traits of Systems Leaders. “Much of systems leadership is about emotional intelligence, and the ability to change the actions of enough people, and systemic change can follow.”
We applaud the work of the Climate Governance Commission as they engage the public and other key stakeholders in rethinking our global climate governance to accelerate the much-needed systems change for our planet and people.