Lost in translation in a bottom-up world?

I’ve just read an interesting paper by one Jonathan Pickering (University of Canberra). It’s called Top-down proposals for sharing the global climate policy effort fairly: lost in translation in a bottom-up world? and is well worth reading, not least because it is a corrective to the view, unfortunately popular on the “climate street,” that Paris is a fraud because, well, only a top-down principle-based regime could possibly be real.

Pickering, for his part, offers a nice capsule analysis of why a top-down regime was never in the cards, and not just because the wealthy countries of the North refused its disciplines. Also, and importantly. there’s the unfortunate fact that:

“While developing countries have supported the idea that developed countries should share their efforts according to a common formula, they have resisted the idea that developing countries themselves should be subject to the same formula.”

This position was justified, and probably still is, by the Convention’s statement that developed countries should “take the lead” in protecting the climate system, but it had consequences in any case, and we’re facing them today.

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Making (Equity) Reviews (of the national pledges) Relevant

As the lay of the post-Paris land starts to become clear, it’s also becoming clear that few people outside the climate negotiations really understand the details of the equity debate, as it is unfolding on the inside.

Thus it may be interesting to read this somewhat technical piece.  Think of it as a Climate Equity Reference Project discussion paper, designed to inform the debate on equity review that is now, partly because of our work, a clear aspect of the What’s Next? debate.  Here’s the opening abstract:

“Paris was a breakthrough, but is not yet a success. It could yield success though, and (together with the climate movement, and the solar revolution) help to catalyze a true climate mobilization. But only if the still unfinished negotiations yield a solid global ambition ratcheting mechanism.

Some people believe that we’ve already won such a mechanism.This paper argues that we’re still missing at least two fundamental building blocks of a robust ambition ratchet: a public-finance breakthrough and a “real review” mechanism.

The second of these is the topic of this paper. It argues that 1) real review by definition includes the science-based, ex-ante equity assessment of individual pledges, 2) such assessments were in Paris beyond the will of the Parties, 3) they can nevertheless be done well, and can positively influence the formal negotiations, and 4) civil society should (on top of everything else it has to do) take the lead in demonstrating that this is so.

This paper is a call to civil society – and to the Parties – to support such an effort, and to do so quickly. The effort should culminate in or before the 2018 political moment, which must be a big one.”

Stories of the Future

Here’s the TEDx San Francisco talk I gave on October 29th 2015. I call it “Stories of the Future,” though the TEDx site shows it as “Make it Bigger,” by which I meant our conception of the problem.

I’m afraid it wasn’t one of my best performances.  Still, it’s not bad; in fact, it might be the best talk I know on climate crisis and the “second machine age.” 

And if you prefer old media — like reading a website — the script is below.



It’s often said that the 20th Century began, not in 1900, but in 1914, with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the subsequent outbreak of World War I.

This raises a question about the 21st Century — has it begun yet? I think it has, though it’s hard to mark its exact beginning. To do so, you need a storyline. A story of the future.

If you want a dystopian story, it’s easy to date its beginning. Just use September 11, 2001.

But what if you want to tell a helpful story? One in which we actually deal with our greatest problems. A believable story in which the historians of the future look back to our time, today, as a time of new beginnings. What date, exactly, would mark these beginnings?

Let me suggest two possible dates, marking two very different storylines, which are fated to play out together.

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