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Climate, container logistics, and sea level, photo © Martin Wolf

Globalization as Humanitarian Challenge 2:
The Ubiquity of Climate Change

06.11.2017 Are narratives able to change human behaviour? And if you doubt it: did climate change advocates tell the wrong stories? Instead of rising sea levels, should there better be talk about food and health? Writing about humanitarian challenges of globalisation confronts us with a recurring pattern: to prevent humanitarian crisis, the effects of human behaviour must be predicted on a large scale taking a variety of interdependencies into account. Climate change, by all means, seems to be the supreme discipline to practice exactly this.

When COP23 starts in Bonn (Germany) today, two insights stand out: climate change scenarios tell us that almost all aspects of development in human societies and individual wellbeing are already beginning to be affected; but climate change also and already constitutes the topic on which the world agrees on for the first time at global level. Paris 2015 for many - and for many decision makers - stands already for a role model of global decision making on a grand scale.

How to talk about it? If studies predict migratory flows from Africa across the Mediterranean towards (Central) Europe, the facts (numbers of people, routes, environmental parameters) are not in dispute. But you could also use another perspective on the same scenario and talk different about these "10 to 20 Mio people": starving, losing resident housing, and facing threats to their health, especially children. Will they be fed in global camps finally? A projection of a similar time span predicts far reaching threats to food production - beyond Africa, from water shortages to the extinction of such essential species like bees, which perils plant reproduction on a scale that is yet almost neglected. Bee colonies are local. But their extinction will be a trans-border one. Not a humanitarian challenge? Global warming, to be precise, global heat creates hazards for the rising older population, again predominantly but not exclusively in Africa.  Rising sea levels threaten the existence of touristic resorts and many if not most pacific islands, forcing New Zealand recently to consider climate refugee visas. Will this development, among others, trigger the revival of an international passport? We'll deal with this question soon.

A conference on "Climate Change and Wellbeing" in Bonn provided an opportunity to reflect on the current debate [*].

There is a growing call for action from the big shots, likely able to do something: it's the economy, stupid! This picture, as often, is biased. Whereas it is telling that investment volumes are increasingly targeted towards renewables as a clear indication that this is the growing market segment (T.E. Morgan), projects of risky dimensions come over with narratives of environmental sensitivity while planning interventions into the earth system of unprecedented dimensions (Janos Pasztor). The side effects of solar geo-engineering (solar radiation management)are difficult to predict and, as John Rockström stresses, should not be used as an excuse to lose sight of one's homework for resilience down to earth. One such homework would finally have to deal with the international transport sector (Christian Hochfeld). A basic regulatory deficit becomes crystal clear here: Surrendering national souverainty doesn't pay-off today because the geographical reach of the law and the geographical reach of the market are not identical any more (Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker). Therefore the market escapes the national law as a matter of global governance structure. Or better to say as clear indication of the lack of such a structure (Jan Aart Scholte). Human Wellbeing is affected by climate change. But what to with predictions that bring population size into play? Uncanny questions that need combined research and sensitive interpretation of data (Marc Fleurbeay). But there was also some optimism that we can overcome the "gridlock" (Thomas Hale).

Scale of solutions is a challenge for systemic reasons. Small scale interventions risk less. If they backfire, damage is also likely to be limited. A counter-argument deems that chain-reactions spread across those small scale systems. An interesting thought was brought up at the end of the conference by moderator Andrew Revkin. He played with the idea to use the concept of "responsive diversity", derived from the study of survival strategies in ecosystems, for behavioural patterns in an interconnected global society. Interestingly there was a related statement on narratives. Speaking after Pan Jia-Hua, member of the Centre's scientific advisory board, economist Dennis Snower made a vivid plea against a "monoculture of narratives."

In the midst of all these discussions one panellist embodied the whole topic of the climate issue as a humanitarian challenge, and he did it as an artist with his own story: A.G. Saño, who survived supertyphoon Haiyan (2013) almost by chance, today as an environmental activist with considerable impact.

Still promising in a global world: to have a unique idea, to develop it wherever you are (garage, wifi hotspot or waiting for delayed German trains) and make it public. It will be your unique response.


Conference: Climate Action and Human Wellbeing at a Crossroads: Historical Transformation or Backlash?
Organized by: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Bonn (Königswinter) 4-5 November 2017

Names in brackes refer to panelists and their statements at the conference.

Memorandum, presented ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP23):
The Climate – Justice – Cooperation Nexus:
10 Cornerstones of the Great Transformation towards Sustainability

The Centre's panel on "Pluralism of World Order Concepts" was moderated by the Centre's new Director Sigrid Quack. Panellists: Thomas Hale, Janos Pasztor, former fellws Siddharth Mallavarapu and  Jasdeep Randhawa.

Martin Wolf
Head of Public Relations
Tel: +49 (0)203 379 5238