Envisioning a People's COP - an interview with Dr. Miroslav Polzer
“The current system with privatization of gains and socialization of costs of economic activity is leading us into catastrophy. An important first step is the need for new thinking. We need global citizens with the right common good oriented values compass, with the knowledge to understand the long-term and global consequences of individual and local action and with the conceptual frameworks and (digital) tools for meaningful and rewarding engagement,” says Dr. Miroslav Polzer.
Dr. Miroslav Polzer ist the founder and CEO of the International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges and team leader of communications and events for the Climate Chain Coalition.
We speak about digital innovation to advance citizen centric technology enabled approaches to global goals, a People's COP in place of this years UNFCCC COP26 and the Open Climate Collabathon - a new form of event based on a principle of Radical Collaboration and crowd-development that connects worldwide universities, startups, civic tech groups and youth to contribute to the advancement of Open Source technology for a collectively owned global climate accounting system.
This interview is part of an ongoing "Collabathon Interview Series" and was first published at "proofing future, bridging people + ideas" in September 2020.
Sebastian Klemm: How do our children survive the 21st century?
Miroslav Polzer: I am convinced that climate change is the defining issue of our time. It will change everything. We see already now many elements of our global natural environment – e.g. coral reefs, the cryosphere – being under extreme stress. This stress is going to increase and our societal and economic structures will need to be radically – i.e. very deeply – changed in order to avoid the worst consequences of this trend.
Therefore, I expect that our children will live through recurring phases of emergencies like extreme weather events, drought, food security stress and if our governance structures don’t adapt and improve early enough, the crises could also result in collapsing of economic and societal structures, violence and significantly reduced life expectancy.
For my children I see two streams of meaningful action:
(1) Adjusting our moral compass: Reflecting what good life means for us. What are our values? How can we align our actions to our values? What are our obligations towards society and towards future generations? Do we need to redefine private property and sharing of resources in times of climate emergency?
(2) Engaging in society on local, national and international level. Being drivers of public sector innovation and advocates and leaders of ambitious and effective climate action on all levels of society.
Sebastian Klemm: Backcasting: We are now in the year 2040 where we nurture intragenerationally just societies while respecting the planetary boundaries with our climate-neutral lifestyles.
What happened: Which mindshifts and actions brought us here in your point of view?
Miroslav Polzer: I am convinced that the organization that I have founded with partners from all over the world – the GloCha Global Challenges Multistakeholder Partnership – has many elements needed for the systemic transformation of our lifestyles and societal organization.
On August 12, 2020 – the International Youth Day 2020 – we have organized a webinar in which I have envisioned a future #GoodLife day powered by GloCha.
These were the points that I have imagined, but more with a 2025 time horizon and not 2040, as we need deep transformation now:
> Starting the day with music, e.g. songs from GloCha Global Challenges Youth Music Contest winners, suggestions for low carbon lifestyle actions, information about nearby climate friendly products and services offers, youth climate action stories, e.g. from GloCha Good Life multimedia entertainment platform.
> Checking my individual climate action dashboard for my scores and especially regarding feedback and crowd-evaluations to my recent climate action report and open badge claim, e.g. contributing an intellectual resource, idea, music or community work).
> Getting certified climate action badges registered in (blockchain based) GloCha global registry and added to my dashboard.
> Sharing certified and registered climate action badges (showcased also on UNFCCC NAZCA climate action data platform) on my social media channels.
> Checking my local communities’ climate action performance on the Climate City Cup / Global Challenges World Cup.
> Buying some more crypto stamps, either general GloCha crypto stamps or – if available – crypto stamps from well performing local or thematic communities.
> Entrepreneur I: Offering my individual badges to my thematic and/or local communities (for free or in exchange for remuneration) #DigitalClimatePact
> Entrepreneur II: Tokenizing my registered climate action open badge as a digital collectible and offering on a digital collectibles market place.
> Checking the performance of my financial assets’ performance regarding environmental, social and governance parameters (ESG).
> As it does not perform well in terms of environment/climate, I decide to re-allocate my portfolio to digital green bonds as it reduces also automatically my tax burden.
> Analyzing climate action reports, open badges and crypto stamps from around the world with a focus on those, who have a high impact, with little material or financial input (identifying game changing intellectual resources and new ideas with the help of artificial intelligence) and learning.
> Applying my knowledge and local environment expertise for engagement in my local digital community, evaluating and verifying badges, exploring the option of joining the GloCha European Cooperative Society as a member in order to be able to issue digital green bonds.
> In the evening: Watching youth climate action videos and reports from City Climate Cup on GloCha GoodLife TV. Reflecting on my carbon footprint and climate resilience of my communities with a view to the question “What means a good life in times of climate emergency?”.
> Imagining an encounter with my future grand children and deciding to do more tomorrow, buying some more crypto stamps, to invest in my peace of mind and to strengthen global youth and my local community: Who, if not me? When, if not now?
Sebastian Klemm: Which opportunities should we definitely seize today and in this generation to arrive at a fair participation in an indivisible world?
Miroslav Polzer: We need to correct the market economy system by making negative externalities illegal or by taxing them – e.g. a carbon tax – and incentivizing public good generation.
The current system with privatization of gains and socialization of costs of economic activity is leading us into catastrophy. An important first step is the need for new thinking. We need global citizens with the right common good oriented values compass, with the knowledge to understand the long-term and global consequences of individual and local action and with the conceptual frameworks and (digital) tools for meaningful and rewarding engagement.
Our present-day thinking and societal structures are based on an understanding of the nation state holding the monopoly in public goods delivery and for this function the state receives financial resources in the form of taxes from the citizens.
In the 21st century, digital innovation offers new forms of multistakeholder cooperation in the delivery of local and global public goods. With the aforementioned partnership GloCha we aim to be the leading enabler of multistakholder action for the common good, which in the future will also be connected (perhaps even in a quite central interoperability support function) with local, national and international tax regimes.
In concrete terms: As I have done some research for our “Good Life” conference and app development, I have found an article by Charles Sampford suggesting a “Carbon Added Tax”.
With our partners from the Climate Chain Coalition in cooperation with ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability we are going to partner with cities that are ambitious and innovative in their climate action and work with them towards introducing a voluntary carbon added tax for citizens and other stakeholder on a city level. A first step in this direction will be an IAAI, GloCha, Climate Chain Coalition and Open Collabathon joint side event to the Daring Cities Conference on October 22, 2020.
Another high potential area that we aim to lead in are municipal digital bonds – an instrument that we are developing together with Climate Chain Coalition member Evercity.io.
I am confident that we have the right combination of digital innovation (fintech) and social innovation (GloCha) to set up a large scale digital green blended finance ecosystem – especially in Central and South-East Europe – that will be able to mobilize financial resources for climate action and COVID recovery from citizens, local communities, institutional investors, European Green Deal and Just Transition Fund programmes in combination with national tax incentives.
Sebastian Klemm: Why do you engage for the Open Climate Collabathon? What is the role of your International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges IAAI in the related Collabathon ecosystem?
Miroslav Polzer: The vision and mission of IAAI and GloCha is to get everyone engaged in climate action in a meaningful and rewarding manner. Our intervention logic is built on three pillars: culture, technology and organization. We see in the Open Climate Collabathon a very well elaborated, coherent and public good oriented digital cooperation framework for multistakeholder climate action tracking and accounting with which we can cooperate in a holistic and complementary manner.
We have proposed to become a Node for youth and citizens climate action tracking and accounting as we are planning a workshop on digital innovation for youth climate action in November 2020. The confirmation of our Node status is still pending.
photo © GloCha
Sebastian Klemm: The most important Open Climate Collabathon event of the year occurs in November when the UNFCCC normally hosts the Conference of the Parties. With COP26 postponed, you will co-create a bottom-up event called #PeoplesCOP: In a recent webinar about envisioning this #PeoplesCOP you state: “We have now June 2020. The global community is facing an escalating climate crisis. Yet, somehow we don’t succeed with the existing structures with the UNFCCC process to really bring emissions down and really halt global warming. New thinking is needed! The global community has delegated most of this coordination to the UNFCCC process and the conference of the parties, these big climate change conferences which are once every year. This year the COP has been postboned for one year because of the corona virus crisis. This is now an opportunity to rethink and broaden our thinking, to think out of the box and see how we can bring also non-state actors more into the equation.”
Who are these non-state actors and how will you mobilise them for the #PeoplesCOP in November?
Miroslav Polzer: The #PeoplesCOP idea went through several variations over the last few months. The starting point has been the founding of the Digital Innovation Community within the UNFCCC process at the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid in December 2019. There we have presented the idea of a COP26 Digital Innovation Pavilion, which would have also the function to enhance public participation in the UNFCCC process with digital technology.
When the decision was taken to postpone COP26 for one year, I started thinking of using the social energy of the non-COP situation in November 2020 to start thinking of a new social contract of citizens and institutions who are willing and ready to take action and who want to collaborate with one another and help one another. And such community could meet in November 2020 in some kind of #PeoplesCOP framework in my home city – Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, building on the legacy of past GloCha international youth events (like e.g. the Klagenfurt Leadership Declaration on Global Challenges, Youth and ICT, presented at the 2nd GloCha conference in June 2014).
This idea I have discussed with Martin Wainstein, founder and lead researcher at the Yale University’s Open Innovation Lab, Climate Chain Coalition member and founding member of the UNFCCC digital innovation community. We agreed to organize a webinar on June 8, 2020 to discuss how we can create together a joint conceptual umbrella for the Open Climate Collabathon November 2020 edition, our Digital innovation for youth climate action workshop and other non-state actors’ events and initiatives.
One argument for the envisioning of a #PeoplesCOP webinar on June 8 has been the fact that the UNFCCC and the COP26 presidency have launched on June 5 the Race to Zero, a climate ambition mobilization campaign which targets primarily corporations, investors and cities, but lacks entry points for citizens and youth. A gap that we declared as the area in which we aim to deliver specific engagement opportunities and tools.
On June 26, the 75th anniversary of the signing of the UN charter, we have had another webinar in which we offered to create some kind of #PeoplesCOP secretariat that would manage a virtual green zone and other public participation formats, inspired by the open and participatry governance structure of the Internet Governance Forum. But our consultations with COP26 presidency and UN Climate Change secretariat didn’t lead to an uptake and resourcing of the initiative, therefore we don’t know yet, how the #PeoplesCOP will look like, but we know that it is of high potential as non-state actors & non-party stakeholders in the UN context are all individuals, businesses, civil society, cities, even sub-national governments.
It is clear that this “People Power” is powerful. We are planning to mobilize these masses with culture, ethics and education, through the “What is a good life in times of climate emergency?” conference, including faith based organizations & our music initiatives, a cooperation with the CLIMATEECOS Climate Education, Communication & Outreach Stakeholders Community – which I have co-founded and in which I am a member of the steering committee – digital tools like the digital climate pact platform & app with an individual climate action dashboard, climate finance, gamification and Climate City Cup.
Sebastian Klemm: What will the programme of this #PeoplesCOP in November look like and offer? Where can people find out more about it?
Miroslav Polzer: It is work in progress, please visit the GloCha homepage www.glocha.org and use the hashtag #PeoplesCOP for updates.
Sebastian Klemm: At the previous COP25 in 2019 you presented the Digital Innovation Community as a new informal NGO-grouping and recognized that “Digital innovations hold a great potential for effective Paris Agreement implementation.”
What evidence of positive impacts and benefits for this implementation could you gather in this NGO ecosystem already?
Miroslav Polzer: I think that one of the important paradigm shifts at the UNFCCC COP25 conference has been the broad acceptance of the fact that digital innovation is one of the keys to effective climate action and Paris Agreement implementation.
By setting up the Digital Innovation community as an informal group within the UNFCCC process (note: the formal recognition by the UNFCCC secretariat is still pending) and by organizing daily morning meetings of this community which are open to observer organizations, member states and any other interested stakeholder worldwide (as we enable also virtual participation), we have created a space for networking, information exchange and policy and technology learning that is accelerating the acceptance and uptake of digital innovation by the UNFCCC process which before our initiative didn’t have such an entry point for digital solution providers to engage with the process.
Sebastian Klemm: In his Launch Keynote to the 2020 Open Climate Collabathon, Dr. Martin Wainstein speaks of an “illusion of separation” and addresses Radical Collaboration as the most important technology to evolve an opensource global climate accounting system as a digital public good. As prerequisites for Radical Collaboration he introduces three necessary mindset shifts: 1) We could revise the paradigm of maximized self-interest and evolve an enlightened global self-interest ushered through radical collaboration. 2) We can newly idealize competition to reward collaboration and 3) transform our notion of ownership into stewardship.
How do you see these mindset shifts gain traction in the business world?
Miroslav Polzer: I see in the business world some wonderful innovation leaders with the right mindset, but in general the development in this direction is too slow and not on the necessary scale. A key problem are our societal structures, which are based on the outdated idea that national governments have the power and interest to prioritize and pursue the global common good.
The climate crisis shows us that the nation state is not able to deliver global public goods on the necessary scale and businesses in a market economy don’t have the necessary incentives to deliver automatically the right climate crisis mitigation results. So I think we need to re-invent the public sector, we need to create structures of societal organization that incentivize multistakeholder delivery of public good on a local and global level and which give businesses the right framework, signals and incentives to contribute to sustainable development goals.
Businesses are as good as we – as society – ask them to be and as bad as we allow them to be.
Sebastian Klemm: How can we build economics differently to arrive at intragenerational just societies while respecting the planetary boundaries?
Miroslav Polzer: Taxing and forbidding negative externalities and incentivizing public goods is the formula to a functioning economy. The previously mentioned Carbon Added Tax pilots on city level will be our contribution to finding a pathway towardes global carbon pricing quickly and such carbon pricing will certainly have intergenerational equity and planetary boundaries as key parameters integrated.
Sebastian Klemm: In our preceding interview Tiberius Brastaviceanu, who took the role of designing and organising the Collabathon’s digital environment, says: “The Open Climate platform requires an economic paradigm shift. We need to design a system that goes beyond capitalism and socialism, one in which the organisation of production is not only optimized to maximize profits, but sustainable wellbeing. Perhaps that is a system in which the notion of profit doesn’t even make sense anymore.”
What is your perspective? How can we think, apply and measure profit differently to foster sustainable wellbeing for people and planet globally?
Miroslav Polzer: In terms of thinking profit differently: the main question is “what are we as individual and society aiming for?”. Here I think that our initiative for a conference “What is a good life in times of climate emergency?” will lead to a new public goods framework as the ultimate goal of economic activity and basis for natural resources management, a set of material and immaterial resources that the individual as well as society at large need for a “good life” and I am very much convinced that blockchain technology and the new types of digital assets creation that it enables will be the key to a more sustainable and equitable economic system.
Sebastian Klemm: Essential economic processes and social relations in the still predominant capitalism are oriented towards the application and utilization of capital with the aim of the continuous increase of capital. This growth principle is linked to environmental consumption. A decoupling between economic growth and environmental consumption can only be achieved by reduced growth or zero growth of national income. Digitisation has the potential to reduce economic growth through reduced value creation and create economic stagnation: Information technologies increase applicable knowledge and, through ubiquitous availability, enable the production of goods and services at marginal costs that tend towards zero. The fact that the necessary information is available in such quantities disrupts the classical principle of a market in which prices are set on the basis of the scarcity of goods.
What are examples, where you see digitisation and digital innovation have already redefined value growth and impact, and helped halting the increase of environmental consumption?
Miroslav Polzer: A key problem of our present economic system is that the value of natural capital – e.g. our forests, biodiversity, clean air – are not captured. Therefore it happens that rainforests which grew and diversified through hundreds or thousands of years get cut just to serve as monocultural farmland for cheap agricultural products for the global market. Such a native forest can never be brought again, it is a treasure wasted and future generations will look at us in anger and frustration asking why did we allow this to happen.
I hope that digital innovation in combination with mindshifts, value shifts and social & governance innovation will correct our actions on the necessary scale.
Sebastian Klemm: Can you elaborate on the existing expertise and roles of the ecosystem comprised of Climate Chain Coalition, GloCha Foundation, IAAI and the Open Climate Collabathon?
Miroslav Polzer: The Climate Chain Coalition is a global network of experts in the field of harnessing blockchain technology for climate action. It has been initiated by the UN Climate Change secretariat and has therefore a unique position as a global governance innovation and multistakeholder partnership, bringing together solution providers, technology users and policy makers.
In terms of collaboration with non-state actors the UN system very quickly reaches its boundaries. But there is a need for multistakeholder and multilevel governance collaboration towards provision of global public goods. It is my vision to fill this global governance and global public good delivery coordination gap with GloCha.
GloCha is not that much a new institution, but more an enabling ecoystem, which creates entry points for all relevant stakeholders to contribute to global public good delivery – also known as Sustainable Development Goals – in a meaningful and rewarding manner.
The Open Climate Collabathon is a great source of inspiration and a social and tech innovation partner in our joint goal to set up on a global level the necessary technological, intellectual and institutional infrastructure for multistakeholder climate action coordination and incentivization.
The exact relations between the three partners have not been formalized yet. There are constantly new developments, new challenges, new solution providers and opportunities emerging. We are all in a flow, appreciating one another’s vision, our complementary knowledge and implementation power. But it is also not wrong to see some kind of competition dimension in our relation. We are receiving in varying extent formal recognition by the UN bodies that hold the global mandate for climate action and global public good delivery, we get sometimes more, sometimes less attention from global public, we balance human resource development aspirations with existing budgets and in general we are all trying to find financial resources to implement our solutions on a large scale.
I feel sometimes like an architect or engineer who has developed a sophisticated plan for a wonderful machine and is looking for a socket – meaning: substantial funding – to plug in the power cord to get the machine running and off the ground. But to get the GloCha machine running I need to cooperate with partners and we are happy and grateful to have the Climate Chain Coalition and the Open Climate Collabathon as partners. Together we are stronger!
Sebastian Klemm: How is new thinking and digital innovation for non-state actors engagement in global climate action enabled and fostered throughout your ecosystem already today?
Miroslav Polzer: IAAI GloCha has benefitted a lot through its engagement in the Climate Chain Coalition as team leader for events and communication and as EU team leader. Together we have been attractive enough to be received by digital innovation program leaders at the European Commission and by industry leaders.
As a UNFCCC and UN ECOSOC accredited civil society organization IAAI has provided in exchange to partners access to the UNFCCC process and to UN HQ NY.
With Yale University’s Open Innovation Lab we have had inspiring joint events in the context of the Climate Week New York 2019, we get access to academic networks and students in the field of data science and programming. So I regard our cooperation as a mutually beneficial synergetic.
IAAI & UNEP Panel presentation to ACUNS Vienna UN Conference 2014: Click for complete presentation. Source: www.glocha.info
Sebastian Klemm: Through GloCha Foundation and IAAI you promote the “local provision of Global Public Goods” .What is this conceptual framework all about? How can it be applied?
Miroslav Polzer: The conceptual framework of multistakeholder local provision of public goods is a key pillar of GloCha and we have developed and discussed it with colleagues within the academic community, especially with UN practicioners and ACUNS, the Academic Council on the United Nations System.
The basic idea is that there is a need for introducing a citizen focused global public goods delivery channel, a market for glocal public goods, the respective information and communication technology infrastructure and a global action network (GloCha) into the existing nation state centric public goods delivery system.
Sebastian Klemm: How does this “local provision of global public goods” connect with the Open Climate Collabathon?
Miroslav Polzer: We will have to explore.
Sebastian Klemm: The Collabathon aims to crowd-develop an Open Climate platform, stating: “The challenge of climate change and its irreversible erosion of planetary resilience is perhaps the ultimate opportunity to mobilize our mental structures. As such, a global climate accounting system needs to have a strong foundation on open data and open source software. A shared platform and its constituent parts need to represent an ecosystem of digital public goods for the global commons.”
Why is it important to design the governance mechanism for this Open Climate Accounting System as a digital public good?
Miroslav Polzer: Because such infrastructure needs to have a DNA that is programmed towards public good optimization. Corporations have an individual profit maximization DNA which does not lead to optimal resource allocation for global community and future generations.
Sebastian Klemm: The Open Climate Collabathon claims that there is a Global Accounting Gap which we need to bridge with an Open Climate Accounting System: “Global climate accounting – the process of recording climate actors and their actions in respect to the shared account of the planet’s climate state, occurs in diverse set of registry platforms that are individually centralized and collectively dispersed and unlinked.”
With all the existing accounting systems in place (i.e. UN PRI, CDP Scores, GHG Standards): Why do you think it is important to link all existing protocols and enable an interoperable open climate accounting ecosystem?
Miroslav Polzer: When we want to have everyone engaged in climate action, we need information systems that capture, evaluate, certify, register and incentivize all actions of all stakehodlers that are relevant for the climate. Existing reporting systems are often cumbersome, slow and expensive and for many stakeholders – like youth and citizens in general – not existing at all. So I do expect the future global climate action accounting system to be radically new, but open to integrate existing systems.
The Open Climate Collabathon is providing great building blocks and new thinking for such an information system.
Sebastian Klemm: Amidst these challenging times of COVID-19, subsequent economic recession, depression and the structural issues of delivering economics differently & bailout the planet: What opportunities do you see for students, startups, social entrepreneurs and companies to engage in co-creative climate action with regards to the future of work?
Miroslav Polzer: I see enormous opportunities. For the multi-trillion dollar transition to a low carbon economy and society there are needed young people, social entrepreneurs, educators and other pioneers who connect local problems and local communities with global intellectual, technical and financial resources and to the social energy of the global climate action social movement. With GloCha we aim to empower this kind of economic activity with our institutional ecosystem, with a GloCha Good Life app on everyones mobile device and with GloCha centers in every city and local community.
Sebastian Klemm: On Earth Overshoot Day, August 22 in 2020, the calculated date on which we as a uniplanetary community as per worldwide average have already depleted Earth’s biocapacity through our resource consumption so far this year, climate activist Luisa Neubauer tweeted correspondingly: “We are so phenomenally good at calculating how much we destroy our livelihoods and so incredibly bad at stopping it. What an absurd, what a tragic day. #EarthOvershootDay”
What can we do to stop violating our planetary boundaries? What are solutions at hand in your point of view?
Miroslav Polzer: The problem is overwhelming. Sometimes I would like to cry. But then I hear a beautiful and inspiring song, and I feel that we can make it somehow. I take a walk through nature. I grant myself some sleep, I pray and next day I continue working on GloCha. There is hope because there is GloCha.