This article is inspired in part by my UKCRIC C-DICE Fellowship research focused on Climate Emergency Success Factors, and also by a recent workshop reflecting on COP27 that I helped organise and facilitate for the inaugural Early Career Researchers Net Zero Conference (#ECRNZCONF).
After 27 years of COP, it appears global society is not on track to achieve the 1.5° C target agreed at COP21 in the 2015 Paris Agreement. How we interpret and respond to this slow progress is critical.
Keep Calm and Carry On - Targets have been set, a shared sense of purpose established, collaborative relationships built, barriers to progress identified and removed, knowledge and best practise exchanged, agreements secured, delivery mechanisms established and campaigns launched. After 27 years of COP, the right systemic conditions are nearly in place, momentum is building, rapid global progress is imminent. This in itself is a considerable achievement. Have confidence in the process and stay the course.
Panic (Then Act Systemically) – Interpret slow progress as symptomatic of systemic shortcomings in COP, and to diagnose the need for urgent systemically focused action to strengthen/ support/ reform / or replace COP.
Which we choose will influence the feasibility of global victory in the #RacetoZero and the #RacetoResilience. Therefore, I believe it is vital that we do the latter.
COP has established global acceptance of the need for a #RacetoZero and a #RacetoResilience, and through the Paris Agreement has kept the 1.5° C target alive. COP is the lynchpin of Global Climate Emergency Strategy, and should remain so.
However, in my opinion COP is not sufficiently focused on the systemic realities of the challenge(s) it seeks to address. Therefore, if it is to orchestrate a successful global response to the climate emergency, COP must first undergo a systemic revamp.
The Climate Emergency is a wicked problem of problems. It must be characterised, addressed, governed, regulated and managed as such. It is the inevitable long-term outcome of an erroneous which views greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as acceptable externalities for which the polluter need not pay. This Not Zero mindset remains influential because it is deeply embedded into the system goals, rules, processes and structures that shape and enable all aspects of our modern lifestyles.
A Not Zero mindset has, by casting GHG Emissions as necessary externalities, facilitated the provision of abundant, relatively low-cost fossil fuel derived energy. It has driven long term economic growth, prosperity and has improved the quality of life enjoyed by many.
This apparent success validated and normalised the Not zero mindset, and led to the emergence of a Not Zero paradigm under which the Not Zero mindset slowly became deeply embedded into the system goals, rules, processes and structures that shape and enable all aspects of our modern lifestyles.
Therefore, a successful Climate Emergency strategy must focus on the transformation of the system(s) paradigm, mindsets, purpose, rules, processes and structures from which the Climate Emergency has emerged. Below I outline four key pillars of such a strategy:
- Establish a Net Zero Mindset: By specifying a quality (‘Net Zero GHG emissions’) that the global economy must possess and by when (2050 at the latest), The Paris Agreement and national Net Zero targets transform the production of GHG emission from acceptable externality into a social Faux pas. However, transformational change, also requires:
- Transformation (realignment) of All System Goals: the explicit integration of Climate Emergency priorities into all economic and societal goals and all national policy objectives. The objective of economic policy has to be changed from economic growth with a side order of sustainability; to a sustainable, resilient economy capable of delivering prosperity/growth/productivity and wellbeing, with net zero GHG emissions
- Transformation (realignment) of All System Rules: a review of the stated objectives of all decision-making processes, regulatory and governance frameworks (not just those focused on sustainability issues) to ensure they define system rules aligned with climate emergency priorities. Misalignment, creates resistance to change. Alignment enables new priorities to be achieved.
- Transformation of System Structures and Processes: Infrastructure systems are systemically significant leverage points the transformation of which is needed to support the speed, scale, scope of action required for a successful response to the Climate Emergency response.
UKCRIC is a multidisciplinary network of infrastructure professionals united by the shared belief that infrastructure and urban systems have the potential to catalyse wider value chain, societal and economic responses to the climate emergency and, as such, belong at the very heart of net zero, resilience and climate emergency strategy.
 #ECRNZConf was a gathering of 275 early career researchers (ECR) organised by a coalition between 9 UK research centres (C-DICE, CO2RE, CREDS, ERA, Energy REV, IDRIC, TFI Network+, UKERC and UKCCS). For more about #ECRNZConf see The UKCCS #ECRNZConf Blog, or read C-DICE Director Dr Kathryn North’s ECRNZConf Reflections
 The Paris Agreement | UNFCCC
 Based on figures from Mark Maslin and John Lang (see ref 6)
 A Wicked Problem is one that cannot be tightly defined or successfully treated with traditional linear, analytical approaches. The term was coined by Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169.
 I use the term ‘wicked problem of problems’ to refer to a problem comprised of multiple deeply interdependent problems, each of which is wicked problem in its own right.
 Dolan (2021) Systemic Perspectives on National Infrastructure for a Sustainable, Resilient Net Zero Future
7 Based on figures from Mark Maslin and John Lang (see ref 6)
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