Essay submitted to the Global Challenges Foundation, September 2017.
By Angus Forbes
We have a global problem which requires a fit for purpose global solution. Proportional and appropriate response to risk has always been a trademark of human development. In the case of global biophysical degradation, we have not made this response.
It is time to create a Global Planet Authority, charged with the global mandate of ultra long term protection and enhancement of earth's biophysical assets. A goal that cannot be attained by today’s organizational structures as they are not designed to do so. The creation of the first piece of democratically formed global governance can also set precedent for further development.
In addition to the precondition of recognising the problem, what has changed in the last 10 years is that we now have the second component required to effect material change, a connected quorum. This asset is the first global generation, our young people who are 13-30 years old. They now number 2.01bn, or 27.6% of the world’s population and they are hyper connected. We now have a global generation with a global problem that requires a global solution. This provides the opportunity for significant, rapid and effective change via changes in governance structures that they champion.
Based on an OECD forecast of 2.4% GDP growth to 2050, global GDP will be $180tn in 2050 from 2010's $70tn and 2017's $78tn estimate. Without clear and enforced boundaries, all biophysical assets are set to deteriorate materially, leading to grave or existential risk.
For simplicity, I put the biosphere onto the following four boundaries:
- Ozone and troposphere
- Forest, rainforest and biodiversity
- Fresh water and oceans
- Top soil, nitrogen cycle and landfill
To 2050, the denigration caused by human action will accelerate across all boundaries, bar perhaps ozone. CO2 equivalents in troposphere are forecast to move from 403 ppm (WMO) to 473 (NOAA). Ozone is potentially coming under threat again, despite the achievements of the Montreal 1987 protocol , due to increased amounts of dichloromethane and dichloroethane. Total Forest area is under threat as in 2017 we plant 9bn trees whilst cutting down 15bn. Rainforest is forecast to halve again or be completely removed over the next 50 years (Nasa, Radcliffe) due to deforestation, extension of the dry season and conurbation expansion. All biodiversity measures are worsening materially. The IUCN forecasts that having made 8% of animals extinct, this figure will rise to 28% by 2050. The Living planet index of WWF forecast that the 0.42 reading of 2017 will be 0.3 by 2030. All molecular life forms, that is plants, animals and insects are undergoing the 6th mass extinction, the last being 65 million years ago. Our use of fresh water is set to increase by 50% and in the UN report of the oceans 2017, it identified 19 effects humans are now having on the oceans. Plastic in oceans is set to increase five fold by 2050 according to research by WEF and the Ellen McArthur Foundation. 70% of all coral reefs are set to be destroyed by 2050 (NOAA, WRI). Top soil, now halved by humans, is forecast to have disappeared in 60 years time by the FAO. Already producing double the fixed nitrogen of Mother Nature (121Mt vs 61MT) and arguably the first biophysical boundary to be breached (Rockstrom, Steffan et al) the short to medium term forecasts of fixed nitrogen use in fertilisers is that it will grow with global GDP (IFIA). Landfill, currently 1300m tons p.a. is set to increase in a non linear fashion as well to 3bn tons p.a. in 2050 (World Bank). The ultra poor able in number to 2bn according to UN Habitat.
If Martin Luther King was writing this paper, I think he would say that we can hold it ‘ self evident’ that we have the wrong operating system if this is the biophysical state of affairs we are going to produce.
Set against the potency of global population growth, global capitalism and global consumerism combining to be such a destructive force, we have three friends of failure when it comes to governance of the biosphere, which will indeed ensure this is the outcome.
The three friends are:
- No leadership. There is no one organisation charged with the task of ultra long term biophysical care of a planet. This is a disaster in terms in any successful and effective human undertaking. The UN has the unenviable task of maintaining the 1968 NPT with limited budget for anything else (10-20bn$). Multilateralism in the environmental space has proven ineffective and is waning (incidence of MEA ratification is falling sharply). National governments are not designed to run a biosphere. They are busy, lacking in resources, they compete with each other, they change shape and size regularly and it is wrong to expect them to deliver the goal of ultra long term global biophysical care they cannot possibly deliver. Besides the UN, multilateralism and nation states, no other human organisation exists to do the job either
- There are no global biophysical boundaries. The 300-400 MEAs we have ratified do not in any way represent universal boundaries. They are voluntary, not policed and take an average of 6.5 years to ratify. The recent global objectives : MPAs of 10% of oceans 2020, 350m ha of reforestation by 2030 and 'limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees' are woefully insufficient, if they are achieved at all. And yet again they are voluntary, involve little funds and are not policed.
- There is no global power of regulation or in monetary terms. The average national government spends 0.4% of GDP on the environment. The conservative forecasts by UN , Stern et al, imply a minimum of 3-5% should be spent and if we face existential risk, then the numbers spent by the US and UK during WW2 were approximately 50% of GDP p.a.
In order to have effective running of a planet, we require these three deficiencies to be turned around. Clear leadership and universal boundaries powerfully enforced (money, policing and regulation). All human organisations that are effective have these components.
It is time for us to partake in an action of direct democracy and hold the first global online voluntary vote in order to create the first piece of global governance, that of an authority charged with the sole mandate of global biophysical care, a Global Planet Authority (GPA).
"It is time for society to galvanize the first global generation to lead us in the first global online voluntary vote"
This action is not dependent on nation states altering their democratic or non democratic systems. It does not require China to become non-centralist. The voting global populous is ceding a part of their personal sovereignty in order to form the new authority. The acceptance of a GPA by nation states and others will require a non-linear change of mindset, but seeing as a good portion of their citizenship will have not sought their permission and gone ahead and created it, a GPA will be easier for them to accept intellectually. I believe that the ceding of the responsibility of global biophysical care to a supranational authority will be a relief to national governments as 1. There was no way they were able to fulfill that task over the short, medium or long term and 2. The increasing complexities of modern society is putting greater demands upon national state governments in fields ranging from artificial intelligence, terrorist threats to health care and obesity.
The beauty of this path is that we require no one’s permission to act. We require no one’s permission to forge a better operating system. Out of the three steps required for radical change, we now have two: Firstly, the knowledge that we have the wrong operating system and secondly, a quorum of connected young individuals. The last step is the smallest, which is the effort to effect the change.
The GPA will have at its heart a simple structure. A Biophysical board charged with the setting of boundaries. Tenures would be transparent but of long duration. Serving it would be an Operational board where tenures would be shorter with a greater number of cross checks.
As this authority would come about by way of a large number vote it would have sovereignty over all other human organisations when it comes to its mandate. The GPA would be granted, by way of the creating vote, the power to tax globally and regulate globally.
"Just as in the late Roman Empire, deep stresses are rising and system resilience is declining. Governments are ever more forlornly trying to manage increasingly painful tradeoffs between people, planet and prosperity."
"What we need to fight climate change is comparable to the mobilization for WW2.
People have to realize the enormity and the magnitude of the effort that is going to be needed to turn this around."
"Here the lessons of history are invaluable....the earlier wave of globalization (1815-1913) collapsed because of the inability of the international system to cope... Similarly today.....there is a disjuncture between current institutional capacity to provide public goods and the structural characteristics of a much larger-scale, global economy.Today’s “residual state” faces a crisis of institutional legitimacy..."
"National governments can no longer control their destiny in the face of global problems.
So, increasingly, governments hand over part of their sovereignty to regional or global organizations and treaty bodies. But democracy scarcely exists at this level and there are few channels for democratic citizen input and accountability."
"The movement away from unsustainable business as usual, can only be based on consent, democratically given. Sustainable development cannot be delivered solely by individual choices, business innovation and voluntary action of governments. It requires huge long term change. This requires an effective, legitimate and trusted state."
"Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating.
Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades."
"The age of nations has passed. Now, unless we wish to perish, we must shake off our old prejudices and build the earth."
"When survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life form - or a species - will either die or become extinct, or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap."
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
"Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps we should control the population to ensure the survival of our environment. What humans do over the next 50 years will determine the fate of all life on the planet."
Description Of The Model
In order to counter grave or existential risk from human activities (historically war, but applicable here) there is a four part course of action which is tried and tested:
- Decide to oppose the threat
- Put in place a command leadership with the knowledge of how to fight
- The leadership group commandeers assets and rapidly develops strategy rapidly and
- We fight, remove the existential threat and puts in place a maintenance structure to ensure the threat does not arise again.
Let us follow this tried and tested path.
1. The populous chooses to fight. In this case, of course, it is via the peaceful choice to vote online.
Non- linear environmental degradation coupled with non-linear climate change requires non- linear social response. I propose here that the eligible age for voting is 13 years old.
The digital age is believed to commenced in 2002 when the amount of data humans store digitally surpassed that stored in an analog manner. This means that for a 13 year old they have spent their whole life in the digital age and a 30 year old has spent their entire adult life in the digital age.
This first global generation number just over 2bn.
The human populous that is over 13 yrs old is 5.85bn.
We now have 3.2bn people online and growing every day.
The numbers above speak for themselves. Compared to the largest democratic vote (India 800m), the first global generation is over twice the size and the human populous aged 13 years and older is 7x larger. In second place in national elections are Indonesia and the US at just 140m votes.
As a human race, we have everything we need to hold a global online voluntary vote. Biometric testing, voice recognition, over half the populous online or having a mobile phone, over half the populous living in conurbations (we know where people are) and of course the ability to globally advertise and organize volunteers to assist with the vote.
This is not an endorsement for all populations to accept democracy for their own affairs, but simply that at this point in human history we have the ability to co-operate and forge a new operating system via this means. Capitalism and consumerism embody modern values that have won out globally: Self expression, self interest, individuality, freedom of choice. A global voluntary vote is consistent with this new global mindset, nothing more, nothing less.
We must make a step change. We have the ability to make a step change via technology and a global vote.
2. Put in place a command leadership capable of fighting
I believe the Command leadership of the Global Planet Authority will look like this:
A biophysical executive made up of individuals capable of making global decisions on universal boundaries and goals and setting these targets free from interference and bias. They will form a board which is void of self interest but instead acts only in the interests of the health of the planet for multiple generations to come. The checks and balances to their tenure, election, power and decision making processes can be adopted from best in practice operations around the world.
An operating executive will be made up of all the necessary skills of technology, taxation, strategy, ecology, economics etc.
The operating executive will operate from 7 floors (the 5 Olympic zones plus the two newly forged geo-zones) of North Asia (and eastern Russia and north pacific), South Asia (and western south pacific and Antarctica), Indian subcontinent (and central Russia and Indian ocean), African continent (and eastern south Atlantic), Europe (and western Russia and artic), north America (and north Atlantic), South America (and western south Atlantic and eastern south pacific).
To this command group we give the global power to tax and global power to regulate in order to fulfill their mandate of global biophysical health.
3. The command group commandeers assets
Holding powers of global taxation, one can envisage that the GPA will embark upon something like a 6% of global GDP spend p.a. for 10 years, before reducing this to the maintenance phase of the spend. 6% of global GDP spent on the environment is a 15 fold increase on current spend
Headed up by a 4% tax on all goods and services collected at a rate of 65%, which will yield $2tn p.a. (All other taxes are collected at a rate of 75%.)
The next class of taxes that will be palatable to the global populous are light progressive taxes. Tobin taxes at 1bp on both currency and derivative trades, 5bp on bond trades and 10bp on equity trades can be collected in a straightforward manner and yield $0.3tn. Progressive industry taxes, for example a 20% luxury goods tax, yield a further $0.2tn and a property wealth tax of 50bps on the most expensive 1/3 of property globally ($200tn total property assets : Saville’s) yield $0.3tn p.a
Lastly, the GPA will tax the bads, or negative externalities, according to the objectives laid down by the biophysical executive. In total these taxes add up to 6% of global GDP and are progressive.
4. The GPA will effect a 10 year plan to put human activities within the biophysical boundaries set.
I have clustered the biosphere into four areas with four resulting boundaries.
Assuming that the objective is to maintain a steady state of CO2 equivalents in the troposphere of 280-320 ppm, the GPA could effect the following course of action.
- Tax emissions globally on a rising scale, potentially up to $500 per ton in year 5. It is estimated by the World Bank that to decarbonize the world economy will require capital expenditure spend of approximately 90tn over 12 years. Let us presume that it is $8tn p.a. Only a clear market signal and the utilization of Adam Smith’s invisible hand will yield this result. Capitalism is crying out for such clarity in a price signal. It will respond magnificently.
- Spend $1tn p.a. in the largest of infrastructure projects,.
- Embark on closing the Carbon Gap, i.e. removal of CO2 equivalents from the troposphere.
At present we do not know how to do this safely. However, we have precedent in the American moon mission declaration of 1961. Aimed primarily at closing the missile gap, the advantage the Russians had over the Americans in their missile technology, JFK’s administration chose an ambitious target (which they did not know how to achieve) that would capture the imagination and budgets of the American people. By the time Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, the average age of a NASA engineer was 28 years old. Setting a target of CO2 will release human engineering talent like never before.
Presuming that the Biophysical board will declare the objective of zero destruction of rainforest, peat, biodiversity and forests and growth thereof, it is possible to envisage the spend of 1% of global GDP p.a. for 10 years in achieving these objectives.
The combined GDP of all countries owning Amazonian rainforest is $3tn. An incentive of 7% of their GDP to protect and grow their portion of the rainforest and protect the Gurani aquifer is now possible. Clearly the GPA would need to put its monitoring teams within the national boundaries. Among other uses, this wealth transfer will allow national governments to move people out of the rainforest if they are not indigenous.
The IUCN, World Bank and University of Maryland have identified 2bn ha (size of south America) of degraded forest that can be replanted. This can be achieved within the 10 year time frame by supersizing existing programs and initiating new ones. The biodiversity hotspots of the world will be ring-fenced. Everybody (humans that is) out.
The calls of 30-40% of the oceans to be man free are now overwhelming. Assuming the biophysical board deem this to be its objective, then the GPA will have the resources to ensure this occurs.
Further, mankind has everything we need to hold fresh water usage its current rate, starting with co-operative management on all international river basins.
Penultimately, the boundaries on farm management will need to be imposed. The UN estimates that agroecology on a world scale will double food yields. This we must achieve in order to feed our 10bn population and stop topsoil erosion.
Mother nature produces (fixes) and absorbs (dentrification) 61mt of atmospheric nitrogen pa. Currently humans do twice that, with fixed nitrogen causing denigration of rivers, oceans, air in cities, troposphere and the ozone layer. Initial targets advocate a quartering of our use to just 35mt.
Plastic and waste growth forecasts are untenable. These must be engineered out of existence and can be done so via regulation, aggressive hypothecated taxation and subsequent investment in biodegradable plastics and waste recycling.
Lastly, population and trapped ultra poor. Leading ecologists and biologists advocate that in order to have a healthy biosphere, humans must ensure that we have the smallest amount of fellow humans who are ultra poor. This is simply due to desperation. Humans are incredibly resilient and innovative. We will produce charcoal to survive, we will fish in exclusion zones to survive and we will kill biodiversity to survive.
One can envisage that the GPA will put in place a strategy bar none to assist the ultra poor and affect the growth rate of the human population. DACs by OECD countries currently amount to $200bn p.a. One can imagine that the GPAs resources and mandate will allow them to make annual transfers to the ultra poor of $600bn p.a. targeting women of reproductive age.
It is not difficult to argue that women have the greatest capacity to make the right decisions for a family unit when it comes to the trade offs of energy security, water and food security, technology, education and birth control. At present women account for 22% of all parliamentary seats globally, this will be a further empowerment.
Once the GPA has achieved the immediate objectives that are required of it, and the subsequent removal of existential risk thereby, the maintenance function can take over. As our economy moves towards $180tn p.a. the GPA must anticipate capitalist actions and if it is likely to threaten the biophysical boundaries then it must intercept early. It must be ahead of the game, not woefully trailing it as we do now.
"As a human race, we have everything we need to hold a global online voluntary vote."
I would like to conclude with a rapid fire critique of the formation of a GPA.
No. We can hold a vote, form the authority, collect global taxes, regulate human activities and we know how to put in place every biophysical boundary except the safe removal of CO2 from the troposphere. But this we will achieve nevertheless.
Cost too much....my daily expenses
For the poor of the world environmental sustainability is a lifeline (Lambertini). For the burgeoning middle class to 2050 they will want to live in clean healthy cities and have a global economy that is sustainable due to its adherence to boundaries of the biosphere. It is true that in the short term it is likely that the middle classes will face some inflationary pressures and some consumer choice changes. But at $3000 per year, consumer discretionary spend is 30%, and at $15,000 per year GDP consumer discretionary spend is 60% (PWC) so there is wriggle room. For the wealthy, yes it will cost more in the short term.
National sovereignty is sacred
No it is not. Personal sovereignty creates nation states. Personal sovereignty can create a global authority.
You’ll release tyrants
No we won’t . Transparency increases with technology and there will be the right governance systems and a complete lack of incentives for the biophysical and operational executives.
You and Thomas Moore go right back to 1516. You are arguing that one authority will solve the problems of the world.
No. Teenage female genital mutilation will still increase in and around war zones. Young boys who have never held a gun will be murdered in acts of genocide. Capitalism will still produce rich and poor. But I do argue that whatever the ambitions of human kind, depraved or noble, they must be held on a healthy planet for all time.
Think of the world’s poor
We have. The formation of a GPA has the ability to effect the largest wealth transfer ever seen and a healthy planet benefits the ultra poor the most.
Cut off the CO2 machinery at the same time as our artificial fertilizer (fixed nitrogen and potassium) cycle and the GPA will ensure hundreds of millions will starve.
No. 1. The UN argues that agroecology can double yields. 2. The GPA will work with farmers and ensure a smooth transition to keep mankind’s aggregate calorific output stable (66% of calories come from maize, rice, wheat and soyabean). They will have the budget ($800bn p.a for 10 years) to ensure this. 3. And we’ve heard this starvation argument before. Every day for 20 years, those campaigning against the abolition of slavery by the British, argued that the immediate removal of 900,000 slaves in British held territories in the Caribbean, would result in mass starvation for British subjects. No one starved after the signing of the British Abolition of Slavery act in 1833.
A GPA imposing biophysical boundaries will kill the economy, you’ll ruin us all
A 2.4% growth rate (OECD forecast to 2050) for 32 years results in a global GDP of $180tn. This brings billions out of poverty and into the middles classes ($10/day+). Biophysical boundary imposition puts this at risk. The global economy will not be able to cope.
No. If we have a depression the same magnitude as in the US in 1929-33, where GDP per capita drops by 20% in just 2 years and this is followed by a 3 year stabilization of 2% p.a. growth and then we have a 3.5% growth rate for 30 years, global GDP will be $185tn in 2050.
It is very reasonable to assume that the rapid economic growth post WW2 of 1950s 6% , 1960s 5.7%, and 1970s 3% will be replicated due to re-engineering of the economy. A depression of 20% followed by 32 years of these growth rates results in a 2050 global GDP of $285tn, 50% higher than currently forecast.
It is time to create an authority charged with the mandate of protecting and enhancing the biosphere, the removal of existential risk that we face, shouldering the responsibility of our transcendent moral obligation to all life and subsequent creation of a maintenance system for the ultra long term.
It can be done. Nessun dorma.
About the Author
Angus Forbes B.Ec(hons) MBA.
The son of an Australian diplomat, Angus grew up in Hong Kong, Hamburg, Port Moresby, Belgrade and Auckland. After university he worked in the City (London) for 20 years, at stockbrokers James Capel and Merrill Lynch and subsequently at the hedge fund GLG Partners. There he ran the Global consumer sector equity long short fund. Leaving the City in 2007, Angus started working for himself as an investor and mentor in consumer start ups. Currently he is involved in six small companies, whose activities include Mexican food, surf wear, Vietnamese food, vegan food, dance fitness and a wedding reception venue. He also works with his wife Darcey Bussell CBE on her business and philanthropic interests. With a passion for the environment Angus founded Bankers without Boundaries (bwbuk.org) in 2014 and is an advocate for global governance of the biosphere, on which he gives a talk (nessundorma.global).