Davos Agenda

Climate action and sustainability – a unique opportunity for global cooperation

Climate action and sustainability can provide us with a unique opportunity for global teamwork

Climate action and sustainability can provide us with a unique opportunity for global teamwork Image: Ivars Utinans/Unsplash

Anurit Kanti
Alumni, Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Climate action and sustainability can provide us with a unique opportunity for global teamwork.
  • No country is immune to the effects of climate change.
  • With the threat of climate change looming, we cannot waste time being in disunity on the topics of climate change and sustainability.

While the geopolitical chessboard has never been devoid of conflicts, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 thrust the world into a new phase of uncertainty, fueling an energy crisis, aggravating inflationary pressures resulting in food & resource scarcity and fragmenting an already divided world. A shadow of distrust was cast among superpowers, with many dubbing the aggression as the advent of the Second Cold War, compounding fears that the world is on the brink of an all-out global warfare, the likes of which have not been witnessed since 1945.

Naturally, this does not bode well for our collective hope for a peaceful, sustainable future, however, there is an argument that amidst this high degree of disintegration of international unity, the case for driving climate action and promoting holistic sustainable development has never been stronger -- it in fact holds the key towards facilitating international collaboration and can become a critical lever for harmonising geopolitical relations.

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How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

The urgency for climate action

We have all been privy to the adage that “the tipping point of climate change is nigh upon us”, and recent IPCC reports warning of the code red for humanity, complemented by the extremely apparent climate disasters increasing in frequency, have elevated the urgency of securing a 1.5° C future to astronomical levels. It is becoming increasingly evident, that any geopolitical crisis will exacerbate the climate crisis and its negative effects further.

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The Russia-Ukraine crisis being a prime example, where the resulting energy and food crisis had a greater negative impact on the poorest and most vulnerable -- those already at the receiving end of climate disruption. With less than a decade left to achieve the SDGs, the need to step up global cooperation efforts is time-sensitive.

The spillovers of non-cooperation

A leading climate scientist, Johan Rockström, conceptualised a framework called ‘planetary thresholds’, which lists nine boundaries of the Earth’s system, the limits of which we should not cross to maintain the planet’s resilience. The boundaries of these thresholds such as climate change, biosphere integrity (biodiversity), biogeochemical flows and others must be maintained, and transgressing one or more of these thresholds can lead to catastrophic global damage.

Cooperation, collaboration and international partnerships on climate action and sustainable development, will possibly be a prime example of “a rising tide lifting all the boats”.
Cooperation, collaboration and international partnerships on climate action and sustainable development, will possibly be a prime example of “a rising tide lifting all the boats”. Image: Stockholm Resilience Centre

The framework postulates the extreme interconnectedness of these planetary thresholds making them highly interdependent on one another’s survival. Therefore, any efforts towards climate action or sustainable development aimed towards safeguarding these thresholds to avoid cataclysm must be with global cooperation.

With current levels of geopolitical fragmentation, the resultant non-cooperation will ultimately yield negative results for the world at large. Even if one country drastically reduces its emissions, while another remains a laggard in this aspect, the positive efforts will be neutralised by those not cooperating towards the climate action or sustainability agenda, due to the interconnectedness of all our planetary thresholds.

The positive sum-game of uniting against climate change

In Game Theory, a ‘positive sum game’ entails the sum of total gains and losses being greater than zero, a situation where no one wins at the expense of someone else. A scenario where the world cooperates for combatting climate change and there is global unity for sustainable development is essentially a positive sum game, where the value generated, and benefits accrued are greater than the sum total of all efforts put towards this endeavour.

There is no doubt about how highly interlinked and interdependent various goals of sustainability are, where, for example, energy transition (SDG 7) has an impact on climate action (SDG 13), gender equality (SDG 5) has interlinkages with every SDG, and indirect interlinkages between every other sustainability goal like biodiversity conservation & oceanic sustainability (SDG 14 & 15), employment & economic growth (SDG 8), enablement of a circular economy (SDG 12) and so on, exist, with the ethos of the SDGs resting upon their interconnectedness, and their potential to enhance the achievement of other SDGs.

Therefore cooperation, collaboration and international partnerships on climate action and sustainable development, will possibly be a prime example of “a rising tide lifting all the boats”. Any local gains due to climate action and sustainable development efforts will eventually reap benefits to the world at large, and it is more than an objective universal truth that unanimous climate action and sustainable development will result in global prosperity, inclusivity, and sustainability far beyond a situation plagued by geopolitical disunity.

Collaborating for a better future

There has always been a case for prescribing to an international identity which transcends regional identities, in a way which serves geopolitical interests towards cooperation on a planetary scale towards humanity, its prosperity, inclusiveness, and sustainability. We are at a point where any self-serving interests which don’t serve global priorities at large may not be ideal goals to pursue, though regional priorities towards development for some countries may supersede planetary urgencies.

The COP27 loss & damage fund operationalisation was progress towards climate justice, equalising historical responsibilities towards climate action amongst developed and developing countries, but it is high time to realise that without unanimous global consensus towards sustainability efforts, complemented by international unity and the will of every individual to forgo local interests, the hope for a united front for a better society and planet will remain a pipe-dream. The fate of the world depends on our ability to work towards saving it, not as disconnected stakeholders, but together in unison.

To preserve our ferociously fragile and interconnected ecosystem – which encompasses everything from the preservation of the biodiversity of the Amazon River to reducing the carbon footprint of the multinational corporation, Amazon – will require participation from all corners of the world. In order to reverse the tide, it is imperative for the world to reintroduce early 21st-century globalization policies and collaborate aggressively so we can retread on the path to become true global citizens - guardians of our common planet, united for and by our climate action and sustainability efforts. We can’t afford to wait for the next series of reminders before we can take collective action.

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