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 compromised as they are not designed to protect a biosphere. 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. Having these two precondition factors now in place, means we are 80% of the way there.

The last step is to hold a vote and reach a quorum, probably 2bn votes are required. If we are going to enter the current void that is global governance, to create an authority with the power to protect a biosphere then the vote must be clearly the largest in the world thus far. At Vote GPA we argue that anyone over 13 years old or over should be eligible to vote. The numbers are thus : in 2020 we will 6bn people 13 or over, of whom 5bn will be connected to the internet. The largest national election in the world is India’s with approximately 800m votes cast and in equal second place is Indonesia and the USA at 140m votes.

The problem.

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.”
Homer, Dixon.

“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.”
Christie, Wahlberg.

“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.”