System-scale innovation does not have to be all-consuming revolution or a shock to the system. The most effective system-scale innovations start from small but significant improvements in policy, technology or practice, then cascade through practical connections to lived experience and everyday decision-making. These cascade effects gain traction by making critical improvements possible at every stage.
Going into the SB50 mid-year UN Climate Change negotiations, there are specific complex open questions that need to be addressed across the landscape of the negotiations, to create the strongest foundation for success at COP25. In any given segment of the negotiating process, the highest-leverage innovations and agreements will operate at system scale.
Whether the focus is the Paris Agreement Rulebook laid out in the Katowice Climate Package , agreed last year, the design details and accounting for internationally transferred mitigation outcomes, or the impact of these on trade — system-scale questions are relevant to the whole landscape of ongoing negotiations, specifically in these areas:
- Macrocritical Resilience
- Climate-Smart Finance
- Multi-level NDC Planning
- Ocean-Smart Everything
- Stakeholder Participation
- Cascade Effects of System-Scale Innovation
Each of these areas of inquiry is tied into the details of climate-related policy and negotiation in fundamental ways. Choices, actions, and outcomes, are shaped by how we answer these deeper questions. Recognizing that, as we sit down together at the SB50, will help us achieve a much wider base of innovation, sooner rather than later.
- How well do we know our macrocritical resilience status?
- How can we make scalable improvements?
How to pull all areas of investment, across the whole economy, into climate-smart standards practices, and innovations?
- What new instruments and collaborative strategies empower actors at all levels to make such moves?
- What structural improvements to cross-sector collaboration can be financed to mainstream climate-smart practices?
Multi-level NDC Planning
How can cities, regions, communities, and stakeholder groups be involved in broadening and deepening NDC planning, moving toward economy-wide national climate action plans (ENCAP)?
What connections from this process help to inform the shift of investments and standards across the whole economy toward Ocean Health and Resilience priorities?
What mechanism is used to integrate local knowledge, stakeholder rights and priorities, and cooperative planning into the process in question?
- ACE: Article 6 of the 1992 Convention requires public participation in the design and implementation of climate policy.
- Note: the Engage4Climate Toolkit can support any kind of multistakeholder engagement process in any area.
Cascade Effects of System-Scale Innovation
What concrete innovation options connect to this negotiation that can activate catalytic new opportunities and benefits across the wider landscape of value exchange?
- Whole-Economy Active-Value Economics (WEAVE) can trace these cascade effects to ensure all sectors benefit from climate-smart interactions.
- See below for soil ecology example.
We should aim to emerge from the SB50 with real insight answering each of the questions above, in as many areas of negotiation, policy and action as possible. We should also consciously intend to bring those insights to multiple distinct levels of policy planning and authority.
The elephant in every room isn’t the widespread dependence on carbon-emitting fuels, or the $5.2 trillion in direct and structural subsidies granted to the industry every year. It is actually a deeper and thornier challenge: the fact that ultimately all finance and all trade must be part of the transition to a zero-emissions economy.
System-scale questions are required to address this challenge, because shifting policies and incentives for systemic impact can motivate a cascade of benefits, adding value to each segment of the value chain, and speeding the arrival of climate-smart economies of scale. For example:
- Enhancing property valuation processes to account for soil carbon richness provides farmers with added borrowing power, transition leverage, and value-building capability.
- This, then, allows banks to lend more freely, helping to build resilience and scale up climate-smart farming.
- Commodities markets can then go to work profiting from the higher value of sustainably farmed goods.
- Additional value-building innovations related to this cascade of effects include affordable crop insurance, reduced chemical runoff and soil erosion, and positive impacts on the upstream-downstream relationship between agriculture and ocean health and resilience.
- Cascade-effect local or national policy coordination can shift the structural supports so that whole economies go to work building climate-smart value.
Infrastructure, building, energy, transport, and trade incentives can have similar system-scale cascades of positive effects. SB50 negotiations should work to highlight areas of policy change that can incentivize system-scale change and an accelerated transition.
Cooperation across borders and between levels of authority—including ongoing guidance from stakeholders, communities, innovators, and Earth science insight integrators—can ensure the maximum capture of external returns on investment (XROI) and sharing in the payoffs of a climate-aligned race to the top.