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Implementing climate solutions that intend to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy by 2050 needs to be supported with a next-generation standards system that applies the tools of the new “digital economy.” The new systems will be more efficient and scalable, will more easily integrate with established business systems and will be more resilient to political factors.

Let’s use the new tools and approaches to support next-generation climate solutions.

I will be co-leading a side event at COP21 in Paris On December 1, 2015 (11h30 to 13h00) hosted jointly by the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (GHGMI) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). At the side event experts will examine:

  • Collaboration among standards-setting organizations.
  • Innovative framework standards.
  • Interactive platforms for climate neutrality, resilience and sustainability in support of INDCs (intended nationally determined contributions, that’s the actions that governments are saying they will take under the UNFCCC climate agreement).


The recent major policy announcements from China (which has committed to launching a national emissions trading scheme—or ETS—in 2017), India and the USA, have contributed to big expectations for the outcome of COP21. Likewise, it is refreshing that the new leader of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Hoesung Lee of Korea, is advocating a shift away from tracking impacts of climate change and promoting more focus on finding solutions. How are these solutions going to be implemented as the new international approach becomes more and more driven by “bottom-up” climate actions such as the INDCs? International negotiations have been wrestling with the issues without reaching a decisive agreement for nearly a quarter-century. In the absence of an international agreement, many sub-national actors (e.g. cities, industries) are taking action and advancing new approaches.

Existing systems—such as cap and trade of emissions, and emission reduction credits—have mobilized billions of dollars across thousands of climate actions and helped to reduce emissions globally. But these systems were, and continue to be, costly to manage. They have also encountered limitations and some argue the systems didn’t get us very far along the roadmap to deep decarbonization goals.

There is ample evidence that market-based systems can be more efficient than regulatory systems at achieving sustainability goals at a lower cost. However, design and implementation of market-based systems has been a challenge. It’s time to take a fresh look at the array of new tools that may more efficiently implement market-based solutions.

There’s never been a greater need for a robust international standards system to support measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of investments that are directed at mitigation and adaptation programs. At the October meeting of the International Chamber of Commerce, the Concept Note for the meeting said,

“To be an effective driver of sustainable growth, the digital economy must be supported by interoperable policy approaches which reduce unnecessary frictions between borders, protect consumers and citizens and avoid unintended consequences such as those that act as barriers to trade”

At recent pre-COP meetings, ICC Secretary General John Danilovich elaborated:

“ …to scale up these solutions we need enhanced collaboration between business, and more importantly, between the public and private sectors.”

Of course, there is the international standards system provided by ISO (ISO is from the Greek work isos, meaning “equal”). However, during the last 20+ years climate standards, guidance, methodologies, and protocols have evolved across a wide range of organizations including ISO, the GHG Protocol, the UNFCCC CDM and of course the IPCC Good Practice Guidelines. There are many other voluntary programs and industry sector standards also applicable to organizations, projects, technologies, products, life cycle assessments and more.

The demand to develop climate standards with global scale and speed to market capability means that standards developers need to take advantage of innovative tools and collaboration strategies to engage stakeholders at local and global levels.


The new tools must leverage the transformative power of the Internet to enable stakeholder engagement and collaboration within the new “digital economy.” It will be critical to re-align business systems and solutions in order to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), in particular goal 13 that calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.,

Some examples of these tools include:

  • Web 2.0 collaboration and semantic web technologies (aka Web 3.0 ).
  • Block chain technology (cryptologic currency systems).
  • Integrated tracking (e.g. RFIDs, drones, satellite).
  • Value chain information management systems.

Although Web 2.0 collaboration tools such as wikis and video-conferencing are widely used, the first generation of these “online platforms” are simple, reflecting the reality that people need time to learn new ways of collaborating digitally with diverse stakeholder communities. To realize the potential of these capabilities, proficient collaboration goes beyond the tools and utilizes new strategies for “social” knowledge management, knowledge mobilization, and knowledge-to-action. These new strategies and “social business models” ask stakeholders to focus on changing their behavior before they can expect to successfully dive into “deep collaboration” initiatives. A leading strategy and model is Global Solution Networks (GSN), led by Don Tapscott (author of Digital Economy and Macrowikinomics). GSNs are Internet-powered networks for multi-stakeholder cooperation and governance that are working to solve global problems. The Climate GSN hub includes nearly 200 examples of 10 different types of GSNs, such as knowledge networks, policy networks, and operational & delivery networks.

These tools and strategies can be used in many types of applications, but the focus here is about incorporating these tools into new strategies for a next-generation standards system in order to provide better support to the implementation of climate actions.


Standards are essential tools for markets to use in efforts to operationalize government policies. Studies have determined that standards benefit the economy by raising GDP by 2-3%, which is, of course, very significant.

The global system of standards organizations produces thousands of standards every year and, by my estimate, the cost to develop these standards is at least $15 billion annually. That’s a lot of money, time and expertise (ISO alone involves over 100,000 experts). But weighed against the benefits of 2-3% of GDP, the cost to develop standards is well worth it.

Although it would be fair to say that the modern world would not function without standards, the standards systems—how standards are developed and how the standards link to each other in a cohesive and compatible “toolkit”—are running up against limitations. It is time consuming for experts who volunteer to develop standards, capacity for coordination among standards organizations and stakeholders can be limited, and the fact remains that conventional standards processes are slower than the rate of technology innovation that they are meant to support.

If global goals (such as limiting climate change via deep decarbonization of the economy to remain within a 2 degree increase) are to be achieved in a relatively short timeline, then a next-generation standards system is needed—“standards 2.0” or even “standards 3.0”.

Within ISO there are several committees developing standards for the environment and sustainability. As Chair of ISO’s climate change standards committee (ISO TC 207 SC7) developing standards for mitigation (MRV) and soon for adaptation, I have, over the last 18 months, overseen the development of a strategic plan. The plan includes an adaptation standards roadmap led by Ira Feldman of the GHGMI to guide development of new standards in collaboration with key stakeholders including UNFCCC, World Bank, Gold Standard, IETA and many more. These planning efforts are just starting and will continue for the foreseeable future as more stakeholders become engaged.

Of particular importance in support of next-generation standards systems for climate actions, ISO recently launched a new working group to develop ISO 14080 – Guideline with framework and principles for methodologies on climate actions. ISO 14080 is unlike other climate standards in that it does not specify requirements or provide guidance on how to quantify GHGs or how to do adaptation planning. ISO 14080 supports other climate standards, and the primary user will be standards developers/managers such as GHG programs, industry associations and of course SDOs (standards development organizations, such as BSI in the UK or ANSI in the USA). The value of ISO 14080 is:

  • Consistency, compatibility and comparability of standards in the results of the programs that use the standards.
  • Enabling more SDOs to develop climate standards that will integrate more smoothly into the global system of climate standards.
  • Enabling markets and international organizations (e.g. World Bank) to more easily compare the program results, the programs and ultimately the climate currencies (carbon credits) around the world.


In February 2015, I led a GSN climate change round table (p10) focusing on the question, “Where next for climate Global Solution Networks?” There are many types of GSNs, and there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, in the climate and sustainability sector. The round table experts considered the challenge of how to support sustainable economic growth without increasing GHG emissions (i.e. decarbonize the economy and remain within the global carbon budget to avoid catastrophic climate impacts).

Recognizing the need to support the efficient allocation of trillions of dollars of climate finance, the outcome of the discussion was a proposal for a two-part solution. Part one would enhance linkages between existing GSNs creating a “Network Exchange Schema” to leverage their combined resources. Part two would create a new platform that enables innovators to develop standardized climate apps for entrepreneurs who will assess opportunities and assemble financial, knowledge and technical resources to implement projects within a coordinated climate action strategy.

I’ve talked with climate standards programs about next-generation standards systems, including Gold Standard and Winrock/American Carbon Registry—both groups will be presenters at the GHGMI-ISO COP21 side event next month. Gold Standard recently launched an ambitious Gold Standard 3.0 Strategy combining more intelligent, holistic standards systems that have greater transparency and credibility and that can be expected to achieve greatest results on climate, energy, food and water. Over the last year I’ve had the privilege to collaborate with Gold Standard using digital technologies to support their transformation. I’m also excited to be collaborating with an innovative group that includes Winrock/ACR (standards-setting GHG registry), climate businesses, block chain technology experts, supply chain experts, and GSN/collaboration experts, on a bold vision for a new market-based solution that combines credibility, efficiency and scalability to support deep decarbonization and the SDGs.

The GHGMI-ISO joint side event on next generation standards for climate neutrality and resilience will present and discuss the above issues in more detail and will continue with concept papers and additional opportunities to explore innovation and the capacity building needs for deep decarbonization. It promises to be a compelling portion of the COP21 process.

Tom Baumann, Fellow, Global Solution Networks and Climate & Planet Stewardship Hub Leader; CoFounder of the GHG Management Institute and Director of Knowledge Management; CoFounder of Interactive Leader and Collaborase; CoFounder of ClimateCHECK; International Chair of the ISO Climate Change Standards Committee (ISO TC207 SC7 GHG Management and Related Activities)