THE United Nations released the most significant global report on climate change to date on Monday. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comprising 234 scientists and government representatives from 195 countries, have warned us that we have less than 10 years to manage global warming even as we face down the Covid-19 pandemic.
Climate change is no longer theory; we can see and feel it now. The past six years have been the hottest on record. Extreme weather events – droughts, heatwave, wild fires, floods and super-storms – are happening with greater frequency around the world.
Tipping points, a critical threshold beyond which a climate system reorganises, often abruptly and/or irreversibly, could occur with Amazon deforestation, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, and further weakening of the North Atlantic circulation system.
The race is on to limit average global temperature increase by 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. This requires “strong, rapid, and sustained reductions” in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), especially carbon dioxide, from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities.
We face a critical decade to take action amidst growing threats. We are the generation that will have to end a global pandemic while saving billions of people from the climate crisis. Both of these battles will be fought on the basis of science and governments putting in place effective policies.
Rich countries possess both the technologies and means to support global solutions – think of vaccines and renewable energy.
Global solidarity is needed to ensure that the climate crisis will not be every nation for itself. However, vaccine hoarding amid the pandemic has provided a disappointing lesson on how countries with means will take care of themselves at the expense of others.
The most prudent course would be to embrace both pessimism and optimism and work towards both alternatives with healthy scepticism towards false solutions.
Optimism means supporting global efforts to reduce emissions both here and in countries that have historically polluted the atmosphere most. These can be “green new deals” that generate economic opportunities out of a just transition to climate-friendly industries.
However, unless technology and finance flow to developing countries, green new deals will remain a policy privilege of developed countries.
Pessimism involves preparing adaptation measures to protect the most vulnerable at home in the event that targets are missed as well as from irreversible changes set in motion, such as sea-level rise. This means building resilience in communities at risk of extreme weather events such as floods and drought, sea level rise, and declining agricultural fertility.
Scepticism means avoiding false solutions, such as efforts by developed countries to pursue “net zero” by buying up carbon sinks in developing countries. Popular with large corporations and rich countries, false net zero offers a new way to “pay to pollute” instead of genuinely greening economies.
A 2017 study found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. There will be no climate solution that does not involve a fundamental transformation of industry.
In this change lies opportunity. Getting this decade right will involve a deep green transformation of work, government and society, and equitable sharing of technology, resources and atmospheric space.
YIN SHAO LOONG