Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

19 Jan 2020

Decade of decisions

Posted by Michael Keating

The first decade of this century was shaken by terror attacks, including the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York, and the ensuing wars. The second decade started with the struggle to prevent a global economic meltdown after the 2008 market crash. The third decade will be defined by how we deal with climate change and how that struggle reshapes our societies. Climate change is already bringing increasing floods, droughts, forest fires, rising sea levels and a melting Arctic, and we will have to live with a disturbed climate for centuries. The question is how much can we limit the increase in global temperatures. Coming out of the hottest decade on record the United Nations has warned we have to take drastic action over the next few years or we will be locked into the kind of changes that will destroy economies, force people to flee their homes and render increasing areas of the planet inhospitable. The UN has said we need we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 7 per cent a year in this decade to avoid disastrous consequences, and be carbon neutral by 2050. Given that 80 per cent of global energy production comes from burning fossil fuels, this will require  an unprecedented transformation of society, with seismic shifts in energy use, food systems, transportation, land use, employment and personal behaviour.

The most frightening evidence of climate change has been the dramatic increase in massive, uncontrollable wildfires in Australia, California and parts of southern Europe. Whole towns have been destroyed and people burned to death as they tried to escape. People are scared and want action.  Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, known for promoting more coal mining, was booed when he visited fire-ravaged areas of the country. Many observers say one reason that Canada conservative party lost last fall’s federal election is because it was too weak on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There are encouraging signs of change. The European Union said it will dedicate a quarter of its budget to tackling climate change, and will shift 1 trillion euros to environmentally friendly investment over the next decade. The German government has a plan to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2038, involving compensation of more than 40 billion euros. Microsoft has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030 and by 2050 to have removed all of the carbon from the environment that it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975. Car makers are making large investments in electric vehicles. A significant number of investors are moving away from fossil fuels. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is getting out of investments in coal used to generate power. Founder and CEO Laurence Fink, who oversees the management of about US$7 trillion in funds, said a warming planet puts “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.” This week the World Economic Forum will hold its annual meeting of thousands of business and political leaders, economists, celebrities and journalists in Davos, Switzerland. Last year, the leaders were scolded by Swedish teen and climate activist Greta Thunberg. “At Davos, people like to talk about success, but financial success has come with a price tag, and on the climate we have failed.” Her message and similar words from millions more are finally being heard. Citing a survey of more than 750 key decision-makers, the World Economic Forum said catastrophic trends like global warming and the extinction of animal species would be front and center at this year’s meeting.

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