If I gave you 10 years to complete a challenge – learn how to speak Chinese, lose eight kilos and run a marathon, or write that book you’ve been thinking about – you’d probably say, “No problem. That’s doable.”
But what if I told you that we’ve only got 10 years left to fix climate change once and for all? Does that sound doable?
The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, published in 2018 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), left the world in no doubt as to the severity of the situation we are facing: we have until 2030 to stave off the worst impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s not like this is the first report to call our attention to the climate change crisis – report after report after report has clearly demonstrated the need for urgent action. If we want to limit global warming to the recommended 1.5C rise above pre-industrial levels, we have to slash worldwide carbon pollution by half, yes, 50 percent, over the next 10 years. And yet, even after all the stark warnings we have received, we seem to be going in the opposite direction: carbon emissions, which account for 76% of all emissions worldwide, actually rose 1.7 percent in 2017 and went up 2.7 percent on that level in 2018. Full-year data for 2019 data is expected to show one of the highest rates of increase since records began.
Against this very unhealthy backdrop, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP25, takes place in Madrid from December 2-13. The eyes of the world will be on the Spanish capital for two weeks, and the 183 nations plus the European Union who have ratified the landmark Paris Accord now have an opportunity to underpin our commitment to averting this looming disaster.
As vast and uncontrollable and terrifying as the climatic situation is right now, effecting real change starts with values-driven action on the part of individuals, companies and society as a whole.
Homer Simpson’s famous saying “Can’t someone else do it?” doesn’t work here. We all have to take personal responsibility for what’s going on: we got ourselves into this mess and we have to get ourselves out of it. (If you’re still in denial about your own personal, direct contribution to this mess, why not download a carbon footprint calculator app and do the math just for yourself?)
Getting around: private passenger transport accounts for almost 30 percent of all CO2 emissions. Cut down on unnecessary car trips – order online in bulk, take the bike when it’s not raining, walk if you live in an urban area or use public transport. When upgrading your car, check the rebate incentives available and consider a hybrid or electric model.
Do an energy audit at home: switch out your light bulbs for energy-efficient ones. Beef up your insulation and cut your heating bills. Think about installing solar panels on the roof – you can sell any surplus energy produced back to your local utility company. Turn off the heaters in unused rooms. Wear sweaters when it’s cold and turn down the heating – it’s winter, you’re not supposed to be wearing a linen shirt!
Food consumption: I love my cured ham and a good hamburger as much as the next guy, but the reality is that we need to eat less meat. Meat production is a massive drain on natural resources – it takes 31.5 kWh to produce a pound of meat, compared to only 4.4 kWh for a pound of chicken, or 0.43kWh for a pound of corn.
Advocate: learn more about the subject of climate change and then vote for candidates who take it seriously and base their policies on science only. Petition your local and national governments to implement effective energy-reduction measures – green public transport, community solar gardens in public housing and better recycling facilities.
Companies are essentially large groups of people working together toward specific financial and development objectives, so everything that we can do at home to fight climate change can be applied in the same fashion at our places of work, only on a larger scale. Employees should actively encourage best environmental and energy management practices in their own work areas. If you’re working late and there are lights on all over the building, inform facilities management and petition them to install smart switches. Turn the air con down two degrees in summer, and do the same with the heating during winter. Trust me, you’ll survive. (And it’s good for productivity too – high temperatures make us drowsy and less focused.)
Senior management has the obligation to ensure that the company’s operational processes respect the environment and make maximum use of energy resources, and that all external suppliers and providers assume their responsibility in this respect too.
Before you can improve anything, you have to measure it so you have a baseline to work from. All companies need to conduct an energy audit so they know exactly what their carbon footprint is. They can then use those information insights to draw up action plans to combat energy wastefulness. Doing this in a coherent way will also generate cost savings.
We can all agree that increased economic prosperity is the key to raising real living standards. Two thirds of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty in 1950, but by 2015, that figure was below 10 percent.
This surely ranks as humanity’s greatest achievement, and if we want to lift everyone out of the poverty trap, then we need to keep the economic train on the tracks. And if we don’t tackle the climate crisis head-on, that’s not going to happen, because the financial cost of climate change to the world is set to be truly staggering.
Let’s start with a specific case: the world’s largest economy. One estimate in the IPCC’s special report shows that the USA stands to lose up to 1.7 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at 1.5C warming levels, which is the equivalent of some USD 340 billion in today’s money.
Looking now at the world as a whole, the projections get even bleaker. While local pollutants pollute locally, greenhouse gases don’t respect geographical borders: Spain’s emissions contribute to warming in Senegal and Senegal’s emissions contribute to warming in Sri Lanka. Worse still, emissions-related economic damages are distributed in a starkly differing manner, meaning that a large number of minor actors in this tragedy (countries with comparatively low emissions per capita) are set to suffer disproportionately in the future, risking eroding the historic gains made universally in terms of reducing extreme poverty.
So, back to the question I asked at the top of this article. We have 10 years to halt climate change. Is it doable?
I want to say yes, it is. Not just because I’m an optimist (which is a prerequisite to working in insurance), but because I firmly believe that we have all, finally and collectively, woken up to the reality of how we are decimating the very world that sustains us. And I really do think there is a real hunger for change at individual level that needs to be urgently channeled by those in power to make sure we implement the right measures to combat climate change globally. Let’s hope that COP25 marks the start of that journey.
The clock is ticking. It’s #TimeForAction.
Some scary bullets on climate change:
- The 20 warmest years on record have been in the last 22 years.
- A warmer world means more natural disasters. Wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons and tsunamis are set to increase in both frequency and intensity.
- A warmer world, coupled with an increasingly aging population, puts more pressure on public health systems and results in more heat-related deaths.
- As temperatures rise, air quality goes down, and there are more floods and droughts, resulting in lower crop yields for farmers and food scarcity issues.
- Our seasons are shifting – shorter falls, winters and springs and longer, hotter summers.
Species extinction is a natural phenomenon, but the current rate of extinction is utterly disproportionate: instead of naturally losing between five and 10 plant or animal species a year, we’re currently losing dozens every day.