Ep 6: Confronting Planetary Emergency

As the COVID emergency ravages communities and nations around the world, climate disruption is accelerating, fresh water supplies are becoming less secure, and our food systems are facing serious risk of collapse. We are experiencing the worst mass extinction on Earth since our species first evolved. These are the ingredients of a complex and worsening planetary emergency.

In Episode 6 of Earth Intelligence, we begin to explore both the forces in our everyday economy that are contributing to planetary emergency, and a bold call to action, to confront the multiple crises facing Earth systems and human wellbeing, and to build a better future.

The Planetary Emergency Plan (updated in August 2020 to include effects of COVID-19) “combines a focus on protecting and restoring our Global Commons with implementing a series of economic and social transformations, to guarantee the long-term health and well-being of people and planet.” The Plan recognizes that overconsumption of natural resources and degradation of natural systems have reached such extremes that the biosphere itself—the space inhabited by life on Earth—is at risk.

This table is taken from the Planetary Emergency Plan, and lays out major drivers of instability affecting the world in 2020.

We don’t have the luxury of continuing business as usual and hoping for the best, or waiting to act when disaster strikes. The emergency is already with us, and costs are piling up fast. The authors explain:

Our patterns of economic growth, development, production and consumption are pushing the Earth’s life-support systems beyond their natural boundaries. The stability of these systems — our global commons on which we so fundamentally depend — is now at risk. Our actions in the coming decade will influence the trajectory of our planet and our future survival.

Joe Robertson explains that “When societies start losing their self-regulating capability, we also lose our ability to respond to emergencies”:

The ability of people in their everyday lives to leverage the best science… that requires institutions to be functioning, it requires societies that value freedom of information, it requires the funding of the intellectual and political infrastructure of such societies. You can’t just muscle your way out of planetary emergency… It needs to be something that comes from a whole society…

Don Shelby asks Myra Jackson the critical question: “Do you have an idea of how we can corral the public to make a difference in how fast the rate of change in fixing climate change?”

Myra responds:

People are beginning to recognize climate change in their lives and notice the interrelationship to climate change and how they’re treated. This hits into equity and social justice, including food and water… The key, I feel, to all of this, is to restore trust and restore relationship… This is a part of the ecosystem that we cannot delineate, but it is a factor.

Given the fact that sustaining human civilization itself will require major transformations in virtually all industries, many well-financed business models are already becoming obsolete. The question is how effective, efficient, timely, and empowering, our efforts will be to achieve sustainable transformation of our relationship to nature.

To accelerate that transformation and put us on track to avoid major tipping points (beyond which return to safety will not be possible), the Planetary Emergency Plan lays out 10 Commitments:

  1. By 2030, declare critical ecosystems as Global Commons and protected areas.
  2. Set a universal global moratorium on deforestation by 2025.
  3. Sign a moratorium on the exploration and exploitation of Arctic oil and gas reserves… and establish a Cryosphere Protection Plan.
  4. Halt the decline of critical and vulnerable ocean ecosystems and habitats and secure a robust New Ocean Treaty (under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea).
  5. By 2025, halt all conversion of wetlands, grasslands, and savannahs for production of agricultural commodities.
  6. Ramp up investment to provide essential public goods.
  7. Boost public and private finance flows for restoration of critical ecosystems.
  8. Launch a permanent public-private Planetary Emergency Fund for the global commons by the end of 2020.
  9. Introduce policy instruments and financial instruments similar to a “just transition fund” by the end of 2020.
  10. By 2025… commit to science-based targets for the global commons and account for natural capital on balance sheets.

The 10 Commitments, along with 10 Urgent Actions for the Transformation, are further detailed in the report Planetary Emergency 2.0 (PDF).

These commitments could give structure to the rising momentum for strong climate diplomacy. The work of co-creating a climate-smart future of inclusive prosperity will depend on both international negotiations and private investment having structured opportunities to build on.

Contrary to what many believe, our best response to planetary emergency will be the one that creates more opportunity in local, and especially underserved, communities.

Disclaimer: In this episode, host Don Shelby notes that Joe Robertson is associated with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. That association is specifically in reference to his work as Interim Director during the start-up phase of the Food System Economics Commission.

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