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The Next Economy
Why COP Should Be More Like a Global Sport Tournament

It’s time for a new summit where citizens, not special interests, have a say. Imagine if COP29 were more like a sports match or a reality TV show …

When citizens are tuning out or becoming disillusioned with the climate process, democracy is failing. No doubt, the current format is rotten and needs a reboot — where citizens, rather than special interests, get a say.

Companies are stuck in short-termism

Companies are stuck in business as usual, as there are no serious incentives to embrace a climate-friendly market. At COP28, the lobbyists, business tycoons and corporates queued up like it’s their meeting — doing everything in their power to influence the agreement or appear greener than they are. We don’t get better elected leaders than those we vote for; but these days, politicians seem keener to lend an ear to the special interests than to serve us citizens. When governments change every four years — or in the United Kingdom, as parents change diapers — companies don’t get the reassurance they need to bet on long-term investments in climate. Just see how the US policies on climate are zigzagging: If you are the CEO of a US company, there’s less risk in staying verbally supportive of climate action, but cautious with action to calm shareholders.

Politicians change, when we change them

Politicians don’t like change, either. The populist politician’s logic goes: it’s about economy, securing investments and staying competitive in a global world. If people have jobs, if the economy is prospering, there’s a higher chance of reelection. They are more focused on the next election cycle rather than sticking their neck out. We need leaders prioritizing the long term and who dare to challenge a simplistic growth mindset; we need to add more pressure on our leaders.

A direct democratic and accountable process

We can’t wait for companies or politicians to rise to the challenge. Now, it’s up to us. We need citizens to act and vote for change; but people feel left out and view the climate summit as an elitist exercise with no real results. We need a new, engaging and democratic format. Let’s ban the lobbyists, the business titans, the corporations and the special interests from the summit; we need a COP that puts citizens of the world first.

Imagine a summit that’s not endless days of negotiations but that’s audience friendly, democracy friendly. For one day, we gather all heads of state in a stadium, where they’re surrounded by eagerly watching citizens from every nation, and the summit is streamed live to the whole world. There are 6 negotiation rounds on important topics — such as, for example, phasing out fossil fuels. In the beginning, the ambition level is set as recommended by scientists, who say ‘phase out all (but essential) fossil fuels by 2030.’ Now, each head of state can decide to put forward their case in no more than 5 minutes for lowering or rising the ambition. That’s accountability for you. We can hear and see what our elected leaders are saying and doing on the biggest existential threat facing mankind; and in the next election cycle, we can say yes or no to them.

Welcome to the 'Climate Change World Cup'

We could even add more reality-TV-style direct democracy, so you’ll get people sitting at the edge of their stadium seats or couches at home. In each negotiation round, citizens from all around the world can vote from their phones to remove one country’s head of state from that round. He or she will have to leave the stadium immediately, only returning for the next round. Or why not add a time booster? In each round, citizens can vote to double one head of state’s time to put forward arguments in the negotiation. If one round goes into overtime, let’s go to a penalty debate format: Each head of state who wants to lower or raise a target can stand up and defend his or her motion. Citizens can then vote to let the head of state stay or leave the round, until no heads of state want to put forward a motion. Each round ends with a celebratory signing ceremony, where it’s clear which politicians sign or don’t sign.

Before you dismiss the idea of a Climate Change World Cup as laughable, undemocratic or nonsense, then please consider what we’re witnessing today: lack of substantive action, lack of engagement, lack of democracy. If you have better suggestions, fire away.

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