These past weeks are all turning into some sort of a nightmare story specifically for those of us who work on climate change.

The World Meteorological Organisation just announced that 2017 is now on record with the highest levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, despite countries committing to cut their emissions.

To put it in perspective, we have not seen this kind of level in the last 3 million years.


To state that “there are no signs of reversal of this trend” is particularly significant given that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 24th Convention of Parties (CoP) that will be held in Katowice, Poland, is just a week away.

This CoP 24 is all about determining and defining how countries can jointly keep each other accountable in how they reduce emissions, and ensure commitments to technology transfer, climate finance, and capacity building are honoured.

With the major reports just released, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5 Special Report, you would think that the urgency of action would be finally understood.

So why are we progressing so slowly?

Adult Development’s 5 stages

 Episode 273 in Coaching for Leaders podcast explores the different stages of adult development and how these play out.

Mindy Danna from Cultivating Leadership spoke about her work in adult development and how her work focuses on helping organisations and individuals to deal with complexity and change.

The 5 stages of adult development have been coined by Robert Kegan, a Harvard Professor in adult learning   and fall into these categories:

  1. Impulsive mind (early childhood): The behaviour and decisions are largely driven by impulses, and with little long-term thinking.
  2. Imperial mind (adolescence): Decisions are made based on what the individual needs and wishes; others’ needs only become relevant if they support what the individual wants.
  3. Socialized mind (46% of the adult population): The person is highly dependent on and makes decisions based on how she/he thinks other people react and what their likely expectations are.
  4. Self-Authoring mind (41% of the adult population): The individual has a set of core values that they have defined for themselves, and use these as the basis in making decisions.
  5. Self-Transforming mind: The person’s identity no longer determined by aspects of themselves, and they have a freedom to focus on the ‘flow’ in life.

While listening to Mindy on my morning run, I was struck by two insights, one personal and one more broader reflection on climate change.

On a personal level, I have been working with some senior colleagues who are much more experienced and I can clearly see that I have fallen into the socialised mind category where I keep expecting them to say whether I’m heading in the right direction or not.

Yet, I am very much in between really the socialised mind and the self-authoring mind (plus the added imposter syndrome!), where the expectation is that I know already what I intend to accomplish and should just do it.

Mindy explains beautifully how many emerging leaders in particular are often in between these two stages and find it hard to know how to manage that in-between experience.

I can certainly confess to this as I keep waiting for them to provide me with answers and feedback whereas they seem to trust that I can make those decisions I need to.


Climate Regime and Adult Development

In the broad climate change sense, the adult development categories could be useful in reflecting how the different parties (countries) act at the negotiations.

I am sure no one wants to call out which countries are in the category 1 of impulsive minds but this is particularly focused on short-sightedness and whatever in the moment seems to make sense.

Countries that are in the Imperial mindset are those that drive their own agendas and goals through the Convention, with little will to see the big picture and only focus on what particular commitments mean to their own economies.

The socialised mindset is very dependent on what the country thinks other countries expect from it, and is probably close to what diplomacy is often about: trying to forge a compromise that can accommodate others’ needs and priorities while also trying to keep one’s own goals and aspirations in check.

The 4thmindset of Self-authoring mind is however based on values and can result in bold action as the individual/country knows where it is heading, where it wants to go, and how to get there.

This is really about true independence that is not negligent of others needs but implies more of a stable sense of self (here talked about as a positive value, not arrogance).

The 5thand most advanced stage is Self-transforming mind where decisions can be taken regardless of others, even if it means changing the course even drastically and finding new ways to adapt to climate change.

The progression through these stages needs to be understood as a positive journey: the fifth stage that people (or countries) rarely attain is kind of like the pinnacle of adult development and something we often aspire to… to be independent, balanced and have inner peace in knowing we can make the right decisions.

What makes this kind of comparison interesting is the progression of each stage but also that there are a set of different kinds of strategies to deal with each mindset.

Of course thinking about global climate diplomacy is different in many ways as all decisions that each country does impacts on everyone else.

But the categories really speak about different mindsets and reactions, and maybe they are more applicable to climate change adaptation than just mitigation commitments in reducing greenhouse gases.


But there is hope as well…

Some of the more innovative thinkers are not getting depressed however but are trying to harness opportunities to turn this situation around.

For example, there are plenty of initiatives that look at zero carbon, how to build infrastructure, and retrofit existing buildings, in a way that they use less and less carbon.

There are renewable energy initiatives where governments can support households, businesses, and their own operations to become more sustainable and actually harness energy from wind and sun, and even household waste.

The world has never seen so many ideas bubbling up to the surface in how to do things differently, how to change the existing practices that we are used to: cities are testing no-car zones and days, offering free public transport, car sharing schemes, looking at ways to achieve circular economy.

We all know that change is hard, and often uncomfortable.

The newly released US 4th National Climate Assessment is actually pointing out what is already happening in US communities at the local level and how they are already feeling the impacts of climate change.

However, the report also maps out how adaptation can take place and it is really about discussing which options are available, and tracks a range of initiatives that could be helpful in increasing community and national resilience.

Yet, given the latest reports and science, we seem to be close to the tipping points of where we really have to urgently implement change, and perhaps we don’t have the luxury anymore to contemplate whether we like the change or not, but just actually do the hard decisions we have put off.

The world now awaits that many of those urgent decisions are made in the next few weeks in Katowice.