How can we win the long game against climate change and denial?
This blog post by Director John-O Niles was originally featured as this month’s Inside the Institute post at the GHG Management Institute.
This summer, the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute celebrates its tenth birthday. Anniversaries are a time to reflect on the past and the years ahead.
Given the ups and downs for international climate action over the last two decades, I can’t help but recognize that GHGMI has wisely played “the long game”. By “long game”, I mean rather than being distracted and following short-term policy fads or funding streams, taking a patient and deliberate strategy of steering with the underlying currents that make the difference over time.
Rabbits win sprints, but turtles win marathons.
If there ever was a marathon challenge for humanity, then addressing climate change is surely it. To keep the world from overheating, international, national and local communities, companies, and other organizations have to collectively build unprecedented solutions that span generations.
Today, it seems like the world is speeding up. Policy is announced in 140 characters. Social media pages turn faster than ever. Climate policy fads burn hot for a few years and then fade into the next. Funders want to see impacts now. It would be easy in this context to chase short-term successes.
But, in terms of preparing the professional and ethical greenhouse gas managers and mitigators, the long game is the way to foster real, sustainable impacts.
Our organization takes pride in the fact that GHGMI has trained more than 3,000 professionals from 166 countries in greenhouse gas accounting and management. Our team always takes the time to build the best on-line, in-person, and hybrid training programs. We only develop comprehensive educational experiences that are based on strong pedagogy, clear learning objectives, and calculated investment in strong faculty and active learning.
The strength of these programs is probably why we’ve had the privilege to design and host training for the UNFCCC GHG inventory expert review training. Similarly, our popular IPCC 2006 Guidelines courses took years to develop because we focused on quality not speed. In our introductory IPCC guidelines course alone, we have now deployed over 10,000 hours in training, far more than any else in the world.
Another example of this patience is The Carbon Institute, a new initiative playing an even longer game. This initiative of GHGMI’s works with government and academic partners in key emitting countries—such as the USA, China, and Indonesia—as well as developing countries in Africa. We are embedding terrestrial carbon accounting training programs within academic institutions in these countries. We invest two years in relationship building, course design and active government partnering before enrolling students in post-graduate programs. We make sure that the curriculum and programs are carefully built and of the highest quality, specifically tailored to explicit government needs, and emphasize using real data to solve real carbon accounting challenges in each country. This approach is reflected in a recently released report where carbon accounting legends like Dr. Ralph Keeling, Manuel Pulgar, and others challenged The Carbon Institute to make sure our certificates make the biggest difference over the longest period of time.
Though we all feel the urgency to bring the Paris Agreement to life, this work is a marathon and not a sprint. The Paris Agreement, on its own, is not going to solve climate change. But, the Agreement does establish a long-term and permanent framework for countries to address climate change. In an interview with Nature magazine during the 2015 Conference of the Parties, I liken the Paris Agreement to a rock. A rock that will constantly be rolled and moved by governments over time. But we should take some comfort in knowing that the Paris Agreement was built to be durable, and not be shaken by short-term decisions of one or two countries.
Some of the most important provisions of the Paris Agreement address how the global community will deepen and fine-tune its efforts to prevent truly dangerous climate change over the long term. Key elements of this path revolve around countries 1. being able to produce good GHG emission inventories, 2. using those inventories to guide their mitigation efforts, and then 3. conducting a regular stock-take to update national commitments to reduce emissions based on global data and other evidence. Country reporting on how they are meeting their national GHG targets is a key component. Over time, the global set of national GHG inventories will be increasingly necessary to see if the planet is on track in avoiding the worst impacts from the worst climate futures.
Many of the Paris Agreement’s core elements are part of GHGMI’s very DNA. Underneath the urgency of tackling climate change is a necessary long-term approach to making sure every country has trained people who can accurately measure and mitigate climate change. And this is precisely what GHGMI has done for the past 10 years and will continue to do for the next 10 years. A long game we don’t take lightly.