Humanity is at a crossroads. Our prosperity depends on a stable and resilient earth system, which we call the "global commons," and various scientific evidence has indicated that we are pushing its carrying capacity to the limit. The world’s leaders must take concerted action to avoid this catastrophe by altering human economic systems so that we can stay within planetary boundaries.
The Global Commons Stewardship Framework
In mid-May 2022, The University of Tokyo’s Center for Global Commons (CGC) released the Global Commons Stewardship Framework in advance of the World Economic Forum and the Stockholm+50. The paper presents a framework to transform human economic systems with concrete actions and their levers by harnessing and coordinating political, social and economic forces.
Specifically, the framework identifies four key economic systems to be transformed and four action levers to ignite systems change. The four key systems are: decarbonisation of energy; industry and transport; sustainable cities and communities; sustainable production and consumption; and sustainable food, forests, land, water and oceans. The report provides specific actions to be taken to drive each of the four systems.
But the key to this framework is the identification of action levers that can be applied to all systems transformation. They are as follows:
- Set targets, align governance and institutions to provide a clear ambition and pathway for change, strengthen multi-stakeholder coalitions and social movements, reconfiguring national governance and international cooperation to be fit for the Anthropocene. The most promising mechanism for effective governance of the global commons may be strong, new multi-stakeholder coalitions that complement improved intergovernmental and national mechanisms.
- Reset economics, finance and incentives for the global commons by putting a price on carbon and natural capital, aligning economic policies and regulations with the goal of stewarding the global commons, redefining government and business accounting, and catalysing private, public and blended finance.
- Ensure inclusion and fairness to build consensus for change through developing strategies for just transitions, including participatory design, fair incomes and investment in good health, education and social safety nets to provide the foundation for these transformations. Valuing and amplifying indigenous people and local communities as stewards of the global commons.
- Harness innovation, technologies and data to advance our understanding of the global commons and accelerate the transformations to safeguard them. Paying attention to the governance of the cybersphere.
Together, these four systems and four action levers form the Global Commons Stewardship Framework, which guides and accelerates actions and international cooperation among governments, civil society and businesses to safeguard the global commons.
The responsibility of developed countries
While it is in the interest of all countries to steward the global commons, developed countries as well as large-scale economies such as the G20 have an even greater responsibility to do so. The Global Commons Stewardship Index makes this clear. The Index has a very unique feature. It presents not only the environmental footprint caused by production but also that by consumption, specifically, through the import of goods and services. In the case of Japan, our environmental footprint worsens once our import impacts are incorporated while our trading partners’ environmental impacts are better once their import impacts are added.
The Index suggests that we need to take another look at the data, from production to consumption, and that we need to bring consuming countries and producing countries along the value chain to address global environmental issues. Developed countries have the responsibility and the capacity to lead the system transformation required to safeguard the global commons.
We are facing multi-layered energy, food, health and cost of living crises, all fuelled by the Ukraine situation. While the world is occupied with searching for undesirable and unavoidable short-term measures, we should not lose sight of the longer-term vision towards achieving sustainable development within planetary boundaries. We need to develop a new system to govern the global commons and I hope our proposed Framework as well as the Index will support our way forward.
More on the Global Commons Stewardship Framework
The Global Commons Stewardship Framework was developed by CGC with the support from SYSTEMIQ, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). A full version of the report on the Global Commons Stewardship Framework can be downloaded here.
The Global Commons Stewardship Index was developed by SDSN, Yale University and CGC. The full report on the Global Commons Stewardship Index can be downloaded here.
Posted 01 February 2023
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