Globe, the Graduate Institute Review
14 November 2022

2 Degrees of Human Nature: A Search for Climate Leadership

Tim Flannery, Fondation Segré Distinguished Visiting Professor, is an acclaimed scientist, explorer and conservationist. In a recently premiered documentary, 2 Degrees of Human Nature, Professor Flannery investigates the politics of global climate change negotiations in determining our planet's future.  

2 Degrees of Human Nature is a documentary made by Totem Films that investigates political leadership (and the lack of it) in addressing climate change. Its world premiere was on 9 May at the Geneva Graduate Institute and originates from my own quest to understand how climate leadership emerges, and why it is sometimes successful, and at other times fails.

The film is a personal story that, in its search for climate leaders, ranges from the jungles of the Solomon Islands to the pavilions of the Glasgow climate summit. Successful climate leaders are extremely diverse, but they have a few things in common, one being that they did not start out seeking leadership, but rather came to it because of their realisation or awakening to the issue, and the dire need for action.

Climate leadership occurs at all levels, from villages to national parliaments, and on to global forums such as the Conference of the Parties (COP). But leadership is most successful where leaders are in direct contact with their constituents, and least successful in venues such as Australian Federal parliament, where leaders are physically isolated in their own ‘echo chamber’, and where lobbyists have far greater access than voters.

One of the key attributes of successful climate leadership is empowering others. At its best (such as that of Scotland between 2010 and 2020), a diverse constituency for change is built and an ambitious target is set. Setting a target is crucial as it empowers all to play a role in achieving it. Other successful models exist.

At the village level in the Solomon Islands, the establishment of the Baru Conservation Alliance (BCA - a legally established, community-controlled entity with its own board, CEO and bank account) has been responsible for the establishment and management of the first protected biodiversity reserves in the mountains of Malaita Island). Before the establishment of the BCA reserves, forest loss through illegal logging and attrition through traditional use had accelerated.

Successful climate leadership can even arise among conservative political parties, or ideologically divided societies. Australian politics has for decades been riven by media-dubbed ‘climate wars’, in which the conservative political parties have taken minimal action to address climate change, not to mention that many conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) are outright climate denialists.

Yet Matt Kean, the conservative Treasurer of NSW (Australia’s most populous state) has implemented a climate policy that will cease coal burning for energy use in the state by 2030.  Kean is a highly skilled politician who ensured that his energy legislation passed with support from all major political parties (a feat unique in the State’s recent political history). He represents a new generation of conservative politicians that is in touch with electoral concerns about the environment. In the documentary he describes his motivation.

The Geneva Graduate Institute hosted the documentary's premiere during an event on 9 May 2022, entitled: The Search for Climate Leadership in a Time of Climate Crisis

This article was published in
Globe #30, the Institute Review.