climate change

Opinion: Why are we still treating climate change like it is science fiction?


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By Anders Lorenzen

Earlier this month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released one of the starkest climate warnings to date.

Naively perhaps, I expected the world’s news outlets to treat the publication of the report with the severe urgency it deserves, and for politicians to prioritise the severe threat it warns about.

However, in a world hypnotised by Brexit and Donald Trump, climate change does not get the attention it deserves. Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, climate change has dropped devastatingly down the public agenda. This is a grave mistake.

The IPCC report made a clear argument for adopting the new safe target of 1.5°C of maximum temperature rise which it anticipated we would hit between 2030 and 2052 – assuming we continue to burn fossil fuels as of today. It exemplified the difference between this new target and the one adopted by the world’s governments at 2°C. It looks at a range of scenarios such as a difference of sea level rises by 10cm between 1.5°C and 2°C rise – this might not sound like much, but it could be the difference between wiping out low lying areas, or not.

Another example is that the half degree temperature difference could also have a huge change between the level of precipitation received and conversely the intensity of drought – this is enough for agricultural systems to collapse in some regions and thereby increasing food shortage on a planet whose population is rapidly increasing.

I have previously written that though the issues around Brexit and Donald Trump are important, and are not isolated from climate change, we must not let those issues take priority. Those two issues while feeling incredibly pressing at the moment can potentially be reversed; climate change, however, cannot.

The world’s climate is roughly estimated to have warmed by 1°C so far since pre-industrial levels. And with the weather we have witnessed so far this year, ranging from extreme weather events like heatwaves, intense storms and hurricanes and wildfires – just to name a few – even in areas that don’t normally have them, one only needs a little bit of imagination what this will look like with 1.5°C of warming let alone 2°C of warming.

Climate change is often presented as a science fiction scenario: a remote possibility, a fantastic narrative. Politicians from across the political spectrum collude in this illusion; they argue that only once we have sorted out our current problems, be they Brexit or Trump, then and only then can we begin to deal with climate change. This argument is deeply duplicitous and morally decrepit. The appalling momentum of climate change means it will continue to warm the world, and upset its weather systems, despite or even because of the more mundane distractions of our news cycle. They all mistakenly seem to believe that the societal shifts and some would call it a discourse is of a bigger priority.

They are wrong. And history will remember and judge lawmakers for this terrible failure of leadership unless drastic action is taken now.

The conclusion from the IPCC is clear; there’s still room and chance to steer us away from the dangerous climate trajectory we are at and towards a 1.5°C world. But that requires societal changes, a radical update on policy ambitions and deploying much more attention to R&D efforts while mass investing in today’s technology. To find out how we will get there we need to discuss and debate it in the world’s media and in our political societies. The IPCC report lays out a stark warning; we ignore it at our peril.


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