4.6.3.2 Making the case for PTP governance

The case for inclusive global governance of PTPs needs to be made. Some might question the need, given that action is being taken without it: solar and wind power and battery technology are on exponential growth paths that will disrupt the global electricity sector within this decade (Bond et al., 2023; Nijsse et al., 2023); sales of Electric Vehicles (EVs) are growing exponentially in leading markets and approaching tipping points in others (Meldrum et al., 2023); the technology exists to transform the environmental performance of agriculture and food systems, for example in the use of green ammonia for fertilisers, or the manufacture of alternative proteins for food (Meldrum et al., 2023; FOLU, 2021). The potential for some of these solutions to perpetuate inequitable and unjust outcomes, such as green sacrifice zones, should, however, be of great concern, building the argument for an inclusive governance system to ensure that risks are accounted for and that the marginalised have political voice and agency. There is also positive movement in climate commitments. Net-zero decarbonisation targets, which no country in the world was thinking about 10 years ago, have now either become legally binding or have been pledged in 96 countries, representing almost 80 per cent of global GHG emissions (WRI, 2023). Some countries have shown it is possible to reduce emissions while continuing to grow their economies – known as absolute decoupling – even taking offshored production into account (Ritchie, 2021). But the rate at which this is happening is still far too slow (Vogel and Hickel, 2023). Revisiting these approaches and how they are governed with just PTPs in mind is therefore necessary.

Others might accept the need for governance in principle, but argue that we currently do not have enough empirical evidence to meaningfully influence PTPs in many systems. In addition, some might question the feasibility of PTPs governance. Sovereign actors have strong interests in accelerating the transition to a sustainable, post-carbon future – in theory, this is a positive-sum game that everyone can win, not a zero-sum game (Wright, 2001). So far, however, the system of governance that has developed is highly complex and cumbersome and has barely begun to consider tipping points in natural systems, let alone in human systems. Structural impediments like vested interests, perverse incentives, competitive market dynamics and legacies of colonialism all offer significant barriers that need to be overcome (Scoones et al., 2020, Ghosh, 2022). A recent assessment of the 17 UN United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are meant to be achieved by 2030, concluded that none were on track. It calculated that, on current trends, the world in 2030 would have 575 million people living in extreme poverty, 600 million facing hunger, the +1.5oC ‘safety limit’ for global heating would be beyond reach, and gender equality would take another 300 years (United Nations, 2023). 

We understand these reservations and complexities. Nevertheless, we believe that a global effort to accelerate systemic change – implied in a PTP discourse – is urgently needed. This is not to claim that all action and progress requires global agreement – far from it. A lot has already been achieved at the national level and much more is possible through small group coalitions of nations and climate clubs (4.4.2.5). But some things do require global cooperation and governance, such as the 1.5oC/well-under-2°C limit of the Paris Agreement. Meeting that limit, justly and in time, will also require some global governance, cooperation and coordination of effort. We cannot avoid difficult, contentious decisions, and we do not have time to postpone them any longer. ESTPs are fast becoming a real threat, so the only way to prevent them is through transformative change, which may include successfully enabling PTPs. Incremental, linear change is no longer an option. 

Inclusive global governance to promote PTPs is therefore necessary for essentially the same reason that it is necessary to prevent and adapt to ESTPs – because it requires collective action across diverse actors. Deep emissions cuts and climate-resilient development that prioritises risk reduction, equity and justice would be much easier to achieve with a level of global cooperation that creates ‘a sense of collective responsibility and action’ (Wiedmann et al., 2020, p. 7), as evidenced in global environmental agreements. This is a complex and delicate task that ultimately relies on finding an inclusive narrative that encourages ambition and enables action.

However, the former ‘peaceful and reassuring’ (Bonneuil and Fressoz, 2016) narrative based on consensus, voluntary measures, efficiency gains and the gradual decoupling of emissions is insufficient to meet the globally agreed +1.5oC limit. Meinhauser et al., 2022

If we are serious about navigating towards a more just, equitable and sustainable future, radical solutions that prioritise staying within Earth system boundaries, implementing Earth system justice, ensuring sufficient, and strong sustainability are the only realistic solutions left (Gupta et al., 2023; Rockström et al., 2023; Newell et al., 2021; Trebeck and Williams, 2019; Raworth, 2017; Haberl et al., 2020; Steinberger, Lamb, and Sakai, 2020). 

Looking just at the climate issue and the avoidance of ‘negative’ ESTPs, what matters for sustainability is the aggregate amount of GHG pollutants and other drivers/stressors from all sources, and the speed at which they can be safely and justly phased out. The development of new technologies, of net-zero policies, or of absolute decoupling, are important parts of that aim and, at least for richer countries, might be achievable without international cooperation. However, cooperation can accelerate these changes, as shown in economic modelling of Electric Vehicle (EV) mandates, for example (Lam and Mercure, 2022). The key question is whether collectively they can amount to deep enough, wide enough, or fast enough change. As previously mentioned in relation to energy systems, rapid growth in wind and solar capacities have led to a reduction in fossil fuel demand in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, but not globally, as other nations have increased fossil fuel demand. Success is ultimately measured in terms of the speed at which we globally phase out GHG emissions and the extent (or ‘depth’) to which we apply principles of Earth system justice while doing so (Gupta et al., 2023). Following the X-curve framework, this requires rapidly transitioning away from the current energy system dependent on fossil fuels in an equitable fashion – a just transition – while rapidly transitioning towards an alternative system that is also more equitable and just and respects ‘safe’ Earth system boundaries. 

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