snower5_Jeff J MitchellGetty Images_climate failure Jeff J MitchellGetty Images

How to End Climate Failure

As COP26 showed, the system in place to address climate change is unsuited to meeting current global goals. Achieving the necessary collective mobilization will require leaders to follow the late Nobel laureate economist Elinor Ostrom’s core principles for managing the commons effectively.

BERLIN – The world failed at last month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). And the biggest failure is one that virtually everybody assembled in Glasgow overlooked. The system in place to address climate change – comprising a constellation of economic, political, and social arrangements – is inappropriate to our global goals.

To shed light on this systemic failure, consider an analogy. Your neighborhood is threatened by an approaching wildfire. Managing the crisis requires mobilizing various firefighting and emergency services, as well as help from businesses and local residents to protect property. But these parties do not cooperate. Some citizens show up with pails of water. Some businesses donate fire extinguishers. Some locals stage protests against proposed evacuation orders. Meanwhile, local politicians hold a town hall meeting, soliciting pledges from various parties that no one is bound to fulfill. But the sum of the pledges just about keeps alive hopes that your neighborhood will remain safe.

That is where we stand today on climate change. The fundamental problem is that our system is not designed to deliver outcomes consistent with the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 1.5º Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If fulfilled – a big if – the pledges in the Glasgow Climate Pact put the world on course for a temperature increase of between 2.5ºC and 2.7ºC by the end of the century. That would be disastrous.

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