Some Big Possible Positives - Or?

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Introduction

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While writing the scenario stories for A First Set of Music Sector Scenarios, we became aware of some recently reported large trends that might EITHER lead to a better globally based best case, OR by absence or neglect deepen the gap between best and worst cases. We found three such sources, each highly respectable, and they merit a separate paper.

Two sources respond to the challenge of climate change, including the risks associated with denial and inappropriately continuing “business as usual”. The third source concerns higher education, centred on America as a traditional leader in this field. All three reports adopt a global perspective.

The paper is #10 in the current scenario series. See “Articles in This Series” below.

Better Growth, Better Climate

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate was set up in 2013 to help governments, businesses and society make better-informed decisions on how to achieve economic prosperity and development while also addressing climate change. Chaired by former president of Mexico Felipe Calderόn, the high-level 24-member commission comprises former heads of government and finance ministers, and leaders of businesses, cities, international organisations and research institutions.

Nicholas Stern, author of the first major report on the economics of climate change which set the stage for subsequent work back in 2006, chairs a 15-member Economics Advisory Panel of distinguished economists, all leaders in their respective disciplines. Stern is also the co-chair with Calderόn on the Global Commission. He describes the wide-ranging contributions by the Advisory Panel in “Theories and perspectives on growth and change: Guidance from the Economics Advisory Panel”, which forms part of the commission’s report. Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Australian National University in Canberra and author of the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, Ross Garnaut, is on the panel, as is the 2002 Economic Sciences Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University.[1]

The report concludes that countries at all levels of income now have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth while also reducing the immense risks of climate change. This is made possible by structural and technological changes unfolding in the global economy and opportunities for greater economic efficiency. The capital for the necessary investment is available and the potential for innovation is vast. What is needed is strong political leadership and credible, consistent policies.

The next 15 years will be critical in two respects:

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  • The global economy will undergo a deep structural transformation – definitely not “business as usual”. The economy will grow by more than half, a billion more people will come to live in cities, and rapid technological advance will continue to change business and lives.
  • The next 15 years of investment will also determine the future of the world’s climate system. Climate change is already having serious economic consequences, especially in more exposed areas of the world. Without stronger action in the next 10-15 years leading global emissions to peak and then fall, “it is near certain that global average warming will exceed 2oC, the level the international community has agreed not to cross.” On current trends, warming would exceed 4oC by the end of the century, with extreme and potentially irreversible impacts.


The global action plan recognises that we live in a moment of great opportunity, and great risk. The opportunity is to harness the expanding capacities of human intelligence and technological progress. The Commission’s 10 principal recommendations divide into two main classes of policy action. Recommendations 1 to 6 define the necessary conditions for better, low-carbon, climate-resilient investment and growth to be adopted by national, sub-national and city governments, businesses, investors, financial institutions and civil society organisations; recommendations 7 to 10 focus on the potential for sectoral change which drives future growth and lower climate risk, specifically in urban, land use and energy systems.

  1. Accelerate a low-carbon transformation by integrating climate action and risk into strategic economic decision-making.
  2. Create the confidence needed for global investment and climate action by entering into a strong, lasting and equitable international climate agreement.
  3. Phase out subsidies for fossil fuels and agricultural inputs and incentives for urban sprawl (energy and emissions vary widely between cities with similar income levels, depending on past infrastructure and planning decisions).
  4. Introduce strong, predictable carbon prices as part of good fiscal reform.
  5. Substantially reduce the capital cost of low-carbon infrastructure investment.
  6. Scale up innovation in key low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies and remove barriers to entrepreneurship and creativity.
  7. Make connected and compact cities the preferred form of urban development.
  8. Halt the deforestation of natural forests by 2030.
  9. Restore at least 500 million hectares of degraded forests and agricultural land by 2030.
  10. Accelerate the shift away from polluting coal-fired power generation.


These recommendations are probably the most ambitious ever set by any authoritative body of experts. And the time frame is very short. Vested interests will be promoted by climate change deniers in and out of government. But it is the nucleus of a plausible best case which is truly setting the cat among the pigeons.

In Australia we have just (June 2015) been reminded of the astounding power of brain science, reinforced by rapid technological development, by the accomplishment of senior Sydney advertising executive Todd Sampson who succeeded in overcoming his fear of heights to walk a 3 cm tightrope for eight metres 21 floors above street level between two Sydney office buildings in an ABC program called “Redesign my Brain”. It was by all appearances a genuine rendition of a three-year project towards the ultimate goal of walking the wire to the amazement of the television audience who was invited in throughout — a stunning program by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

If the best case scenario requires a quantum leap, which is likely in view of the forces militating against the implementation of the Calderόn-Stern initiative, Todd’s accomplishment illustrates something of what is needed to overcome such forces. He took on himself and succeeded formidably. Taking on the world's economic and political forces means staring into a more complex abyss. The fact that the world seems to be more prepared to do so than it has been in the past (with a crucial test being the December 2015 Paris Conference on climate change) calls for at least qualified optimism.

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Greening Asia

Environmental issues have hit Asia harder than any other part of the world because of its focus over the past several decades on politically popular top-line economic growth. Certainly, growth matters, but the quality of growth matters now as never before. Asia is approaching a moment of systemic – in some cases existential – crisis. How Asian countries react to the environmental challenges of pollution, resource shortages and climate change will determine whether the region will continue along its unmatched path of growth or descend – much of it – into an increasingly untenable dystopia.

Asia will have to win this fight if this is going to be the Asian century. Good environmental policies, motivated companies, and effective civil society groups are key to a greener, cleaner and richer Asia.

Asia is highly diverse, ranging from the city state of Singapore with its almost garden quality and a standard of living exceeding America’s, but threatened by pollution from neighbouring Indonesia, to China with massive environmental problems including Beijing’s “crazy bad” air pollution reducing visibility to near zero, grounding planes, snarling traffic, city dwellers forced to don protective face masks when outside, and air pollution an order of magnitude above a widely used American air quality index.

Asia’s environmental emergency threatens personal and even national survival. No single model is available that all countries can follow to improve the situation. Asia is large and varied, and what works in Singapore may not work in Indonesia. Smart and strong policies, innovative companies with the proper incentives to remedy the crisis, and an engaged civil society are all crucial. Governments, businesses, and citizens all have a role to play.

Responsibility for reducing carbon emissions and minimising pollution and environmental degradation start with individual governments. Users of fossil fuels should pay the real price for their choice – health costs as well as the cost of emissions. The use of water and the right to emit carbon remain dramatically undervalued.

Author Mark Clifford based his book on what became a “seven-year search for Asia’s green roots” when he joined the Asia Business Council after 25 years in journalism.[2] One of the highlights of the book is a long appended list consisting of snapshots of about 50 companies and some public organisations, highlighting their environmental sustainability initiatives. The short summary in this paper cannot hope to do justice to the wealth of current initiatives, but it does do justice to the idea that the diversity of organisations that has emerged over the past three or four decades provides a solid ground for effective environmental action backed by business. On the other hand, the world may prove less progressive as outlined in Scenarios 3 and 4, which could have results bordering on the disastrous.

The New American University

American universities currently lead the world on sheer quantity and quality of research findings, but there is also a risk of aggravating the inequity which has been a feature of economic development over some decades.

This, if anything, is likely to become more noticeable on the threshold of an “Asian century”. The Chinese are putting in a massive effort to expand their higher education plans, and other smaller Asian countries such as South Korea have their own aspirations to retain and increase their competitiveness in the international higher education area.

The American research university coalesced in the late 19th century when 15 public and private institutions grafted programs of specialised graduate study, modelled on the practices of German universities led by Berlin's Humboldt University, on to their undergraduate programs each derived from the residential British model epitomised by Oxford and Cambridge. From a varied evolutionary pool representative of the diversity of American higher education, the model for the American research university was established by five colonial colleges chartered before the American revolution (Harvard, Yale, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Columbia), five state universities (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and California), and five private institutions conceived from their inception as research units (MIT, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Chicago). These fifteen “Ivy League” universities collectively determined the gold standard in American higher education.[3]

Author Michael M Crow, in the preface to the book, tells how he became president of Arizona State University in July 2002, following more than a decade at Columbia University, an original Ivy League institution. He explains how ASU since 2002 has “deliberately undertaken an exhaustive reconceptualization to emerge as one of the nation’s leading public metropolitan research universities, which combines accessibility to an academic platform underpinned by discovery and knowledge production, inclusiveness to a broad demographic representative of the socioeconomic diversity of the region and nation, and maximum societal impact – a model I have termed the “New American University”.”

As a result, ASU in 2015 represents a new American higher education model which combines excellent research facilities with opportunities for all students to receive a university education at reasonable cost.

Articles in This Series

  1. Putting Numbers on Our Cultural Assets: Not Yet Possible   (27.3.2014)
  2. How to Explore the Cultural Future   (7.4.2014)
  3. Cultural and Creative Activity in Australia   (15.4.2014)
  4. Global Risk Factors and Music in Australia   (17.10.2014)
  5. Scenarios, Virtual History, and Chaos   (20.10.2014)
  6. Ideas from Other Global Scenarios   (8.12.2014)
  7. Four Global Scenarios Set the Stage   (18.12.2014)
  8. Music Sector Structure for Scenarios   (28.2.2015)
  9. Valuing the Invaluable   (5.3.2015)
  10. Some Big Possible Positives - Or?   (20.6.2015)
  11. A First Set of Music Sector Scenarios   (23.6.2015)
  12. Global Leadership Challenges: A Missing Link in the Scenario Planning (31.10.2015)
  13. Present and Future Changes and Their Role in the Scenarios   (20.12.2015)
  14. Complex Adaptive Systems and Music   (9.1.2016)

Author

Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, 20 June 2015.

References

  1. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate (September 2014), Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report – Synthesis Report.
  2. Mark L Clifford, The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency. A Columbia University Press E-book, 2015.
  3. Chapter 1: “American Research Universities at a Fork in the Road”. Michael M Crow and William B Dabars, Designing the New American University, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 2015.
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