London: As the world grapples with potentially catastrophic global problems, including climate change, it needs to find solutions by overcoming short-term thinking, risk analysts say.
To drive that, a Swedish risk specialist and philanthropist is offering a $5 million prize for the best idea to create a new international decision-making system capable of tackling the world’s intractable issues, from extreme poverty to the spread of nuclear weapons and growing environmental damage.
“Today’s risks are so dangerous and so global in their nature that they’ve outrun the international system’s ability to deal with them,” said László Szombatfalvy, who fled from Hungary to Sweden in 1956 as a refugee, and later made a fortune in the stock market.
“We’re trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s tools,” said the 89-year-old, who launched the Global Challenges Foundation in 2012. “We believe a new shape of collaboration is needed to address the most critical challenges in our globalised world.”
The New Shape Prize – which will be awarded next November, after entries close in May – aims to spur fresh thinking about innovative means to solve problems that cross borders and are hard to tackle when most political terms of office are short and many businesses and markets remain focused on near-term gains.
“The public and even the private sector are underestimating the risks because we are too short-sighted in our decision-making,” said Mats Andersson, a former CEO of Sweden’s largest pension fund and now head of Szombatfalvy’s foundation.
He points to continued government spending on fossil fuel subsidies, for instance, while many leaders resist efforts to put in place a carbon price and trading system that would drive richer countries to pay for their climate-changing emissions while giving poorer ones funds to develop cleanly.
Such a shift could help drive action against global warming. Instead, “we’re sending the bill to our kids and grandkids, and I think that’s deeply immoral”, said Andersson, who has worked on de-carbonising pension funds.
A UN-brokered deal to tackle climate change, agreed by more than 190 countries in Paris last year, aims to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C, by getting countries to deliver voluntary emissions reductions and financial contributions that could be ratcheted up over time.
But their pledges for the accord still leave the world on a path to at least 2.9ºC of warming above pre-industrial times – enough to swamp many low-lying island states, kill most coral reefs, drive food shortages and far more extreme weather, and potentially trigger melting of the biggest ice sheets, scientists say.
When it comes to solving global problems, “we have the United Nations, but the United Nations was founded in 1946, with the challenges we had at that time. We’re now some years down the road. We need to remodel and find new ways,” Andersson said.
The prize, he said, is not aimed at finding whole solutions to global threats such as climate change, wars and poverty, but rather “a model or mechanism that could provide the solutions”.
“We don’t have any preconceived views,” Andersson said. “We need to look in every corner, turn every stone.”
Too late for climate change?
Rob Bailey, who directs energy, environment and resources research at London-based think tank Chatham House, said it is likely too late to craft an innovative new framework to limit climate change.
“Even if the politics for grand plans was possible, which we know is not the case at the moment, there isn’t enough time for grand plans anyway,” he said. Within two years, existing power plants will lock the world into more than two degrees of global warming if used over their full lifetime, he added.
But fresh approaches could help police and make more effective the Paris climate agreement’s voluntary goals, and verify what is being done by businesses, cities and other major players to curb climate-changing emissions, he said.
They could also offer new ways of dealing with the global problems climate change is set to worsen, from food shortages to migration, he said.
“What kind of global and international institutions will we need to have for a stable and resilient international order?” Bailey asked. “It raises questions for our food system, our humanitarian system, for international laws on refugees and asylum, (and) for social protection mechanisms.”
“These are the things we can be thinking about grand designs for, before things get really hairy from 2030 onward,” he said.
Entries for the New Shape Prize close on May 24, 2017, and the winning idea will be chosen by a panel of academic experts and a high-level international jury.
The Global Challenges Foundation will then back efforts to put that idea into practice, Andersson said.