Opinion piece by Jennifer Morgan
Our changing climate is one of the key challenges of our time. If we weren’t clear on that already, on Wednesday the World Economic Forum released its annual survey of experts and decision-makers to verify it.
From water crisis, to extreme weather events, to failures in climate change mitigation and adaptation, four of the top five most impactful Global Risks in this year’s report are related to climate. We are in a climate emergency.
You’d therefore expect this clear existential threat to humanity to be at the very centre of the agenda of the World Economic Forum’s gathering held in Davos this week. Surely the powerful are competing over who can best address this threat to humanity? Which of the brightest minds can identify the most effective solutions the fastest?
But instead the agenda only addresses climate change as one issue of many. The Davos ‘elite’ are still pretending we have time to fix the climate crisis. We don’t. We have already entered into a new phase of climate change, one in which the impacts are coming faster and more intensively and we have to act immediately to avoid an even more catastrophic disaster.
Already in 2019 we’ve witnessed the worst storm in 30 years rip through coastal areas of Thailand. The Solomon Islands in the Pacific has been slammed by unrelenting rain, with 22,000 people estimated to have lost food crops or their homes. In the Alps, just east of Davos, extreme snow events are an ongoing emergency right now, related to warmer and wetter air.
These events should surprise no-one. At the opening of COP24, the UN Secretary General Guterres reminded the world that climate change is already “a matter of life and death” for many people, nations and countries of the world. Climate change is real - and it is here now.
Last year’s special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set out clearly that we have 12 years to pull the planet back from the brink - but only if we start now. As Michael Liebreich points out: we only have two business cycles until we have to have achieved a zero carbon economy.
It’s challenging but perfectly doable. But only if those gathering in Davos embrace their responsibility both in causing and solving this problem, stare it in the face and immediately get on with working towards a new economic system that can operate within our planetary boundaries.
The good news is we’re standing on the threshold of a technological transformation unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before - one that does have the potential to remodel our energy systems and decarbonise our economy.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution could totally reimagine the way we approach solutions to the climate crisis. But only if this revolution puts solving climate change as one of its goals in its analysis and its action plan.
To guide the technological change upon us we need governments to adopt binding targets to at least halve global emissions by 2030 - we can’t delegate a crisis of this level to public-private partnerships. We need short-term actions and long-term commitments from governments and business to get to a carbon free economy by 2050. We need trade and finance rules that support rather than undermine this transition.
And we need significantly more leadership. Right now, climate leadership does not come from industry or government - but from youth, who are acutely aware of the consequences of inaction.
Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old student from Sweden who has inspired a global climate school strike, is taking the sixty-five hour round-trip train journey to demand action from those meeting in the Swiss mountains.
That could mean they do everything in their power to ensure their company delivers the changes needed to prevent warming above 1.5 degrees, and expose anyone in their sector who attempts to block or stall climate progress. They could walk away from business associations if they fail to advocate for policies compatible with a 1.5 degree economy, and ensure the transition to this economy is fair so that communities and workers outside the top 1% benefit.
We can all do our part, but that would be the kind of leadership commensurate with the existential threat we face - and the responsibility for it those gathering in Davos hold.
Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the author.