In a series of blog posts curated by the World Economic Forum’s Climate Change Initiatives, a number of leading voices will present their perspectives on climate change. Contributions are linked to the Forum’s Green Growth Action Alliance project and the Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Climate Change. In the following post, James Cameron, Chairman of Climate Change Capital, is sharing his perspective on climate change.
We all know the cliché “knowledge is power”. We can identify with it as individuals and can see our social, economic and political systems resonating with the proposition. Kofi Annan added, “Information is liberating”. That feels right. So how would we best gather, interpret and present data to construct information, derive knowledge and improve decision-making to solve complex public goods problems? If power is the determinant of social outcomes and is always relative, what can we do to change power relationships through better data systems, and in so doing increase the chances of finding real-world solutions to intractable issues like climate change, ecosystem collapse, water access and the vulnerability of the global commons?
We need to build more resilient systems to manage the systemic risk that these issues manifest. It is self-evident that the way power is exercised today, whether in public or private hands, is insufficiently tuned to the value of these public goods. As a direct consequence, the powerless suffer proportionately greater risk and actual loss. Could our data and communication networking combine to become an institutional response to risk and improve resilience?
Development needs data: water security, oceans governance and food security need data, information, knowledge, networks and imagination to shift power in the public interest. Consumers need data to make choices to meet their present wants and needs without needlessly destroying that which they also value.
In theory, government through law transforms generalized will into political will to act for the good of the society governed. Here is where responsibility generally lies for the valuation and indeed management of public goods – like a healthy environment or a safe community – but our current political systems (for the most part) fail to deliver long-term risk reduction and improved resilience. The capacity to cooperate multilaterally appears limited, the intergenerational equity undervalued and our leadership cycles too short and too well rewarded for causing harm that somebody else will pay for – later.
We need to learn from “app” designers, cognitive brain theorists, practical philosophers and business communicators on how to connect data, information and networks to enable our societies to survive and prosper. Too much of our sustainability discourse is dull and remote from the daily living experience of the many. We might need new enterprise structures to direct effort, judge performance and reward problems measurably solved. I call these public goods enterprises PGEs. Perhaps a PGE could incubate, host or manage an open source platform for data designed to enhance decision-making capacity in relation to food security? A platform where data and decision-making are in a dynamic relationship, where visualization is designed for data to be used effectively.
The Global Agenda Council is an ideal marketplace for ideas, a bazaar where we can listen, learn, persuade and trade for real reward.
Author: James Cameron is the Chairman of Climate Change Capital. He is also serving as Vice-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Measuring Sustainability and the Advisory Board of the Global Competitiveness Index
Image: Screens containing data are seen at the Reuters offices in London REUTERS/Handout