climate change

Opinion: The planet is coded red – now what?

Flooding in Turkey. Photo credit: DHA photo.

By Anders Lorenzen

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week released the most anticipated and feared climate report; Climate Change: the Physical Science Basis, UN Secretary-General called it a code red for humanity.

Those of us who follow the topic closely will not have been very surprised about its findings.  We have known for a long time that action is not just meeting pledges and promises. And we also know that now, only months before the crucial COP26 climate summit in Glasgow November, we are far behind what was promised by countries at the Paris Agreement conference in 2015.  

And those targets agreed to in Paris do not even keep us below the 2 degrees C threshold that all countries signed up to and which must not be crossed.

Most comprehensive climate data

One thing is that this report, which is the best available climate science data pulled together by the world’s best climate scientists, concluded that it is now very unlikely that the pledged 1.5 degrees C threshold will now be met.

However troubling and distressing it is, climate scientists as well as activists could not have hoped for a better advocate for urgent climate action than the last few months smorgasbord of climate-fuelled extreme weather events. Never before has so much extreme weather happened simultaneously and across the planet with such deadly consequences and huge economic loss. 

The costs are so huge that the argument that we can not afford to decarbonise our economies must surely effectively have been killed. `The world is on fire` proclaimed Greta Thunberg a couple of years ago when she was laughed at and mocked by some – they’re not laughing now.

Extreme weather run amok

From the wildfires and heatwaves in southern Europe, the Mediterranean regions and the US, to the flooding in Germany plus many other extreme weather events, too many to list, during this crucial COP26 climate change year people across the world have come to feel what climate inaction means. And this is happening at only around 1.1 degrees C of warming.  Consider a world, where unless there’s a drastic change in our ambitions, we’re heading for plus 3 degrees C of warming.

But still, the reality does not appear to have sunk in amongst some news editors and a large portion of the public. It took just a few days after the release of the IPCC report for the dust to settle and the red coded warnings from the newspaper headlines to evaporate, much more quickly than the water evaporated after Turkey’s wildfires and heatwave were followed by deadly flooding.  

And a large portion of the sun-loving public booked overseas holidays as soon as the lifting of corona restrictions allowed them to do so. Some might soon have regretted doing so as the mercury in Spain hit 48 degrees C and threatened to break the all-time high-temperature record. And people bought huge quantities of meat that the climate cannot afford, to feed their summer barbeques. People just continued their normal ways of life as if there was no tomorrow.

Technology alone won’t save us

While we should continue to invest in R&D, we can’t just sit back and wait for technology alone to save us. Politicians must be brave enough to act as though we really are in a climate emergency, and not just declare that there is one but do nothing. They could put everything on hold due to the coronavirus whose impacts are nothing compared to the climate crisis. Some climate experts have suggested that governments should host daily updates about the climate crisis just as they do about the coronavirus, and yes why not?  

Some have argued that this is really the last chance salon – and it is. Governments have just months to come up with the credible climate ambition that this report demands as do the extreme weather events shaking planet Earth. But they’re not the only ones who need to act. News editors need to paint this as the crisis it is, and the public need to react by putting pressure on governments before it is too late. No one can keep hiding from this crisis, the biggest crisis that mankind has faced and which will shape it forever !

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