A new UN climate report could not be clearer - we must act now

Human-induced effects can be changed, given the right incentives

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Recent months have told a frightening tale of fire and water. The essential elements that support life on Earth have appeared out of control. Floods have engulfed China and Western Europe, while wildfires have ravaged Turkey, Greece, Siberia and North America. You will not find clearer evidence that the climate crisis is unfolding with voracious and indiscriminate haste.

These extreme weather events are becoming more severe and more frequent. And the world’s largest ever report on climate change, published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), now confirms that it is “unequivocal” that human activity is responsible.

But while it is not wrong to say that this simultaneous deluging and conflagration of our planet is human-induced, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

In truth, it’s a certain kind of human inducement that is the problem – carried out by those who continue to deny the very real threat of climate change; by those who deny the empirical evidence in front of us; and by those who maintain that life can go on as it always has, without drastically changing our energy production and consumption behaviours.

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The silver lining here is that human-induced effects can be changed – humans are, after all, extremely changeable, given the right incentives. Affecting the collapse of life on Earth should be all the incentive we need to change. As the IPCC report warns, it is a “code red for humanity” moment.

We can still avert the worst impacts of climate change by acting now. We still have a chance to limit warming to 1.5°C. To do this, we cannot emit 400 billion more tonnes of carbon dioxide by mid-century. But, the report says, we are on course to hit that within the next decade. That means drastically slashing greenhouse gas emissions. And, perhaps most crucially, reaching net zero carbon emissions globally, by 2050. Developed and developing countries alike cannot afford to put more carbon into the atmosphere than they take out.

As a species, we are divided over several fault lines, alongside the most perplexing of which is the split between climate change deniers and climate change activists. Surely, if there was ever a moment and a cause for humanity to unite over a single, all-encompassing issue, it’s the imminent threat to our natural habitat.

I do wonder if there is any other instance in which we would continue to practise such negligence in the face of overwhelming fact and scientific evidence.

Consider a situation where a doctor with seven-plus years of medical training tells you that your diet is unhealthy. Your ratio of vitamins and proteins to saturated fats is unbalanced. You must lose 10 kilograms in the next 10 weeks or else your physical health will be greatly compromised. And that you can do this by cutting out junk food and eating cleaner and healthier.

If you do not follow your doctor’s advice, she warns, your immune system will be depleted, you will be at greater risk of contracting viruses, and your internal organs will be overrun and fatigue under strain. In short, your ability to live a long life is in jeopardy.

Consider, then, ignoring all this scientific advice from a trained professional. You ignore the advice for the next nine weeks. And in the 10th week, as you start to feel and experience the symptoms your doctor said you would, you ask for a quick fix. There is a reason they are called quick fixes and not permanent cures.

Too many of us are taking this quick-fix approach to the climate crisis. That we have to revert to analogy, that the news must revert to sensationalist headlines, that we have to listen to young people telling us our roof is on fire – this would usually suggest that some variant of blind mania has seized us in its grasp.

The situation is all the more bizarre when we consider that the economics now align with the social and moral need for climate action. Renewable energy sources, which can fuel a clean and green recovery, are now cost-competitive with traditional sources. And, what’s more, limiting the planet’s temperature to 1.5°C warming by 2050 could see more than $61 trillion (Dh224tn) injected into the global economy.

The 2015 Paris climate summit was a landmark event. AP Photo
A thriving renewable energy sector could create up to 122 million jobs by 2050

But to get there, a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) titled The World Energy Transitions Outlook says investments in the energy transition will need to increase by 30 per cent more than current planned investment levels. A total of $131tn is needed between now and 2050. That may appear like an eye-watering figure, but what price are we willing to put on the future of the planet before we prioritise its health?

The report also outlines how a thriving renewable energy sector could create up to 122 million jobs by the same time. That’s more than double today’s 58 million jobs in the sector.

Of those jobs, more than 43 million could be within the renewable energy segment, such will be the critical role renewables will play in helping to reach the Paris Agreement goals and 2050 carbon neutrality.

That’s not all. Irena’s research suggests that by accelerating energy transitions on a path to climate safety, the world’s economy could grow by an extra 2.4 per cent above projected global growth within the next decade.

So, what’s the difference between a doctor giving us their expert advice on how we can live a better, longer life and renewable energy experts telling us of our urgent need to invest more in clean energy sources?

If we fail to see the similarities, we either have a problem with grasping analogy or reality. We cannot afford for it to be the latter.

Published: August 10, 2021, 2:52 PM