Taking stock at the beginning of 2022
For the last couple of years, I’ve written a blog post in January previewing the year ahead and optimistically looking forward to the global conferences taking place that might make meaningful progress on issues like climate change and biodiversity loss.
If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years, it is that the future is unpredictable. From the moment the World Health Organisation was informed of a number of unusual cases of pneumonia on 31 December 2019 it has felt at times as though the lives we knew before that date have been turned upside down. Lockdowns, bubbles, social distancing and vaccinations have become part of daily life and the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought social and economic upheaval on a scale not seen in decades.
There’s a cartoon that appeared in The Economist in April 2020 that really struck a chord with me:
It may not be something people want to hear, but as painful as the coronavirus pandemic has been, the climate crisis has the potential to be much worse. Climate Action Tracker currently predicts a global mean temperature increase of 2.7 degrees Celsius based on current policies and action being taken by national governments. For what that could look like there’s a really good article here – spoiler alert, the unprecedented droughts, wildfires, heat waves and floods of 2021 just get worse.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And that we can still achieve that goal, if we can cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
The 2015 Paris Agreement committed the 196 signatories to limiting global warming to “well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.” While COP 26 in Glasgow didn’t result in the binding commitments hoped for, the 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact did at least keep that ambition alive, calling for countries to return in 2022 with strengthened emission reduction plans.
The pledges to reach net zero by 2050 are there too. A study by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit and Oxford Net Zero found that 61 per cent of the world’s 4,000 significant entities (defined as all nations, all states and regions in the 25 highest-emitting countries, all cities with more than 500,000 people, and all companies on the Forbes Global 2000 list) have committed to net zero. But pledging to do something in 28 years in time is easy, those who make the pledge know they won’t have to see it through. Where real progress needs to be made is in getting us onto a path of steep carbon emissions reductions by 2030 – national commitments made so far will only deliver a reduction of 1 per cent by 2030. Project Drawdown has a number of ideas for how we can tackle the climate crisis, but a really quick win would be to stop subsidising non-renewable energy to the tune of $US420 billion per year. Just think of what else that money could be spent on!
So while 2022 will see another climate change conference in the form of COP27 in Egypt, as well as a long awaited biodiversity summit in China, I think we can safely say neither of those will be the silver bullet that resolves these crises. Instead, let’s hope that meaningful progress is made and words are turned into action.
Over the past couple of years we’ve shown that when presented with an immediate crisis we can take steps to tackle it. But when it comes to something more slow moving, like the climate and biodiversity crises we kick that can down the road. We can no longer afford to do that - we have the solutions, what we lack is the will.
I started out the year watching Don’t Look Up on Netflix. I’ll leave you with a quote from writer and director Adam McKay, on his inspiration for the script:
“I started talking to a lot of [climate] scientists. I kept looking for good news, and I never got it. Everything I was hearing was worse than what I was hearing on the mainstream media. So I was talking to [David Sirota], and we were both just like, "can you believe that this isn't being covered in the media? That it's being pushed to the end of the story? That there's no headlines?" And Sirota just offhandedly said, "it's like a comet is heading to Earth and it's going to destroy us all and no one cares." And I was like, "that's the idea!"