New Hope for a New Generation: Can PINCs Save the Planet?

At just 24 years old, Chris Castro is a successful Cuban-American eco-entrepreneur  from Orlando, Fla.  I met Chris in New York last week at a UN assembly of youth leaders from around the world.  He was there to celebrate the progress of Geebiz, a green business initiative launched at Rio+20 last June.  Chris is one of a growing network of young innovators building green economies in their own communities worldwide.

Geebiz is a startup with a lot of promise, and just one small example of hundreds, if not thousands of PINCs -- Partnerships, Initiatives, Networks, and Coalitions -- that could drive the transformative changes we need to address climate change and the broader challenge of sustainability. 

PINCs are a key element of the  “new architecture” for a “new world” that Hillary Clinton called for in her farewell speech as secretary of state.  Clinton said that we need a new model for thinking about the world which looks a lot less like a “Greek temple” and more like “Frank Gehry”:  “Where once a few strong columns could hold up the weight of the world, today we need a dynamic mix of materials and structures.”

The Greek temple photo: Phil Hollman / The Frank Gehry building: Aitziber Eizaguirre

Secretary Clinton put climate change second on her list of 21st century challenges that  President Obama has said are overwhelming the UN, World Bank, and other post-World War II international bodies.  Clinton declared that “all of our institutions and our relationships need to be modernized and complemented by new institutions, relationships, and partnerships that are tailored for new challenges and modeled to the needs of a variable landscape.”

 She cited the new Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) as an example of a new approach. The U.S. took the lead in creating and funding the CCAC, which is a club of some 30 nations, along with a number of “non-state partners.”  The  coalition is encouraging actions at the national and regional level to reduce emissions of black carbon, methane, and other air pollutants which contribute to the rapid warming of the Earth.

CCAC and Geebiz are just two points on this still-to-be-mapped world.  This new PINC planet was fully evident last June when Hillary led the U.S. delegation to the Rio+20  “Earth Summit” gathering that brought more than 100,000 people to Rio.  As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon declared, “In Rio, we saw the further evolution of an undeniable global movement for change.”  However, most observers missed that.  They were focusing too much on the diplomatic negotiations that are ill-equipped to address new challenges.  Clinton would likely agree that the traditional path we have followed has clearly failed to move us far and fast enough to meet climate change and the broader challenge of sustainability.

At Rio+20, hundreds of PINCs were launched, expanded, and enhanced.  The UN established a registry for what it labels “voluntary commitments.”  The UN initially counted some 700 promises worth more than $500 billion. The UN’s excellent Sustainable Development in Action webpage now lists almost 1,400 commitments with a value of some $637 billion. 

Just before Rio, NRDC created the Cloud of Commitments to provide a window into this new terrain of platforms and promises for actions by all the players. We have seen that agreements come relatively easy, but implementation is the real problem. So we want the Cloud to be a place for advocacy and increased accountability for Rio+20 and other commitments.   

We will be seeking your thoughts as to what were the “cornerstone commitments” at Rio+20 that civil society should be focusing on and making sure are fulfilled. These would be the big promises made at Rio which are potential game changers -- setting precedents and providing new impetuses for the transformative changes we need.   There are a number of new commitments and initiatives to watch. Major multilateral development banks promised to work together with a range of stakeholders to invest $175 billion on sustainable transportation in urban areas some of which are literally choking in traffic. Forty of the largest manufacturers and retailers in the world agreed to make their supply chains deforestation neutral by 2020.  The Sustainable Energy for All Initiative garnered billions of dollars in new funding for energy access and renewables.  The Prime Minister of Australia promised to double the size of that nation’s marine protected areas.

The world is entering a critical period that will set the terms of the global agenda for at least the next decade.  Over the next three years, national governments will try again to reach agreement on a new climate treaty and to negotiate a set of global goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which sunset in 2015. This is the moment when we must convince our leaders of the urgency to move the world away from its current path that simply exceeds the ability of the Earth to absorb our pollution or meet our needs.  This is the time for American leadership.  We can create the new architecture that will embrace and encourage PINCs as the drivers for the major changes we need as quickly as possible.  The new U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, is uniquely positioned by a lifetime of concern and action to take on this challenge and provide real hope for Chris and his generation that we will preserve their planetary home.