IPCC Report – Why Change is Slow
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a worrying report, urging the world to respond immediately to the growing problem of global warming. The timeframe to act is narrowing, with just a dozen years on the clock to introduce radical solutions. It is one of many reports, many messages, and many warnings from scientists and activists alike to change before it’s too late, before the world descends into an irreversible change in climate. But, why has the reaction to climate change been so slow?
The problem that continues to persist when dealing with climate change is politics. Politics drives everything; it is at the heart of society. But with politics, often comes conflicts of interest. In the US, Donald Trump, in a rather dogmatic style, left the Paris Agreement, a plan signed by 195 countries in 2015 which reaffirmed efforts to cut carbon emissions and mitigate against climate change, keeping global temperatures below 2.0C. In the UK, environmentally-damaging initiatives such as HS2, the third runway at Heathrow, and fracking were approved. These initiatives will damage the environment, from increasing carbon emissions to continuing dependency on fossil fuels. Clearly, I’m simplifying politics, it is more nuanced than how I describe it, and of course, many within political spheres oppose such schemes. But, what is clear is that change is too slow – nuance makes for great debates but makes for a bad drastic change.
Introducing ‘radical’ solutions will inevitably damage certain interest groups, oil tycoons, being one example. Powerful interest groups in sectors that could be damaged by efforts to combat climate change are almost destined to shape the discourse around climate change. From lobbyists and think tanks to social media and the dinner table, climate change denial is still rampant, often because it damages financial interests. As I’ve stated, finance matters. And finance, as it stands today, is very much based on a system that is unprepared for climate change. The struggle to combat climate change brings out the best and worst of capitalism. Decarbonisation of the economy requires alternatives for coal and cars that run on diesel, and that plays to capitalism’s strengths. Innovation is what capitalism is all about, and there has been staggeringly rapid progress in developing clean alternatives to coal, oil and gas. The cost of producing solar- and wind-powered electricity has collapsed. Significant advances are also being made in battery technology, which is vital for the new generation of electricity-powered vehicles. Humans are endlessly creative. In the end, they will crack climate change.
But by the time they do, it could be too late. Capitalism has trouble thinking beyond the here and now. People running big corporations see their job as maximising profits in the short term, even if that means causing irreparable damage to the world’s ecosystem. What’s more, they think they should be free to get on with maximising profits without any interference from politicians, even though the fight against climate change can only be won if governments show leadership, individually and collectively.
The public and climate change
Public attitudes towards issues surrounding the environment are continuing to change, but there is still a way to go. In the UK, support for renewable energy in a report published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in January of 2018 showed that 79% of respondents support renewable energy, while only 4% opposed the use of renewables. On the issue of fracking, 32% opposed while 16% supported, but most respondents don’t know what it is. Elsewhere, a report conducted by YouGov and ClientEarth, the latter being an organisation that has actively engaged with the government in legal disputes over a lack of environmental action, showed that 62% of respondents believe the government doesn’t do enough to prepare for the impacts of climate change. It shows that the public has become more active in dealing with climate change and pushing for efforts to introduce solutions. But, is the change fast enough?
In short, I can’t help but feel that the world will not change until we start to see the damaging effects of climate change on a much larger scale. Until we see millions of climate refugees on country borders, famine is becoming more frequent and intense, water shortages becoming more widespread, and more natural disasters, I do not believe change will be radical enough. Of course, I do sound apocalyptic, and I hope I’m wrong. But the world has been too slow to react, and I question whether the reaction after this report will be any better.