THE BLOG
05/18/2007 04:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Countries Without Borders: How the War Against Climate Change Will be Won

The world has changed on us. It is no longer our national governments that are in control of the affairs of the world. They are not in a position to solve the problems we face. Our big problems today are global - global warming and the reduction of CO2, terrorism, the gap between rich and poor, severe weather, and so on.

Global warming is such a challenge, not only because we have a world governance structure that makes it very difficult to act decisively, but also because it is inherently difficult for the people who caused this problem to solve it. We would have to suddenly develop a completely new way of living and looking at the world - one that requires us to sacrifice today so that future generations will be spared the consequences of our shortsightedness. We might actually get there, but it will surely take many decades, under the best of scenarios, before a completely foreign way of behaving takes hold.

Reducing the CO2 in the atmosphere to acceptable levels means that we have to get cooperation between developing and developed nations to a level the world has never seen. Sure this may happen, but unless this relationship evolves pretty much overnight, it will be too late. As China and India develop their economies they will continue to strive for the living standards we already enjoy in the developed world.

Barring a phenomenal scientific breakthrough and its commercialization on a wide scale at an impossibly fast pace, China's and India's consumption of fossil fuels, particularly coal, will drive the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere to levels that threaten catastrophic degrees of climate change - even if developed nations cut their reliance on fossil fuels dramatically. As it stands today, renewable energy is only a tiny fraction of the total world energy supply. The gap between where we are and where we need to be is dauntingly large, particularly given the squabbling over the relatively modest measures proposed by Kyoto, both between and within the countries involved. Change seems suicidally slow.

Well, we could just give up and party while the ship sinks. Or we could recognize that the way to attack this and perhaps other world problems is to think of countries differently.

One way to think of countries is to revisit the way they have been traditionally defined. That is, by their geography. I am Canadian not because of my color, heritage, religion, political views, tastes in food, clothes, or cars, but because I am identified with a group defined only by the borders that mark the edges of a piece of land. You might be Indian, share the same political views, drive the same car, wear the same clothes, and like the same food as I do, but that does not change the fact that you are linked to another geographical entity. In short, we may have a lot in common even when our countries do not. We may care about global warming in the same way and want to solve it using the same means, but our countries might not.

In fact, the odds are they do not. The odds are they will fight for things that we may not care about. And as they scramble to protect their narrow interests, we might all sink. It's a classic game theory problem, where we would all be better off if we cooperated, but are not set up to do so. Each of us would have to give up something our geographically based leaders hold dearly, so that people in three generations' time will benefit. All of that when our elected geographical leaders have a term of five years! The incentives are all wrong.

What this means is not that the problems are impossible to solve. It means is that we need to look beyond our national borders to solve them.

I'm not suggesting that we have to abandon the idea of a country, just that we have to redefine it, so that people can come together differently, and act cooperatively beyond their frontiers. In fact, what we need is a country without borders.

That is to say, we need these borderless countries to take the reins, because they already exist. We call them companies, organizations, associations. They straddle borders, they control fortunes, they employ millions, and they are not bound by the narrow interests and incentives that characterize nation states. They wield enormous power and control staggering budgets. When they make decisions, they change the world.

They use trucks and planes and ships-that's carbon dioxide. They use paper and packaging-that's millions of trees. They use electricity-that's vast amounts of water and fuel. Whenever they choose to move this way or that way, there are consequences for the planet. And there is no reason why the consequences shouldn't be good.

The scale is simply enormous. The Young Presidents Organization is an international group of about 10,500 companies led by men and women under 55. Together they employ 4 million people and have combined revenues of over $3 trillion US. To give a sense of what kind of power that gives the YPO to affect climate change, let's keep in mind that their revenues are approximately equal to India's and China's put together. And that's just one organization.

Wal-Mart has 1.8 million employees - it is a country without borders. Exxon has 83,000. IBM has 366,000. They are countries without borders - rich countries. Imagine the power they have to reduce carbon emissions. Also, it's not hard to believe that they could move faster and more effectively than the countries we know. Just the commitment of the CEO will create change.

There is a country without borders that is forming and it is one that could have a profound effect on the battle against global warming. I am thinking of the mayors of our large cities worldwide.

Among the mayors of the world's large cities is a majority that believes they need to do something about climate change, in many cases far beyond what their countries' governments are doing. They have more in common with each other on this issue than they do with their governments.

Take the c40 meeting in New York. It is a collection of the top 40 world cities that unanimously feel they need to do more than their governments on climate change. They are a country without borders, a very rich country. A country with over 180 million people and a gross national product that makes it one of the most powerful countries in the world. In other words, trillions of dollars.

Imagine this country reducing its carbon footprint by 10%. This could be as much as the equivalent of taking 35 million cars off the road. This is a country that is not burdened with trade protectionist rules that make collaborating difficult. On some issues around global warming, the mayors of these cities have more in common with each other than they do with their national governments. The Mayor of Dhaka may see eye to eye with the Mayor of Toronto and be at loggerheads with his own head of state.

I see hope for the fast and massive kind of action that we may need to combat global warming, in these countries without borders. They will get together. They will take decisive action. And collectively they will make great strides towards solving our climate challenge. Best of all, they will get there long before their governments do.