Over more than 20 years we have been trying to put in place a meaningful climate change agreement. Extraordinarily, in Paris 196 countries just managed this. Or did they? The scale of what has been achieved is immense. For example, the Climate ...

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An adaptive agreement for a complex dilemma

Over more than 20 years we have been trying to put in place a meaningful climate change agreement. Extraordinarily, in Paris 196 countries just managed this. Or did they?

The scale of what has been achieved is immense.  For example, the Climate Institute's CEO, John Connor says this agreement "signals to communities, investors and companies around the world that the shift to clean energy is now unstoppable”.

By the numbers, the world and Australia made a significant step with more than 100 countries banding together as the “High Ambition Coalition” to call on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees in addition to the 2 degree target.

There is, however, plenty of realism. George Monbiot points out “with 2C of warming, large parts of the world’s surface will become less habitable... wilder extremes: worse droughts in some places, worse floods in others, greater storms... Islands and coastal districts in many parts of the world are in danger of disappearing beneath the waves.”

James Hansen is more direct: “It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’

So is it a fraud? This agreement features pledges for action? There may be 3 very well validated principles at play.

Climate change is a dilemma - the sort of problem where there can be a 'tragedy of the commons' in which high emitting countries damage the world's ability to provide resources and life support services for us all. However, Nobel prize-winning research, led by Elinor Ostrom and many others, discovered this tragedy is only valid in very limited special circumstances. Three conditions are necessary, but not sufficient, for effective answers. Firstly, the resource must be important and prominent enough for the users to create new managing institutions. Secondly, the users must not be constrained  from creating and setting their own rules. Thirdly, at least some of the users must be able to communicate with each other and bargain.

These conditions appear to be some of what the Paris agreement enables - multiple different centres of action pledging reductions, reviewing and communicating about implementation and holding ourselves to account.

We have an adaptive agreement - one in which action can change (and will need to) as knowledge about the impacts increases. A 2C target, for example, does not provide certainty. Rather, it is a level at which a range of dangerous outcomes are less likely to occur. Encouragingly, the agreement seems to mirror human experience backed by decades of research. Our societies can and have answered very similar, albeit smaller issues, under the right conditions.

Pic: Climate Insititute. For background and references on commons dilemmas see Common pool resources, A climate for change: An exploration towards Integral Action Loops to apply our knowledge for sustainability success. Chapter 5, The University of Adelaide.


A Climate for Change

Developing and implementing successful sustainability interventions to tackle pressing environmental and society challenges is of paramount importance but complex.

I have worked in this field for decades and the challenge - to comprehend sustainability and change - led me to a PhD. I'm delighted to say I completed this last year and have just received the 2014 University of Adelaide's "Doctoral Research Medal for outstanding research at a PhD level".

In my thesis, I argue it requires understanding the many different ways in which people make sense of the problems, working with, and designing for, current circumstances and opportunities, while simultaneously seeking to enable desirable futures.

To manage across the complexity of sustainability, the investigation explores meta-theory and a particular type of it, integral theory. It does this to navigate through multiple theory lenses. These represent perspectives commonly applied to interpret circumstances and implement successful interventions. Furthermore, the examination of multiple theories is tested empirically against two multinational companies that are regarded as sustainability leaders. In doing this, several powerful lenses are looked at in some detail. These include action logics to examine how individuals make sense of sustainability. Additionally, principles associated with centuries of successful community protection of common pool resources, plus organisational stages that mirror a person’s action logic, are correlated with effective sustainability outcomes.

A new framework, called Integral Action Loops, was the ultimate outcome from analysing these lenses and many others. It offers an evolutionary approach to consider the subjective and objective facets of sustainability and multiple theories of change, filtered through a single, double and triple loop learning scheme. Integral Action Loops promise a way to dynamically steer towards sustainability, facilitate more effective interventions, and holistically engage and value the input of many for sustainable, flourishing futures. Beyond this, the framework may assist across other fields of progressive human endeavour.

A climate for change: An exploration towards Integral Action Loops to apply our knowledge for sustainability success is available here (and through The University of Adelaide).


Matching words to action

This is the text from my keynote, yesterday, for The University of Adelaide's MBA opening dinner:

I’m going to talk to you tonight about paradoxes - the sorts of crazy contradictions that we see all the time, and we are often unconscious to the importance of these clashes. 

The very fact we are all here, at the start of an MBA program, means that these strange inconsistencies are nagging at us, sometimes prominently, sometimes as a background unease. 

This is, part of the reason for programs like this is an effort to make sense of business contradictions and inconsistencies, to master administration and make a difference.

For me these issues are most easily illustrated thorugh sustainability. There are large contradictions between data and what we think we know. For example, the World Bank recently calculated that tackling climate change would help to grow the world’s economy by US$1.8 to 2.6 trillion a year.

Now, given its Friday night, just let me spend a little more time on that number - there are not many more in this talk! First this is the World Bank – not an environmental advocacy group modeling growth. Second, yes I did say 1.8 trillion dollars a year. And, third, you’re right to be a bit taken aback or credulous about such a number. Surely, if it’s profitable we would not struggle so much to act on climate change.

Concluding para: We’re faced with overwhelming evidence around the need and potential for change. However, this often does not match views around how the world is organised. This is a huge opportunity and gift. Whenever something does not make sense, does not add up, seems impossible or incongruous, have a look for the ‘edges’. These are the places at which you might be missing something. Invariably these are openings into exciting worlds and perspectives - and you’ve been given the keys to this within these paradoxes.

It's personal: why leaders don't turn climate knowledge into action

There is an abundance of profitable business opportunity to be found in addressing sustainability issues. These stand out against the difficulties we face implementing effective change. Globally, the World Bank recently found that tackling climate change would help to grow the world’s economy by US$1.8 to 2.6 trillion a year.

Private sector investors argue for action as well. One prominent example is the Carbon Disclosure Project which represents 767 institutional investors holding US$92 trillion in assets worldwide. Its programs reward and promote companies acting on climate change.

There is detailed analysis, alongside successfully implemented examples, across nearly every industry sector showing an 80% reduction in environmental impact for each dollar of economic output. This is not, necessarily, even a case of implementing new technology. Planning and design help to deliver similar outcomes - for example, in residential developments.

So why is there so much resistance to change, and why is the prime minister’s chief business adviser distracting business with warnings about global cooling?

Of course, some of the reasons are financial - an illustration is the estimated AU$8 billion that would flow to coal electricity, at the expense of other businesses, if Australia’s renewable energy target is cut. However, it would be falling into a trap, similar to Newman’s simple cooling analysis, to imagine that such numbers explain everything.

An extraordinary paradox is that unrealised, profitable, low-risk change opportunities have existed for decades. Business has simply not acted to maximise its profits and this is particularly apparent with respect to energy efficiency.

What’s stopping business?

Business leaders are always planning, to some degree, for the future, in order to manage market trends and investor expectations, among a host of other reasons. But there are many trends and issues demanding our attention - there are ever increasing levels of complexity that business is challenged by. Consequently, when Maurice Newman expounds on global cooling you may feel relief - at last, something that makes life simpler!

You may wonder how anyone, especially someone holding such an important business and national leadership position, could be so irresponsible. Never mind the article’s selective simple science, what about the squandered opportunities, the billions his opinion implicitly de-prioritises? It does this to our individual and collective detriment.

Business, and the country, is much better served by promoting strategy and action based on the risks and opportunities arising from climate change.

Part of the problem is that we are privileging financial and other measures to the detriment of our real motivators, personal values and cultural cares.

Understanding ‘action logics’

The good news is we have some powerful models that can help us navigate our more subjective perspectives. One is called “action logics”.

An analogy is that each action logics perspective is a different coloured lens through which someone views the world. It colours how we know, and make sense of, environmental imperatives.
Action logics shows us that adults tend to express sustainability concepts in markedly different ways that mirror distinct stages of ever increasing mental complexity. Consequently, important motivators for some individuals may be far less prominent for others.

For example, at what we call the “expert” level, adults work effectively with abstract models. The person’s expert knowledge helps to solve defined problems. However, this is often within narrow boundaries of this expertise and the importance of other perspectives or approaches can often be disregarded, viewed as not relevant expertise.

In contrast the next action logic, “achiever”, values (among other things) mutualism. It is correlated with a step change in mental and cognitive capacity such that many diverse fields of expertise are likely to be weighed and evaluated against each other.

Adults can continue to develop through these stages, to later and more complex capacities and capabilities. Importantly, these action logics are highly relevant in today’s complex and volatile business world (for example, with respect to leadership and organisational success, enabling conscious capitalism and to meet our nation's needs).

This sort of later stage complexity is associated with valuing and managing across abundant information. That is, success is far more than just the financial practicality - the risks and opportunities related to business and climate change spread into ethical, social, and cultural dilemmas. How we know - as modelled by action logics - is as important, if not more so, than what we know. We need to be able to join up many dots - social acceptability, financial viability, alignment and workforce innovation and motivation, our future outlook alongside the expectations we wish to meet and set for our business and society’s well being, to name just a few.

Action logics shine a light on why simple science opinions can appeal to many. It goes part of the way to explaining why business leaders are still struggling to integrate values and economics. Personally, it helps us map what we may need to become to meet important challenges.
The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation and the version on my blog contains minor modifications that add extra background links. Read the original article here.
Picture: The prime minister’s business adviser Maurice Newman continues to distract business leaders on the issue of climate change. Julian Smith/AAP

End Ecocide - a transformational inflection point

At the Planet Talks, WOMADelaide, Polly Higgins introduced the need for a 5th international law - to eradicate Ecocide.

A law ending Ecocide - no more mass damage and destruction - is far more likely than it may appear at first sight. Polly describes her 'light bulb moment' - how is it that this is not a crime? She realised there were international precedents, that the Rome Statutes create a structure for such law and it was an extraordinary gap. Subsequently, she generated substantial support from some of the 82 signatory countries that are necessary to enact international law. Eradicating ecocide law would change our investment landscape, redirecting funding to clean technology alternative and supporting national environmental legislation.

On stage with Polly was Tim Flannery and Peter Garrett. The ecocide concept impressed to such an extent that Tim saw Polly as the next William Wilberforce. An extraordinary seminal figure in the history of positive change.

Unfortunately, as Tim pointed out, William spent 44 years introducing bills to the British parliament to end slavery. During this time many people must have thought he was either crazy or sadly deluded. There was no hope of ending slavery. There were far too many rich and powerful vested interests who wished to profit further at other's expense.

Fast forward 200 years. Does this sound familiar? Powerful vested interests that would prefer maintaining the fossil fuel status quo? It's not the first time such comparisons have been made.

So, can we wait 44 years? Or are we already the equivalent of 40 years into this movement, especially given how exponentially faster waves of change are today? Here's why I think international law to eradicate ecocide may be possible and upon us.

The abolish slavery movement arrived at a time when global awareness was growing substantially. A revolutionary time for human liberty, equity and justice albeit equally one of great struggle. Fast forward to today and we have an analogous physical reality. There's a growth of consciousness alongside awareness of the gross scale ecological systems collapses that are confronting us. Old polluting technology is becoming irrelevant (such as a 1/2 trillion dollar threat)

As an analogy, many would have thought you were mad if you said the Berlin Wall was about fall in 1988. Yet that is exactly what happened through 1989.

Ending ecocide may just be more realisable than many believe. Notwithstanding this, for large scale investors in fossil fuel or environmentally destructive activity, its a major investment consideration.


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