A global climate change authority is needed

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As COP26 commences, Greta Thunberg’s pillories of the COP process will reverberate in the ears of the world leaders who will be in attendance. Business and Government Ethics International‘s founder and Rutgers University Senior Lecturer (philosophy, business ethics), Dr David E McClean, agrees that, indeed, we are beyond sloganeering, neologisms, and polished IPCC reports informing the world that we are out of time.

He believes that standard model diplomacy and pledges of voluntary compliance with climate agreements no longer hold much promise, despite the clear good intentions and efforts of the public servants who have worked to make positive change happen. McClean has called for the creation of a Global Climate Authority to enforce climate agreements. He believes the Global Climate Authority should be created by the UN Security Council, perhaps using, and expanding the UN’s principle of responsibility to protect.

McClean joins William Nordhaus (2018 Nobel Prize in Economics) in arguing that voluntary compliance and pledges will almost certainly fail to prevent runaway and catastrophic warming. Nordhaus has proposed a climate club of states that would create mutual incentives to comply with climate agreements. Likewise, McClean says that he agrees with Stewart M Patrick (Sr. Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations) that current international political mechanisms are maladapted to the climate emergency. Patrick has called for a new planetary politics in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs.

The impediments to the creation of a Global Climate Authority include nation-state commitments to political realism, resistance by fossil-fuel-producing countries, and nationalism. While these impediments are formidable, McClean believes that the catastrophic predictions concerning runaway warming and climate change provide the reasons to overcome them.

McClean argues that a Global Climate Authority need not be seen as a zero-sum game in which some countries will win while others lose, nor would it undermine sovereignty and self-determination on the part of states any more than other international agreements with mechanisms for the redress of infractions and non-compliance. How exactly would it work? McClean believes that the mechanisms could include, among others, the requirement of escrow deposits, indexed (in part) to GDP, which would be forfeited in the case of material non-compliance, and the Authority could sunset on a date certain unless its continuance is affirmed by member states. According to McClean, a Global Climate Authority should make it far less likely that domestic politics would interfere with a country’s compliance with its climate-related undertakings, such as GHG reduction.

The calls for a Global Climate Authority, a climate club, and a new planetary politics indicate significant shifts in thinking about how global environmental threats (including threats to biodiversity) should be met. Says McClean: “We have one planet. While Earth’s homeostatic systems are robust, they are clearly not immune to the sorts of shocks imposed during the Anthropocene. We need new thinking and new institutions to address those shocks, as well as to head-off new ones.”

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