The climate crisis is considered a wicked problem—a reason why is that the climate has no borders. Carbon emitted in one part of the world doesn’t float around where it’s emitted. It spreads all around the atmosphere. So, the emitting country isn’t solely responsible for dealing with the problem; everyone is.
To add spice to the wicked problem, while the climate has no borders, human societies do. This means we are trying to solve a problem using a structure that isn’t suited to the problem at hand. The Paris Agreement highlights why.
184 countries made pledges to reduce carbon emissions in the Paris Agreement. It felt like a turning point in efforts to deal with the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. Finally, countries were coming together to agree on legally binding commitments to reduce emissions and keep global warming under 2C.
A few years down the line and most countries are not on target to meet their commitments.
Getting 184 countries, all with different agendas, to agree on anything, never mind commitments to reduce emissions targets, was impressive. But maintaining enthusiasm in the long term, as has been shown, is difficult.
A major roadblock in countries meeting targets is that self-interest lies at the heart of decision making. That’s understandable because governments are held accountable by their citizens, not by other countries.
Because (most) countries have the interests of their people at heart, it means they may continue on a path that is not in everyone else’s interest. And as some countries aren’t meeting their targets, it becomes easier for others to choose paths that lead to emissions increasing—the exact opposite of what we need to do.
‘Free riding’ becomes inevitable when you are relying on so many countries doing the right thing. And so, rather than cooperation and collaboration in reducing emissions, there seems to be mutual solidarity in increasing emissions.
Not set up to deal with global problems
The concept of the modern state is a product of the French Revolution. Since then, it has become a universal system of governance.
But the world has transformed in the last 200 years. You can get to the other side of the world in under a day, a feat unimaginable even a generation ago. The internet and social media make it possible to glance into the lives of those living on the other side of the planet.
The world has never felt smaller or more connected.
Yet, the idea of the nation-state has persisted because we have never had to deal with a global problem that will affect everyone and requires global cooperation in solving it, until now.
Today, in a world so connected, the structure of the nation-state is no longer fit for purpose. The climate crisis is a symbol of how we must adapt the governance structure that has persisted for the last two hundred years to meet the needs of modern society.
One system, different strategies
Imagine you could wipe the slate clean and create the ideal framework to deal with the climate crisis; what would it look like?
Given the challenge, the last thing you would do is split the world up into different regions, with each region having autonomy over how they deal with the problem. While you can get the different regions to agree on targets, you can’t manage the process. It’s like a project with no project manager. If you let each region do what they want, they will do just that, what they want.
A much better strategy would be to view the world as one unified system. The strategy for solving the problem will centre on a specific vision of success. With one vision, you can then plan how each region will strategically steer towards that destination.
There will be regional variations because the climate is different in different parts of the world, so solutions can’t be ‘one size fits all’.
Managing the process is a central government. The central government or one-world government would be responsible for ensuring each region is on target to meet the strategy, rather than having the inevitable free riders who jump on the backs of other countries’ good work while they do nothing.
While this approach would be more suitable to the challenge we face, it’s not realistic in practice. The nation-state has formed the basis of how we do things for hundreds of years.
Our reality, our way of seeing the world, is constructed around the nation-state. It feels unthinkable to imagine reality any other way. And while the effectiveness of the nation-state breaks down when dealing with a global problem, this is the first global problem we’ve ever had to face.
Clearly, you can’t just form a one-world government with a click of the fingers because that’s the best strategy to deal with the climate crisis. It’s not as simple as that.
The dilemma is that while there are obvious weaknesses in our current approach, we have no option but to use this governance structure as we’ve all been born into a reality where this is how things are.
The construct within which we live limits our options. Yet, failure could lead to an apocalyptic future, clearly the end of life as we know it is worse than the idea of a one-world government.
In a hyper globalised, interconnected world dealing with a global problem that threatens the existence of life as we know it, a one-world government has now become an urgent need.
The ultimate problem we face is that no one will accept this as we are so strongly embedded within a reality where people have an unyielding love for their countries.
Nationalism is an obvious obstacle to the formation of a one-world government. People would feel like their freedoms, liberties, and self-identity are under threat.
The media would never dare talk about a one-world government as a solution to the climate crisis. In fact, the idea of a one-world government is seen as some kind of draconian dystopia. These fears are inevitable as people fear what they don’t know.
It seems the only way we will ever reach a point where calls for a one-world government become mainstream is when the climate crisis feels like a crisis. Once it feels like a crisis, the current governance structure may break down as countries become overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges we face.
At present, the idea of a one-world government seems unthinkable. But, it could become inevitable in the future as it is a governance structure that better reflects the world as it is, rather than as it was. Let us hope we can adapt and transform to meet the needs of the challenge we face before it is too late.