Progress not Perfection

Dec 29, 2015

In the complex world of multi-national agreements, deals often fall apart when perfection becomes the enemy of progress. The recently concluded Climate Change Conference agreement inked in Paris – COP-21 – is a notable exception.

     Though imperfect, it is a game-changer; perhaps even our last best hope of addressing one of our greatest challenges ever; runaway climate change.

     It is astonishing how over 190 sovereign nations – each with their own unique political and economic systems and agendas – overcame their national differences and collaborated on an agreement. (See: COP-21: Crunch time in Paris)

     A sense of urgency – a far cry from the Kyoto treaty days in 1997 when climate change had more of an abstract, futuristic look – sparked the action. No need this time for computer models to warn of the danger; the observable, real-time ravages of climate change have now confirmed the threat. For most, the pain of doing nothing surpassed the pain of acting.    

      With record storms, ice caps melting, sea levels rising, and global temperatures climbing to record levels, the collateral damage of climate-induced droughts, storms, floods, forest fires and pollution could no longer be ignored or denied. 

     Further, our Grace Satellite system beamed down alarming data on ice density melts and a global decline in aquifer levels. The measureable increases in ocean acidification levels – wreaking havoc on our life-giving coral reef systems – and the stunning rise in atmospheric carbon build-ups since Kyoto confirmed the diagnosis of an ailing planet.

     Geopolitically, the “threat multiplier” effects of climate change – a phrase coined by our military and intelligence agencies – were amplified by such events as the air pollution alerts in Beijing and localized wars over water in Africa and the Middle East. For inhabitants of several Pacific islands and coastal dwellers, the threat of rising sea levels is now their new reality.

     The climate threat has now escalated from that of an abstract issue to a clear and present danger – all in a frighteningly short period of time. It has motivated nations to move in ways not imaginable only a few short years ago, and it has created the prerequisite conditions that have now made COP-21 possible.    

     Unlike Kyoto in 1997, COP-21 has the backing of the world’s two largest carbon emitters, the United States and China. Climate negotiators have also learned that the domestic realities of nations cannot be ignored; that all countries have different starting points and that one size does not fit all. In this regard, over 160 nations submitted their own unique national climate action plans for review prior to the Paris Conference.  

     Bottom line: COP-21 has established a global framework for providing a global response to a global threat.  It provides a process for monitoring results and revisiting and updating plans on a regular basis. It follows a ‘trust but verify’ pathway with a bias for progress over perfection.

The outlook: There will be significant domestic and political headwinds initially to slow up or stand down on various COP-21 initiatives, but there are “carrots and sticks” that will make a difference: 

          On the “stick” side, future climate-induced disasters will keep the pressure on to stay the course. As a global problem, rogue nations will find it difficult to ignore geopolitical realities and/or disregard their stewardship roles. They can expect to pay an economic price for such behaviors, risk sanctions or worse.

     On the “carrot” side, transformational new economic opportunities will emerge as climate initiatives gain traction. The development of new energy models and infrastructures, smart grids, demand reduction and sustainability management systems, and more will create new economic engines of growth. Cost structures will improve as price points on renewable energy systems drop, and new opportunities will emerge as we gradually learn to do more with less.  

In conclusion:   While it’s easy to lose sight of the big pictures and pick holes in the COP-21 agreement, we need to remember two things:

  1. It establishes a global framework and protocols for attacking a global threat at a global level and is, perhaps, our last best chance to act decisively while we still can, and 
  2. It provides a dynamic process that can be continuously improved upon and adjusted to meet future circumstances. In this venue, it is wise to remember that what really counts most is “progress not perfection.”

It’s so nice to close the year on an optimistic note. Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and productive 2016, and don’t forget to visit our website at www.WeatheringtheStorm.netfor more information.

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