Planetary Boundaries and Global Commons - managing risks and solutions

11.12.2018 - Weather extremes, food security, migration: people's livelihoods depend on climate stabilization. The joint side event of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) at the UN climate summit COP24 highlighted how a safe operating space for humanity within Planetary Boundaries and the sustainable use of Global Commons like the atmosphere are key concepts combining natural and social sciences to safeguard our future. Based on these fundamental concepts, sound options for managing risks and solutions were explored by the new joint PIK leadership Johan Rockström and Ottmar Edenhofer.
Planetary Boundaries and Global Commons - managing risks and solutions
Joint Side Event of PIK and MCC at COP24 in Katowice. Photo: Gärtner/PIK

Titled "Planetary Boundaries and Global Commons - managing risks and solutions", the side event with further speakers Jan Minx of MCC, Simon Sharpe of UK BEIS, Joanna Mackowiak-Pandera of Forum Energii and Naoko Ishii of the Global Environment Facility discussed what lessons can be learned from pioneers like the Global Environment Facility that uses the notion of Global Commons, or the UK that introduced effective carbon pricing. In contrast, Germany and Poland both still heavily rely on coal.

New principles for planetary stewardship required

“Rising global climate risks in the Anthropocene, with science indicating that we cannot exclude a planetary tipping point already at 2°C warming, means that we urgently need a global transformation towards world development within planetary boundaries, said Johan Rockström, Director Designate of the Potsdam Institue for Climate Impact Research. ”This will require adopting new principles for planetary stewardship to attain the Paris Agreement and reach the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“Managing the Global Commons will determine the wealth in the 21st century,” highlighted Ottmar Edenhofer, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change. “Due to the continuation of the renaissance of coal we will exploit the limiting disposal space of the atmosphere within the next decade. Therefore, the Coal Question is the most pressing issue. Carbon Pricing is an important component of a climate-just fiscal reform package.”

Managing the Global Commons will determine the wealth in the 21st century

Efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions so far have not been sufficiently successful, CO2 emissions continue to rise. “Fighting climate change is a key task to live within planetary limits - we need to swiftly organize a global transition away from coal that initiates an era of rapid and sustained emission reductions,” explained Jan Minx from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change. ”But we will also need to develop capabilities to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at large scale.” This includes exploring technologies such as CO2 sequestration and storage, CCS – in fact all available options to reduce CO2 have to be explored.

Great Britain has been a pioneer in CO2 pricing. “In the UK we have reduced coal use from 40% of our electricity generation to under 10% in just five years,” said Simon Sharpe from the UK BEIS. “Setting the carbon price at a level that makes coal more expensive than the alternatives has been critical to achieving this rapid progress.  We are now leading the Powering Past Coal Alliance, together with Canada, to accelerate the global transition from coal to clean energy.  After just one year, the Alliance has 75 partners, including 28 national governments, 19 sub-nationals and 28 businesses. At the same time, the UK is working to improve global understanding of the risk we face from climate change: at this COP, the UK and Chinese expert committees on climate change are jointly launching a new report ‘Developing Indicators of Climate Risk’.” 

German research institutions initiated the side event debate because they’re worried that even their country, despite the energy transformation “Energiewende”, still heavily relies on coal. Just like Poland, the host country of this year’s UN climate summit. “Global challenges have always some local dimension,” added Joanna Mackowiak-Pandera from Polish think tank Forum Energii. “Limiting climate change means also limiting air pollution. Air quality improvement has the direct and quick impact on quality of life. We should not forget about it. Germany and Poland as the 2 coal brothers should speaks more openly about phasing out coal in coordinted way. It will have big impact on CO2 emissions but also common electricity market.”

Experts are deeply worried to see climate impacts such as weather extremes increase around the world while in the same time, international climate policy seems to be stagnating. "The planetary boundaries concept makes clear we need a new growth story for the 21st century, and for that we must fundamentally transform our food, urban, and energy systems, and move to a circular economy,” stressed Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility. To help catalyze this transformation, the strategy for the GEF's new four-year investment cycle (known as GEF-7) is explicitly focused on these key systems. Only by building the broadest possible coalition can we hope to achieve our ambitions to safeguard the climate and Earth's other vital global commons."

The Side Event is available as Webcast via:

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