Climate change is an increasingly urgent matter of global politics, a consequence of the huge success of the fossil-fueled global economy. The longstanding discussion of the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock’s ideas of earth as a self-regulating life system, and the dangers that rising greenhouse gas concentrations present to this system, foreshadow contemporary earth system science discussions. The formulation of earth as now in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, has added forcefully to Lovelock’s contentions, and made it clear that globalization now needs to be understood as a driving force operating at such a scale that it is transforming the planet in ways that are very dangerous for the future of humanity. Current attempts to tackle climate change are only the beginning of what needs to be done to shape the Anthropocene in ways that will be benign to humanity’s future.
Our Common Future marks a key historical point when climate change became part of both the development agenda and wider global policy deliberations. It marks a stage on the larger trajectory from the 1972 Stockholm conference on The Human Environment and the contemporaneous Limits to Growth debate through to the 1990s discussions at Rio de Janeiro and subsequently the formulation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity. Unlike subsequent Earth Systems analyses the 1980s discussion of sustainable development focused on the dangers of nuclear war and smaller scale conflict, and its relationships to environmental change. Now while climate is Sustainable Development Goal 13, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change has begun to construct an international regime to tackle it, attention also needs to be paid to Goal 16, institutional innovation to prevent conflict that disrupts development and perpetuates rivalries that prevent the effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.