Deadly Delusions and the Imperative for Decision Change

By Arnold J. Bomans and Peter Roessingh - 25 March 2024
Deadly Delusions and the Imperative for Decision Change

Arnold Bomans and Peter Roessingh propose that decision-making experts design a procedure to decide on system change.

Nobody noticed, but COP28 failed to deliver its promised stocktake, and other problems were also overlooked. A COP is an international gathering (Conference of the Parties) organised by the United Nations. Between 1995 and 2023 there have been twenty-eight COPs on climate change, but to little avail: Around 2022, global warming reached 1⁰C and a climate catastrophe is now unfolding. Since 2015, the main theme of climate COPs is adherence to the Paris Agreement: to keep global warming below 2⁰C and, ideally, below 1.5⁰C.  

COP28 was intended to be the first stocktake of progress towards this goal and of national contributions. The final declaration, the so-called global stocktake document, first acknowledges that current plans are insufficient for staying below the 2⁰C threshold, and subsequently devotes paragraph after paragraph to pathways for staying below 1.5⁰C. The president of COP28 also managed to change the highly-contested wording ‘phase out coal’ to ‘transition away from fossil fuels,’ marking the first mention of ‘fossil fuel’ in a COP declaration. Many questioned whether this insertion of the F-words was a landmark or a loophole. Doubt was also cast on another outcome – the still insufficient pledges for the loss and damage fund.

However, such discussions are actually off-topic. As the stocktake document diverted attention to thorny issues about pathways towards the 1.5⁰C goal, the feasibility of that goal became an accomplished fact. However, the 1.5⁰C goal was known to be virtually unattainable according to the majority of scientific models. This distraction from the dire prospects only perpetuates a deadly delusion. Furthermore, nobody seems to have noticed that there has been no stocktake at all. Any stocktake would have implied confessing that achieving the 1.5⁰C goal is highly improbable and have exposed the failure of the whole COP procedure. Moreover, other procedural matters remained largely unnoticed.  

System Change: Who Should Decide?

One series of COPs is devoted to climate change, a second to biodiversity loss, and a third to desertification. However, these and other problems (such as mass migration, armed conflict over resources, and inequality) are inextricably intertwined and share root causes. Therefore, they should be addressed in an integral fashion, necessitating global system change. This change includes redefining the economy and governance, that is, the coordination of common affairs.

Even if the COPs adopted a systemic approach to the many crises, their decision-making procedures probably would not yield substantial results because, amongst others, parties can veto any proposal and there are no hard enforcement mechanisms. Yet, such flaws often go unacknowledged once one is absorbed in the topics of a COP.  For example, the signing of the Paris Agreement instilled trust in the COP process: ‘they were going to save us’ (COPOUT, p. 50). We have been cured of that delusion: There is a growing number of proposals for improving the COPs and, more generally, Earth system governance. However, these proposals facilitate delusion at the next level: focusing attention on the merits of such proposals tacitly assumes that a 'mythical other’ (some institution) decides on improvements to the COPs. Therefore, it is imperative to create a new institution tasked with deciding on (or rather, designing) a decision-making procedure for system change.

Decision Change: the First Step to System Change

Deciding on system change is challenging, particularly because slowing down the collapse of the environment requires measures that impact many people and vested interests, such as corporations. Who should decide on behalf of eight billion people, future generations, or nature in general, and how? The answer to this question requires tapping into a large body of decision-making knowledge and expertise, such as deliberation techniques, voting methods, and problem analysis.

Therefore, we propose decision change: allow experts in collective decision-making to design a procedure for deciding on system change. This design includes outlining the decision-making body – those who are going to decide. These experts will be the first to object that if experts alone (they themselves) carried out this design, the result would be inferior. Therefore, these experts should determine how auxiliary bodies will monitor and aid the design process. As a starting point for further development, we suggest a verification group, an overview board, and an argumentation council.

Furthermore, experts and laypeople should be able to submit system-change proposals or comment on them to allow for unorthodox approaches. Notice that the decision-making experts and auxiliary bodies (collectively called the decision-change body) do not decide on system change but on how others decide on system change. These others (the resulting decision-making body) could be conceived as legitimate because it would consider many alternatives and combine them following a well-designed decision-making procedure.

To set decision change in motion, a global coordinating team should undertake several key steps:

  1. Convene the decision-change body to let it design a decision-making procedure (to be employed by a decision-making body),
  2. Collect system-change proposals and
  3. Guarantee that the resulting decision-making body decides on system change using the proposed procedure.

For a quick start, the team is best embedded in an existing organisation that supports the team and ensures its continuity.

Global Call to Action

We call on individuals and an organisation to form and support such a global coordinating team in order to spearhead the design of this decision-making procedure and oversee the collection and evaluation of system-change proposals. You can read more in our scientific essay and respond at

Feedback regarding our proposal is welcome, though it should not distract from the outstanding need to create the institution for processing these comments. With time of the essence, there is little point in contemplating the design process for too long in advance because “no plan survives first contact with reality.” Instead, “you’ve got to do it.” 




Arnold J. Bomans holds a master’s in mathematical decision theory from Delft University of Technology. A full-stack computer programmer, he is currently developing a moneyless economy. 

Peter Roessingh is a chemical ecologist and evolutionary biologist. In addition to his bioinformatical work on the evolution of insect sensory systems, he is involved in environmental initiatives by Scientists for Future in the Netherlands.

Photo by Soulful Pizza

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