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Motivate. Mobilise. Manage. Repeat: how to deliver climate action for a global reset

Written by Simon Maxwell


ODI’s Global Reset Dialogue invited leaders from around the world to share their visions for building a more equal, resilient and sustainable future beyond the coronavirus. Our Senior Research Associate and former ODI Executive Director Simon Maxwell, one of the moderators of the Dialogue, shares his response to ideas put forward for tackling the climate crisis.

We set our global leaders a difficult challenge in the area of climate change. They not only had to highlight the urgency of climate action, but also help navigate the competing visions of a green future, as well as the complex choices and trade-offs facing policy-makers. The core question, ‘What has to happen next on the climate emergency?’ is not as straightforward as it seems.

Our contributors took on the challenge. Their roadmap can be summarised as: Motivate; Mobilise; Manage; Repeat.

Motivate: make the case for inclusive climate action

There are three approaches to making the case for climate action, all necessary, none sufficient on its own.

The first is to focus, correctly, on the Armageddon that awaits if emissions are not reduced, especially for the poorest people and countries (Turner). Extreme heat, sea level rise, reduced crop yields and more frequent storms are all more likely – with consequences that spread way beyond national borders.

The second is to emphasise the benefits of action: not just a cooler and more stable climate, but also clean air, new jobs, greater fairness, and greater geopolitical security (Tubiana, Ribera). A holistic approach connects climate action to other natural capital, to oceans and land (Ribera), to biodiversity (Robinson), and to all the global commons (Tubiana). In short – ambitious climate action will allow people to live healthier, more productive lives, while protecting the planet for their children and grandchildren.

The third approach, often overlooked, is to remember that the required transformation will be disruptive, and that some will lose in the short run. Widespread support for climate action will only succeed if it can be founded in a new social contract (Tubiana), which is genuinely inclusive (Robinson) and empowering for all sections of society (Srivastava). In this context, a transition plan to promote new livelihoods in coal-mining areas is as important as a plan to roll out renewable energy.

Mobilise: build a coalition to deliver change

Government leadership is needed to deliver transformation (Ribera, Robinson), but governments cannot do it on their own. Student strikes and popular movements have given new impetus. The coalition for change they have helped inspire needs to be underpinned by science (Robinson) and by thought leadership (Turner). It must also include citizens (Tubiana), local communities (Srivastava) and corporations (Robinson). Elsewhere in this series, Aki-Sawyerr makes the case for active participation by local government, including mayors. And beyond the nation state, transformative climate action needs the support of new international coalitions, guided by a new diplomacy and a new system of global cooperation, beyond silos (Tubiana, Ribera). It is a daunting task to build this kind of multi-sector and multi-level coalition.

A shared sense of risk, and opportunity, may help (Turner). Civil society (Miliband, Pillay, Yueh) will continue to insist on action. At the same time, risk and actual impacts will be experienced differently by different groups: coalitions will form and re-form around specific policies, necessarily fluid. Government leadership thus contributes to the building of coalitions, not just by words, but with actions.

Manage: engage with the complexity of policy-making

Governments confront the multi-faceted challenges of environmental protection alongside the devastating shock of Covid-19 (Turner, Robinson, Tubiana, Ribera), and, importantly, long-term structural changes in the world economy, for example caused by automation (Turner) and Artificial Intelligence (Srivastava). This is therefore a moment of opportunity, but also one laced with difficulty and danger (Turner) – especially if coalitions are to be built and held together.

With climate-friendly sustainable development as the aim (Srivastava), new, more localised (Srivastava), more resilient (Tubiana, Turner) development models are needed. Governments can set up enabling frameworks to guide public and private investment, improving financial regulation, pricing carbon, and ending fossil fuel subsidies (Ribera). They can encourage the rapid electrification of transport (Tubiana). More ambitiously, they can also revamp tax systems to promote a climate-neutral, circular economy (Ribera).

And more ambitious still, can they begin to redirect economic activity to meet service needs, rather than promoting ownership of products (Srivastava)? The example of the EU Green Deal may begin to illustrate the options (Tubiana) – but thoughtful political leadership will be needed to manage the timing, sequence and trade-offs of policy-making (Turner). For example, more borrowing may be needed (Robinson). That option may not be available to low-income debt-distressed countries, however. More international finance will be essential to support their climate plans.

Repeat: learn and adapt

The Covid-19 crisis illustrates that the three pillars of climate action can be shaken and even over-turned by unexpected shocks. Further, some policies will work while others do not, and some will attract unexpected support, while others attract only venom. These are the lessons of the Roosevelt New Deal, and indeed of recent experience in many countries (for example, the case of the Gilets Jaunes). So an iterative, adaptive approach is required, not just to policy-making (see comment from Kelsall, Laws and Sharp), but also to writing the narratives and building the coalitions. Dealing with the climate emergency is, indeed, not straightforward. But the leaders featured in this dialogue issue a call to action which inspires and cannot be denied. It underlines not only the imperative of action, but also the practical roadmap to a global reset.