As half of humanity is under lockdown, it would appear that nature is claiming back its rights. Air quality is better in urban areas than it has been in years, and biodiversity is blooming.
Our very own Martin Gorricho tried to see what 2050 would look like, if nothing was to change in our behaviour as a species. Would we then be too late to tackle climate change, and to properly fix the damage we’ve inflicted upon our planet? The article he’s written for us becomes even more interesting, under the light of Covid-19.
Have a read!
When Greta Thunberg visited the European Parliament, she criticized the European Union’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050 as a “surrender”. Quick reminder: being carbon neutral implies not adding extra greenhouse gases (GHG) to the existing ones in the atmosphere. In the case of the EU pledge, it means the amount of greenhouse gasses will not increase compared to what will be emitted into the atmosphere up until 2049.
She called out the contradiction of the EU Parliament declaring a climate emergency a few months ago, and accepting to keep adding CO2 into the atmosphere until 2050. Thunberg understands this because, first of all, for a 17-year-old, 30 years look like a lot more than a lifetime and, secondly, because she is aware of the urgency of the situation the European Parliament itself acknowledged.
The consequences of neglect
When talking about climate change, thirty years is indeed a long time, and not just for Greta Thunberg. In 1990, Climate Change was a topic that seemed distant for most people and it was far from being at the top of any government agenda, perhaps with the exception of the UN.
Today, however, we see the consequences of this neglect: temperature records have been tumbling, winter in the Northern Atmosphere has been the warmest in recorded history while forest fires have been raging the globe over, ice caps are melting and severe draughts hold entire societies in their grip. These extreme weather events are the result of increasing global average temperature just over 1 degree compared to pre-industrial times (XIX century). This increase will happen even faster from now on, as the world is left with ever fewer defences (warmer oceans, less ice surface to reflect sun rays and less virgin forest cover) and growing GHG emissions.
Due to this critical situation, many countries have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050, as per the 2015 Paris Agreement. Assuming the promises are kept, we will be pumping greenhouse gasses continuously for another twenty-nine years into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Time is running out
To put this time in perspective, we are as close to 2050 as we are to 1990. Thirty years might not seem that much, but back in 1990 the Soviet Union still existed, the World Wide Web was still to be released to the public, there were no mobile phones or Google and two billion less people populated the earth. It was a long time ago.
By signing the pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050, governments accept that the situation with climate change will continue to get worse over the following thirty years. This pledge entails adding more greenhouse gases to the existing ones in the atmosphere, while deepening the depletion of our environment even further – but can we really afford this? Not getting ready for an abrupt change despite all evidence and not accepting the signals of an imminent breakdown are symptoms of a sick system, and make the consequences far more dire to suffer. The globalized world economy needs to adapt to this new reality right now – or will perish like other economies and empires did throughout history.
The real challenge when fighting against climate change is to act before things get too catastrophic and we unleash a chain of irreversible natural disasters. History shows that it is in man’s nature, and particularly in leaders or politicians, to act decisively only after shocking events – war, pandemic, a terrorist attack, a grave accident affecting the country. Making choices not necessarily based on reason, scientific and political debates, but out of fear and politics. Climate change will require the most rational part of humankind to act against our own instincts, and change before the consequences become irreversible.
A new economic model?
Fortunately, remodelling the economy to combat an extreme situation is not unheard of in history. When the USA smelled the danger of attack at Pearl Harbour in 1941, and especially afterwards, the government moved swiftly to adapt the economy, factories, workforce, government agencies and fiscal policy to fight in World War II, becoming the factory of the allied forces. The country transformed its whole economy in a period shorter than three years to successfully supply the allied forces against the Axis powers, and at the same time, got out of the Great Depression putting civil society to work.
With the necessary force of will from all parts, the European Union can too develop the “War Economy on Climate Change” and lead the world onto the necessary transformation for Sustainable Development. The necessary technology exists, the institutions exist, the workforce, companies and knowledge to make it happen are out there too. Nevertheless, it will require for leaders from the public and private sector to act, and do it before our “Pearl Harbour” happens.
Otherwise, being carbon neutral in 2050 will be totally irrelevant. We don’t have thirty years.