Scientists have moved into the front line of the battle against climate change, giving politicians a clear message that failure to agree urgent action when they meet in Copenhagen in December, will lead to social and climate chaos.
Speaking at an emergency meeting of 2,500 climate scientists from 80 countries, Gordon Brown’s former climate adviser Sir Nicholas Stern dramatically increased his estimate of the economic cost of failing to tackle climate change. His 2006 report estimated that “business as usual” would cost 20% of the world’s economic output. Now he says it could rise higher than 50%.
Stern joined other scientists in warning that failure to agree strong carbon reductions will result in abrupt and irreversible shifts in climate which society would be unable to cope with. Their six key messages, backed by extensive research, are:
1. The worst-case scenario is getting worse
Worst-case projections from the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report are happening already. Without immediate action the situation could accelerate even beyond that.
2. Social disruption
Societies are vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change. Temperature rises above 2C will be very difficult for countries to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.
3. Long-term strategy
Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid dangerous climate change, regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.
The worst effects will be on the poorest people in every country, and on the poorest countries and regions. Mitigation strategies must protect the most vulnerable first, and provide safety nets for devastated areas.
5. Inaction is inexcusable
The economic, technological, behavioural and management tools needed to deal with climate change already exist. Benefits can flow from acting on climate change including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.
6. Meeting the challenge
Constraints must be overcome and opportunities seized to reduce inertia in social and economic systems by:
• building on growing public desire for governments to act
• removing implicit and explicit subsidies
• reducing the influence of vested interests
• enabling shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society
• engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.
What the scientists are saying to politicians is, this is your last chance. But we need to ask, can the symbiotic capitalist state/corporate monster that currently rules our lives to make these changes? As the answer is a resounding NO, then we have a very short window of opportunity to replace the economic and political elites who are actually the problem rather than the solution.
How to do this, people ask? The answer can only be through mass mobilisation, civil resistance to government actions and the formation of local, regional and national Councils of Action that will begin to plan for change – and will more truly represent the will of the people.
With the People’s Charter for Democracy, A World to Win proposes a framework around which people from any background, or any group in society, can organise in such Councils of Action. Taking the initiative and the power, to tackle the twin climate/economic crisis fairly and democratically – that is the challenge of the age.