18 October 2021
SCOTIA GROUP: A THISTLE FOR A FINAL MAJLIS
Over the past summer we have seen how a 1°C rise in average global temperature affects the incidence rate of natural disasters. The images of wildfires burning through Amazonia, Siberia, California, Australia, Turkey and Greece are still vivid in the memory, as are the floods that swept down the lower Rhine and across Henan Province in China, and the heatwaves that broke temperature records from Russia to Spain and made some countries all but uninhabitable for those without air-conditioning.
That observed reality was backed-up by a series of alarming scientific bulletins, including the IPCC working group report that prompted the secretary-general of the UN to declare “code red” for humanity. And earlier this month, the UK’s Environment Agency warned that we’re heading for a 3°C rise by the end of the century – at which point our rivers run dry and we start to lose coastal cities.
It was this increasingly desperate mood that led the Scotia Group to declare an international diplomatic emergency in August, and prompted Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, our patron, to declare that “if COP 26 cannot deliver rapid, permanent emissions reductions and the ability of citizens to enforce the promises their governments make, Scotia Group members question the purpose of further climate COPs”. To which Howard Covington, the chair of our Inception Commission, added: “We may already need the continuous emergency diplomacy that is used in times of crisis.” My own view, as you will know, is that after Paris and before a shift to a humanitarian panic model, we need a G20 diplomacy, reminiscent of Bretton Woods in its scope and systemic ambition, to lead to a collective policy on the same scale as George C Marshall’s European Recovery Programme.
My conclusion is that COP26 should result in a political economy of “Great Transition”- a nine year programme, enshrined in a constitutive global commitment to net-zero by 2050. This is so that policies, international investment treaties, legislatures and regulators, tax regimes, national legislation and courts can coordinate their contributions. Two central pillars are needed on our way to a post-Paris world. The first is a comprehensive global plan that sets out what such a commitment means for international finance and makes use of development and adaptation indices. The second is a quantified and costed roadmap for the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy. These must take place by 2022 and 2023 respectively, with the aim of full implementation of both by 2024. By the time we get to 2030, we should be able to say with some confidence what life on earth in 2050 is going to look like and know that it will meet our obligations to our children and grandchildren.
In the face of the scientific and physical evidence, there is a clear international political consensus that action has to be taken. There is also a consensus among scientists and engineers that we have, or are on the way to having, the technology we need to make the transition to renewable electricity generation, electric vehicles and green hydrogen – a good start rather than a panacea. And yet, how confident are we, in our hearts, that governments will have the political will and technical competence to meet the 2°C threshold, let alone 1.5°C? My feeling is that it is unlikely without significant advances on the national contributions framework set out in the Paris Agreement, and unless, as Her Majesty pointed out, we can find a cast iron way to make those carbon budgets enforceable.
We think the roles of legislatures, parliaments and courts are key. And the rule of law is where the Scotia Group has tried to make a contribution. As you will know, the first six of our seven dialogues have made enforceability – governance under law – a central question, and they examined it in detail. We have also addressed the financial and economic implications of climate action and the vital role of the corporation effecting it. Alongside these strands, we have explored the ethical questions raised by global cuts in carbon emissions. After all, a law that denies everyone the right to sleep under a bridge at night does not affect rich and poor equally, and less developed countries are more vulnerable than Western nations to the effects of carbon accumulation – and carbon restriction. Poverty is expensive, I was reminded.
We have also put intergenerational equity at the heart of our deliberations, on the grounds that future generations will be stuck with the check for a meal they never ate. They know this and they are increasingly angry. We did it precisely because young people have the anger and energy to give us the emotional push that the issues demand. Certainly, once policy incubation was in place (iPlatform) they possessed the necessary policy and negotiation skills, as those of you who were present at our Harvard dialogue and iPlatform intergenerational dialogue in September will be aware. The comments from our panel of undergraduate and recent graduate participants were impressive, and the entries for the inaugural Stanley Hoffman–Louise Richardson prize were quite dazzling in their insight and sophistication as attested by our distinguished panel of judges chaired by Dr. Mark Ellis. And as you will know, our Scotia Fellows – students drawn from our partner universities – will have a decisive role to play in how we frame our final communique to COP26 and beyond. The education about the emergency begins at the beginning with toddlers as with James Wright’s children’s book “Scotia the Scotty Dog Plants a Seed.”
I am clear in that what we are dealing with today is a matter of intergenerational justice. Similar efforts must continue through partner institutions in their core curricula as well as teaching and learning pedagogy to prepare the best and the brightest to tackle this intersectional challenge with a focus on the net-zero by 2050 world that I mentioned above. This will help states, legislatures, markets, corporations, innovators and others, including Greta Thunberg and her friends to plan and think – and think effectively.
Our final dialogue, to be hosted by the University of Oxford on 21 October, is a consideration of what we can do to promote institutional guarantees for “mitigation” and “adaption” after Glasgow, and what might be on the agenda for COP27 (T minus 8) in Cairo. We are keen that the work that we have all done in the past year inspires others and through real evidence based policy work is continued, in some form, into the future.
Finally, I would like to say that our collaborative efforts have brought the Inception Commission a long way. As well as the Statement of Urgency to the UN secretary-general, we have already made a number of innovative policy proposals, including the Climate20+ Policy, which has been sent to the Italian presidency of the G20, and which calls on the leadership of that group to support the success of COP26. Added to this, we have the Inception Commission’s net-zero by 2050 core commitments, all of which are needed to achieve a “Glasgow Agreement”. And we are in continual conversations with the UN and other agencies, including in partnership with the Alliance of Small Island States, as we assess the obstacles, institutional complexities and processes of climate action diplomacy.
I am particularly hopeful of two legacy items from Scotia. One is the Climate Technology Transition Centre referenced by Her Majesty in our Glasgow Agreement Proposal, which I hope our partner institutions will work together to realise with the University of Glasgow, under the leadership of Professor Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow. We also have the Global Energy Transition Financial Platform, which is intended to explore innovative pathways towards a pilot Transition Municipal Bond.
To the World, our communications strategy has been both strategic and graceful. In this vertical setting we have tried to leverage everything we possibly can to communicate through “track two” diplomacy. Our new partnership with The Scotsman newspaper is testament to the fact that Scotia today has become at once a voice from Scotland and to Scotland for COP26. Our Scotia Forum on 11 November will mark a laser focus on what we expect on the day before the conclusion of COP negotiations. We are grateful to Sir David Edward, Scotland’s foremost international jurist, for agreeing to chair the Forum but more importantly for continuously reminding us as an Inception Commission of the delicacy and importance of this responsibility. On Armistice Day, we commemorate the generation lost in the Great War. For their sacrifice, we will also think about future generations that will face tests that we have been spared and observe a moment of mindfulness during the Forum at 4:11PM Glasgow time and 11:11am UN Time (EST) – 11:11-11/11.
I believe the summation of all this will be to make a visible impact at COP26, and the law and policy world that comes afterwards. To borrow the words of Quraysh Overseer, President Carlos Salinas: “What we expect to derive from COP26 in the fight against the devastation and collapse threatened by climate change and inequality is radical hope!”
With warm regards,
Prof. Dr. Malik R. Dahlan