New Study Shows We Have 2-3 Years to Solve Climate Change
A new report from economists, scientists, and former politicians states that to solve climate change we need to rework global economics in 2-3 or by 2030 we may be doomed.
Let’s just throw this out there right at the start: if you are still on the fence about climate change, there’s nothing left to say. The debate ended years ago, and now we are in damage control mode. Every denial gets us one step closer to oblivion, so we can no longer afford to have that particular discussion.
Climate change is painting a bleak picture of the future whether you believe it or not. There is, however, some good news. Maybe.
A massive new report commissioned by several governments around the world has concluded that humanity needs to get its act together, and we need to do it right now. If things stay as they are, by 2030 climate change will reach a point where the temperature will reach a point where the world will change for good, and it will be ugly and brutal.
There is, however, still a small window in which we can act. Specifically 2-3 years.
The study comes from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an international coalition founded by economists, scientists, and several former political leaders, from ex-presidents to retired prime ministers and more. The group was tasked with studying the effects of climate change and recommending a potential path forward that will give humanity a reprieve, factoring in the economic consequences. The group was commissioned by governments from around the world, including the UK, Norway, South Korea, and more. The US was, sadly, not involved, nor was China.
The group came up with a plan that could work and still appeal to those worried about profits, but it is aggressive.
The Key is Investments
The initiative found that the only clear way to stop a cataclysmic future caused by climate change is to continue to invest heavily in green industries. And not just a few dollars here and there, but a full embrace of green economics and policies. That includes heavy investments in renewable energies, the eventual (but soon) end of the internal combustion engine, and massive efficiency overhauls across multiple industries. And it all needs to be done very quickly.
The study goes on to state that key investments made within the next few years could put us on a path away from doom, it makes an argument that even the most cynical, profit-first people out there should appreciate. If the world’s economies begin to shift now, the transformation could create a $26 trillion economic windfall, create 65 million new jobs, and avoid at least 700,000 deaths caused by air pollution. And those are conservative estimates.
“This is more than just a report,” said Felipe Calderón, the former Mexican president and a member of the group responsible for the study. “It is a manifesto for how we can turn better growth and a better climate into reality. It is time we decisively legislate, innovate, govern, and invest our way to a fairer, safer, more sustainable world.”
The study is surprisingly optimistic on the current path of human-caused carbon emissions, which it believes might will peak in the near-future based on our current trajectory. Unfortunately, that’s not fast enough.
“Global emissions could peak within the next five years ― and it is extremely important that, indeed, they peak earlier than that,” Professor Nicholas Stern, the chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, told Huffington Post.
Lower Emissions Isn’t Enough
Most climate scientists agree that the Earth can only accept another 800 gigatons of carbon, which we are currently on track to produce within the next 20 years or so. Anything over that and it will be impossible to stop the temperature from rising beyond 2-degrees Celsius. At that point, the Earth could enter a “hothouse” state where the temperature would continue to rise regardless of our actions.
If that happens, humans would begin to die out quickly. The sea levels would rise more than 65 feet, cutting down on livable area. Sustained heat would make already warm areas – deserts and most equatorial regions – unlivable, pushing people further toward the poles. Freshwater would evaporate, farmlands would disappear, animals would die off in record numbers, and human death tolls would be catastrophic.
“[T]here would be enormous difficulty in producing food because of the extreme uncertainty in rainfall patterns and unreliable yearly growing seasons,” said Johan Rockström, the newly appointed co-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “The most extreme events we can fathom today would be the average. Oceans would have lost all coral reefs. Water scarcity, forest fires, new configurations of disease and vegetation … that is the type of world we would have.”
And that’s almost a best-case scenario. The worst is that the Earth becomes uninhabitable for humans.
To stop this Mad Max-like future, emissions will need to peak within two-three years, then begin to see a rapid decline of 6-7 percent per year. Unfortunately, energy-related greenhouse gas emissions hit a new record last year. Many of the biggest carbon emitters in the world – including the US – actually saw a decline, but all those numbers were offset by carbon dioxide pollution around the world, especially from China.
Realistic Goals to Solve Climate Change
The group’s report takes into account the reality of asking governments to change their economies and steer away from industries that have been integral to society for decades, and it has solutions for that.
“What matters now is getting much better incentives in place to make the [global] market work well,” Economist and one of the study’s lead authors, Lord Nicholas Stern, said. “At the moment we are subsidizing pollution activities by not charging for it. That is not a market-oriented approach.”
“Investment around the world in the renewable energy sector has now been greater than in old-fashioned fossil fuels for some years even with very weak [climate] policies. If we toughened them up ― and provided good incentives ― the move to a low-carbon society would be even stronger.”
The study recommends increasing carbon pricing, phasing out fossil-fuel subsidies, full disclosure of climate-related financial risks (something many international banks currently refuse to do), and doubling sustainable development investments to at least $100 billion per year.
“We don’t think it’s too late yet,” Economist Helen Mountford, the other lead author on the paper said. “The window is closing, but there are opportunities. The cost of renewable energy is dropping dramatically and we are seeing action on the ground by cities and states, which is exciting … New York City is divesting its $189 billion pension fund from fossil fuels and Ireland has announced that it will become the first country to completely divest from fossil fuels.”
Along with the difficulties in convincing people and governments to change their habits, we seem to be actively moving in the wrong direction in many ways. The US’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords is a blow to moving toward a green economy, and investments have dried up as a result. Many US states and cities are attempting to enact their own green plans, but it will require a national effort to make a significant difference.
There is still hope, but the window continues to close.