The scientific evidence is overwhelming: we are on a collision course with the stable and resilient Earth systems on which human wellbeing, prosperity and safety depend — our Global Commons. We need to transform our economic and social systems to safeguard these Global Commons or risk exceeding dangerous tipping points beyond which ecological damage may become self-reinforcing and irreversible. To avoid these tipping points, decision-makers need to take concerted action to drastically accelerate the progress made in some sectors and unlock positive tipping points for transformation.
To inspire and guide decisionmakers from governments, business and finance, civil society and international organizations, the Center for Global Commons at the University of Tokyo, with support from SYSTEMIQ, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), has developed the Global Commons Stewardship Framework. Drawing on the latest science, this framework for action can bring together stakeholders, promote transformations and inform deft diplomacy in support of security and the Global Commons.
Naoko Ishii, executive vice president of the University of Tokyo and director for the Center for Global Commons, explains: “To avert the collapse of the complex and interdependent Earth systems on which human health, prosperity and security rely, the world needs to make unprecedented progress across four system transformations simultaneously. The Global Commons Stewardship Framework cuts through the complexity of this daunting task by outlining concrete actions for decisionmakers that leverage political, social and economic forces to rapidly advance coordinated progress to preserve and restore our Global Commons.”
The Global Commons Stewardship Framework is organized around four system transformations: decarbonization of energy, industry and transport; sustainable cities and communities; sustainable production and consumption; and sustainable food, forests, land, water and oceans. Each in turn can be activated through four common action levers. The report sets out calls for action that will help different stakeholders drive the four transformations to safeguard the Global Commons.
Recent progress on climate change can provide valuable lessons, as the “Paris effect” has accelerated action and mobilized multistakeholder coalitions, says Guido Schmidt-Traub, managing partner of SYSTEMIQ. “Based on this understanding and drawing on the latest science, the Global Commons Stewardship Framework charts the common solutions and clear actions that are required to preserve the health and resilience of these Earth systems.”
At present, however, the world is failing to act at a scale and speed needed to avoid dangerous tipping points. “We must meet this moment by igniting rapid change across every sector,” says Ani Dasgupta, president & CEO of the World Resources Institute. “The Systems Change Lab, part of the Center for Global Commons, is monitoring and tracking transformational shifts that together have the potential to accelerate action across the planet. Of 40 indicators previously assessed by the System Change Lab, none are on track to reach the 2030 targets. Time is not on our side, but by understanding the conditions that enable change and measuring where progress is occurring, we can turn this around.”
It might seem far-fetched to advocate for a stronger focus on the Global Commons at a time when the world’s attention is set on the war in Ukraine and the terrible human suffering that is unfolding as a result. Countries are racing to increase their military spending. Fissures in the international community and divisions between major powers are growing wider. The war is generating shortages and crises for the many countries that depend on imports of energy, food and fertilizer.
“The unchecked degradation of our Global Commons will act as a threat multiplier: Exploiting soils and seas, ever expanding pastures and fields, and heating our planet leads to displacement, exacerbates food and water insecurity, and eventually fuels conflict. We need to realize that healthy and resilient biophysical systems on Earth — our Global Commons — are at the heart of our health, security and prosperity. And we must work together to manage them responsibly,” highlights Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Another casualty of the war in Ukraine could be international cooperation to safeguard the climate system and other Global Commons. “It is impossible to tackle these challenges without greater international cooperation — a point that has been reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries need security from outside aggression and from the degradation of the Global Commons. This will require new governance mechanisms for Global Commons stewardship that can facilitate effective collaboration toward this shared purpose,” says Guido Schmidt-Traub, managing partner of SYSTEMIQ.
Ensuring the health and resilience of the Global Commons is in the interests of all nations, but some countries bear a disproportionate responsibility. This is made clear by the Global Commons Stewardship Index published by the SDSN and Yale University, which shows that rich countries are driving adverse impacts on the Global Commons in less developed countries. “The prosperity of rich countries partly depends on unsustainable production and consumption patterns that generate negative spillovers on poorer countries. Developed countries have the responsibility and the resources to lead the system transformations needed to safeguard the Global Commons. They must work together with all countries to develop equal and mutually beneficial partnerships built on diplomacy, investment and trade that value, preserve and restore the Global Commons,” says Guillaume Lafortune, vice president of SDSN.
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