Although climate change is becoming a more acute global problem, adequate action remains absent. Last year was full of critical signs (e.g. droughts, floods, wildfires) and more scientific evidence (e.g. a new IPCC report) for man-made climate change. Agriculture, insurance companies, coastal property holders and military bases are already feeling the impact. Even though wind and solar energy kept getting cheaper last year and electric cars became the best-selling luxury vehicle in the U.S., global levels of greenhouse-gases entering the atmosphere increased steeply – and this remains the central measure of our contribution to climate change. As none of the warning signs have sparked any real (political) response and we are bound to hit the tipping points of global warming, this will render any further action by and large irrelevant. As a result, mankind is heading for the worst-case scenario and the chances of any radical turn-around scenarios are getting slimmer.
Currently, we are looking back on almost thirty years of climate inaction. In 1992, leaders of the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro and committed their countries to action by signing the UN convention on climate change. The most recent convention on climate change in Katowice, Poland, in December last year, was marked by rising despair that although the actions necessary to reduce global emissions have been clear for years, adequate response has remained and perhaps will remain absent. Although some action is taken, such as carbon pricing and clean power plans, this is often challenged by lobbyists, particularly by the fossil-fuel industry.
One risk of both climate change action and inaction has increased over the last month: both responses have stirred up diverging social movements and unrest. On the one hand, countries are undertaking efforts to decarbonize their economy, although some do more than others. A recent index published by Drax ranks 25 major world economies in their actions to make a transition to decarbonization. Although France is somewhere in the middle of the index, the country has attracted global attention with the social unrest climate measures incited. In an attempt to wean citizens off of fossil fuels and increase alternative energy use, French President Emmanual Macron has increased taxes on gasoline. The so-called Yellow Vest protests against this measure are illustrative of the violent protests that governments worldwide may face as they impose climate measures on their citizens. At least for now, the French President has refrained from implementing the fuel tax increase. Climate inaction, on the other hand, is also increasingly leading to citizens’ dissatisfaction with their governments. The most well-known face of this stance is Greta Thunberg. This 16-year old Swedish activist became depressed when she learned about climate change or global warming, started the first school strike for climate outside the Swedish parliament building, and therewith inspired countless others in many other countries.
The transition to the new reality of climate politics as well as to a world affected by climate change is a painful one, which will stir up more social movements, protests, and polarization among voters in the future.
RISKS MARKED ON THE RISK RADAR AS NUMBER 1: climate change