Using 6-D vision to fix a broken world

Image: The Guardian Newspaper

By Satya Brata Das

The Glasgow Climate Pact is a significant advance in limiting planetary warming, yet it does not “follow the science” as robustly as it needs to.

At the heart of the disagreements that surfaced during the drafting of the pact is inequity, particularly the feeling that the global North has attained prosperity through unrestricted and unrestrained exploitation of fossil fuels, and now expects the global South to enfeeble its own development by sharply curtailing fossil fuel use.

The daunting task ahead was aptly delivered by COP26 President Alok Sharma, who did his best to put a brave face on the compromise:

We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action. I am grateful to the UNFCCC for working with us to deliver a successful COP26. … It is up to all of us to sustain our lodestar of keeping 1.5 degrees within reach and to continue our efforts to get finance flowing and boost adaptation. After the collective dedication which has delivered the Glasgow Climate Pact, our work here cannot be wasted.

Yet one might readily foresee, with a degree of dismay, that the weak pulse may never gain vigour, as future conferences and future compromises erode the resolve achieved in a short time frame of intensely concentrated diplomacy.

After all, the history of the Conference of Parties is littered with noble intentions and broken promises, waves of earnest and sincere pledges made in international fora that inevitably crash upon the unyielding rocks of domestic politics.

And given the years of futile attempts to craft a robust, well-funded, inclusive, pluralistic, and planetary effort to mitigate and adapt to catastrophic climate change; is there really reason to believe that the Glasgow COP breaks the mold?

For my colleagues at The Digital Economist, the answer is a qualified Yes.

As the Glasgow Climate Pact final communique makes clear, the financial resources promised by the global North to bolster climate resilience in the global South fall significantly short of the mark. Indeed, behind the polite phrasing of diplomatic language, the draft of the Glasgow Climate Pact reflects frustration — if not absolute fury — with the global North’s inability to meet the fierce urgency of now, when it comes to building inclusive climate resilience. The Digital Economist believes that the search for common ground could benefit from a more comprehensive perspective than the Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs) set out in the Paris Agreement and reaffirmed in Glasgow.

Working with my colleagues at our Center of Excellence on Human-centered Digital Economy, we developed a new way to approach our planetary crises. We call it our 6-D vision: Disarmament, Development and Dignity, as a framework leading to Decarbonization, Decentralization, and Digitalization. We look at the potential of this approach in meeting the climate challenge, and argue that a 6-D lens enables a more robust and global understanding of humankind’s mutual challenge in meeting the climate crisis.

The Digital Economist’s 6-D lens offers a means to align the similar, and often overlapping, goals of climate activists, The Paris Agreement, The Glasgow Climate Pact and the business and investment communities as well as the climate pathways under the 2019 Marrakesh Partnership, which were updated in 2021 to further strengthen just transition, gender-responsiveness, resilience and circular economy. This alignment would ideally lead to coordinated implementation of inclusive climate resilience, particularly among the most vulnerable. It also offers the means to bolster the implementation of commitments under the overlapping vectors of these covenants, joining efforts to put the pledges into action.

Our key recommendations:

  • Adopt the 6-D approach to enhance the implementation of the Glasgow Climate Pact
  • Use the mechanisms presented by The Digital Economist — the global carbon levy, the 6-D lens and fiscal measures to swerve from militarism to development — to meet and exceed the adaptation and mitigation funding evoked in the Paris Agreement and reinforced in the Glasgow Climate Pact

What do we mean by 6-D vision?

Disarmament: to shift money from the mechanisms of destruction and violence to building and bolstering civil society, human development and better planetary and human outcomes. To put it in pure economic terms, to shift from destroying capital to creating wealth, thereby ensuring long-term, cost-effective investment. Military hardware and weaponry consume significant capital in their manufacture and deployment. Yet their only application is to destroy other capital investment, and to destroy tangible assets and wealth created by capital investment. Neither the capital that goes into weaponry, nor the capital those weapons destroy earns a return on investment. Quite apart from the death, destruction and widespread human misery enabled and perpetuated by the arms trade and “defense” spending, embracing disarmament, even in a limited form, liberates capital for productive purposes. Like building the physical infrastructure of climate resilience. It is worth noting that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are also the foremost merchants of weapons of war and destruction, and that significant portions of their national economies are firmly rooted in producing sophisticated machines of death and destruction, which they peddle internationally to buy “security” among warring factions and nation states. In fact, nearly all capital sunk in weaponry and the machinery of armed conflict emanates from the global North, and is largely deployed in the global South.

Development: we define it in holistic terms of improving the human condition. Our approach to development begins with tangible progress, measured with milestones and markers of success, on two foundational human rights: freedom from fear and freedom from want. There are rarely societies that pursue both goals successfully. Yet freedom from fear and freedom from want are intertwined, one often a function of the other. Our ultimate destination is a future where people of all origins and genders live together in community, with dignity, free from fear, free from want, in harmony with one another and with the natural world. A utopian pipe dream? Perhaps in the thinking of some. Yet also eminently achievable, as it is an apt encapsulation of the destiny pursued by Agenda 2030, comprising the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Guided by these goals, development in the face of the climate crisis means an optimum standard of physical and societal infrastructure for inclusive climate resilience, as the foundation on which to build mitigation and adaptation. More broadly, a renewed commitment to human development becomes a necessary precondition to the pursuit of climate resilience across the biosphere.

Dignity: to ensure that the inherent worth and value of every human being is affirmed. We can do so by driving convergence toward a human-centered economy, uniting the digital economy with the physical one. Particularly among the poorer sectors of the economy, there is huge benefit to be derived from using digital tools to enhance lives and livelihoods in the physical economy. Vegetable farmers in India, for instance, use their mobile phones to determine which wholesale market offers them the best return. The ubiquity of mobile telephony in India enables millions of decisions made every day in the physical economy using digital technology. It is important to ensure the fruits of the economy are used to create a sustainable and resilient standard of living across the planet, and that the converged economy advances societal development that is inclusive and leaves none behind. In essence, climate action should be positioned as a means of addressing inequities, to ensure citizens have meaningful participation in the society that governs them and the decisions made that will affect their lives in coping with climate change.

The 6-D vision is premised on two distinct but parallel layers– connected with each other in terms of their end goals. We view the actions taken to realize disarmament, ensure development, and protect dignity are integrated in the goals of attaining decarbonization, digitalization, and decentralization.

Illustration by Sangita Gazi, Fellow, The Digital Economist

These three dimensions then lay the foundations for practical applications essential to building planetary climate resilience.

Decarbonization: using the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to achieve net zero emissions, accelerate the transition from fossil fuels and robust investment in technologies to remove, reuse, repurpose and recycle atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Digitalization: to pursue the full potential of digitalization toward improved planetary and human outcomes, particularly in applying the efficiencies of and new horizons opened up by digital technologies to the robust physical infrastructure needed for climate resilience. Serving 8 billion people on the globe will necessitate the use of digital technologies. This is the vehicle for achieving fair and balanced engagement.

Decentralization: to ensure optimum application of human ingenuity and technology in achieving climate resilience. The concentration of power in the hands of a few lies at the heart of the current tensions over exploitation of natural resources and disregard of planetary upper boundaries. Beggar-thy-neighbour policies — often politically motivated — continue to reverse the gains made toward global climate mitigation. Centralized tech platforms have benefitted from value appropriation without sharing the gains with their users, who are the creators of that value. The decentralization revolution in tech infrastructure holds the promise of building infrastructure that shares common value while respecting user preferences. This includes blockchain, distributed electricity grids, diversity in green tech and cleantech and access to ample funds and investment to take the most promising ideas to stage 9 (“ready for commercialization’’) on the technology development scale. Taken together, these aspects of decentralization can drive rapid experimentation, innovation and adoption of emergent best practices for at-scale deployment.

The search for common ground is an indispensable component of establishing inclusive climate resilience. The 6-D lens, rooted in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, offers a useful means of bringing focus and clarity. In particular, pursuing Disarmament, Development, and Dignity has implications far beyond the climate crisis. We would be pleased to further explore, in collaboration with partners and stakeholders, the applications and implications of a 6-D vision.

Please connect here to access our full policy brief. And do share! We all have a part to play in navigating our way to better human and planetary outcomes.

satya@thedigitaleconomist.com

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Satya Brata Das

Satya Brata Das

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Grandfather blessed with open heart and open mind. Champion of dignity and inclusion. Journalist, strategy guru, author. Polyglot, global citizen, optimist.