The planet is in the midst of an environmental emergency, and the world is only tinkering at the margins. Humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels and voracious appetite for natural resources are accelerating climate change and degrading ecosystems on land and sea, threatening the integrity of the biosphere and thus the survival of our own species. Given these risks, it is shocking that the multilateral system has failed to respond more forcefully. Belatedly, the United States, the EU, the UK, and some other advanced market democracies have adopted more aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets, but their ability to deliver is suspect, while critical emerging economies like China and India have resisted accelerating their own decarbonization. Even more concerning, existing multilateral commitments, including on climate change, fail to address the other half of the planet’s ecological crisis: collapsing biodiversity, which the leaders of the Group of 7 nations rightly call an “equally important existential threat.”
Preserving the natural world on which our well-being depends requires more than lofty rhetoric from national leaders. It demands bold breakthroughs in international environmental cooperation that can bridge the chasm between a global political system divided into nearly 200 independent countries and a unitary biosphere that obeys no sovereign boundaries. It is time to govern the world as if the Earth mattered.
What is needed is a paradigm shift in foreign policy and international relations, which one might term “planetary politics.” The cornerstone of this new worldview is ecological realism: recognition that the integrity of the biosphere is the fundamental precondition for all that humanity hopes to accomplish. This new mindset will require governments to expand traditional definitions of national interest and international security, broaden conventional conceptions of sovereign obligations, and adopt a new approach to measuring national wealth that accounts for and values Earth’s natural capital assets. [Continue reading…]