Top economists on the global commons: Failure is not an option

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, one top economist called protecting the global commons an Apollo 13 situation, where failure is not an option, while other prominent economists, scientists and private sector leaders added to the urgency and offered solutions.

Photo: Copyright by World Economic Forum / Boris Baldinger

The global commons – the ecosystems, biomes and processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system – are the foundation of the global economy and modern society, and they have been for the last ten thousand years. Decades of degradation have resulted in our ocean, air and land systems approaching irreversible tipping points, creating extreme unpredictability and undermining the prospect for achieving the 2030 sustainable development goals.

A world-renowned set of speakers consisting of Prof. Kenneth Rogoff, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics, Harvard University, Nobel laureate Prof. Joseph E. Stiglitz, Professor, School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University, Dr Lawrence H. Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University, Dr Dambisa Moyo, Non-Executive Director, Board of Directors, Barclays Bank,  Dipender Saluja, Managing Director, Capricorn Investment Group and Prof. Johan Rockström, Executive Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre explored the misalignment between our economic system and the environment. They also identified changes needed in the economic and investment system and priority high-impact actions for systemic redesign.

“We urgently need to find ways in which we can make economics work FOR the Global Commons so these planetary systems can continue to support our economy and all life on earth,” said Inger Andersen, Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature who chaired one of the small-group discussions during the session. “I am extremely pleased to hear this discussion by some of our leading economists on this urgent challenge.”

Naoko Ishii, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson, Global Environment Facility added, “It is increasingly evident that the stability and resilience of Earth is being pushed to the limit, as the global commons that we have so long taken for granted haves come under irresistible pressure. Action is needed, and it must happen fast. Business as usual will take us nowhere. The only solution is to fundamentally transform our key economic systems — our energy system, food production system, our cities, and our goods manufacturing system. We simply have no other option.

Dr Andrew Steer, President and Chief Executive Officer, World Resources Institute, moderated the discussion, which also had contributions from, among others, Erik Solheim, Executive Director of United Nations Environment and Dominic Waughray, Head of Public-Private Partnership at the WEF.

The discussion ranged from broad-reaching policy and economic changes to specific solutions for reducing atmospheric carbon. The broad consensus was that it will take both political and market forces to adequately protect the global commons and the global economy they underpin.

This session in Davos followed the GEF/IUCN Our Global Commons international dialogue in Washington DC in October 2016 and subsequent events on food and agriculture and the global commons at the UNFCCC COP22 in Marrakech and CBD COP13 in Cancun.

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