From a “No-harm” Concern of Humankind to Restoring a Stable Climate

From a “No-harm” Concern of Humankind to Restoring a Stable Climate

In December 1998 the UN General Assembly in its resolution 43/53 explicitly stated that climate change was considered as a Common Concern of Mankind. This option of addressing climate as a “concern” remains the formal framework of UNFCCC[1] in which we still move nowadays (including the Paris Agreement of 2015), and definitely paved the way how societies are tackling climate change, and the (lack of) results achieved. “The concern” element presupposes nothing more than that the States are objectively invited towards joint and concerted actions”[2]. ”As a general concept which does not connote specific rules and obligations, but only establishes a general basis for the community to act”[3]. In other, the current “Common Concern of Humankind” framework to avoid dangerous climate change is guided by the “no-harm” rule by trying to avoid, neutralize, and mitigate CO2 emissions. However, 25 years of climate negotiations have shown that none of our attempts have had significant effects on the reduction of emissions, while the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already declared that the stability of our climate relies on a non-negotiable 50% reduction of emissions by 2030 simultaneously with a massive increase of the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050.

Moreover, even if the Paris Agreement’s 2.0°C limit is met, due to the internal dynamics of the Earth System, the risk of a global cascade of “Tipping Points” cannot be excluded, which could push the Earth System as a whole into “Hothouse Earth.”[4] Earth is already in a very dangerous zone, approaching a potential planetary threshold where there will be a point of no return. But there is still a possible stewardship trajectory that implies going beyond the mere “common concern” and the “no-harm” logics. It implies actively building a system of policies and governance capable of restoring and maintaining a Stable Climate. In turn, this necessity implies that we shift from the current logic of a State being duty-bound to prevent environmental harm to other States to one where each one is not only duty-bound to prevent environmental harms in the whole Earth System but is also encouraged to restore and maintain this indivisible common good that spans across boundaries – a well-functioning state of the Earth System that corresponds to a stable climate. According to economic sciences[5], the first two steps to successfully manage a common good are first to define it and second to build a congruence system between the rules of provision and appropriation of the common good.

Currently, none of these structural conditions are in place, although we already have the scientific knowledge to define this global common that spans across borders. A stable climate is a visible manifestation of a well-functioning Earth System, which, in turn, relies on a resilient and well-functioning biosphere.

At the planetary scale, the ways matter and energy move around the planet, creating various patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation, follow the laws of thermodynamics and result in a stable climate. A stable global climate is something that can only be legally classified as an intangible natural good. These circulation patterns and the global climate system are “nature’s software.” Today, this favorable operating mode of the Earth System can be translated into a set of qualitative indicators, the Planetary Boundaries framework that defines the “Safe Operating Space of Humankind.” This qualitative space is not a territorial space of the planet, but rather an intangible qualitative space that is indivisible even if in a legal abstract way and is shared by all living beings on Earth, including humans, and on which we all depend.

These facts of the natural world require a new way of thinking about the Earth and demand that this global common that spans across borders be at the center of a regenerative economy and be the foundation for global governance and new institutional solutions. With the Declaration for Stockholm+50, we propose a four-step pathway to achieve the needed paradigm shift, as described below.

The Stockholm Declaration: A Four-Step Pathway

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Click here to access the full text of the Declaration for Stockholm+5

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