It’s a new year, and the epic of humanity’s battle against climate change – or more like our battle against our own collective stupidity and the greed of certain powerful groups – continues apace. 2019 is a critical year for climate change. Let’s talk about why.
This year is like the 11th hour to get our collective act together. This is crunch time.
We need to build momentum and lay the groundwork for 2020 – a year that has been seared into my mind since I first started reading about climate stuff many years ago as the year global emissions need to peak. If that’s not big enough, we have a couple of other biggies next year too:
- We need to peak global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG)
- The Paris Agreement comes into force, and countries are due to upgrade their national climate plans
- The US has its presidential election – getting rid of Donald Trump and electing a climate-conscious president is of global importance
While these are all for 2020, the prep work needs to be done this year, otherwise we will have no hope of achieving them. This year, we need to:
- Build momentum in the climate movement and pressure our governments to upgrade their national climate plans under the Paris Agreement
- Push for national policies to cut emissions, and push the cities we live in, the companies we work for, the brands we buy from, the universities we study at and any other institutions we have connection with to take action to cut emissions
- Do what we can to cut emissions in our own personal lives, in terms of our energy use, our travel, what we eat, what we buy and throw away – yes I still think systemic change is more important, but this really is all hands on deck now
- Make our voices heard in the US Democrat primaries – the process that will decide who will campaign against Trump next year for the presidency
To make sense of this, let’s take a glance back at the big climate moments from 2018. These were the biggest takeaways for me.
- We only have 11 years to HALVE global emissions and then get to NET ZERO by 2050. This is from the IPCC’s groundbreaking report that came out last October. More detail on what this means below.
- The transition to a post-carbon economy must be one of justice for workers. The way the Green New Deal has surged up the political agenda in the US, being championed by Democrat rising star and newly sworn in Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the youth-led Sunrise Movement, gives me a lot of hope and inspiration. Read my earlier post on AOC and the Green New Deal to find out more! Meanwhile, the Yellow Vests protests in France warns us what’s at risk if climate policy doesn’t have economic justice at its heart.
- Far Right populism and nationalism is a major threat to the climate agenda. Trump’s onslaught on the environment and desperate attempts to prop up the failing coal industry have undoubtedly hurt our progress on climate change. Even worse, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as the new president of Brazil puts the climate agenda at risk by threatening to destroy the Amazon and pull out of the Paris Agreement. Bolsonaro is also a disaster for Brazil’s indigenous population, black Brazilians, women and LGBT+ people, and the stability of their democracy. Humans rights and climate issues are entwined. We need to examine what makes people attracted to this kind of far right nationalist populism, and it makes it even more essential to champion the green-left economic populism that is making the Green New Deal so popular.
The science is clear, the race is on – IPCC report on 1.5C
In October 2018, the IPCC (which stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – connected to the UN, a group of scientists that analyses the work of thousands of scientists’ research on climate change) released a special report on the impacts of climate change at 1.5C compared to 2C, which has been our main goal.
They found the impacts at 1.5C would already be pretty severe, but that half a degree, while it might not sound like much, makes an enormous difference, and the impacts at 2C are dramatically worse. This post by Carbon Brief outlines the difference.
The report also looked at what we’d need to do if we want to limit climate change to 1.5C.
For a 1.5C world, we’d need to peak emissions by 2020, halve them by 2030 and reach a net zero economy by mid-century. That means our emissions would be no greater than what’s absorbed by nature, like the forests, oceans and land. Those figures are based on a 2010 baseline.
So far, emissions are still going up and we’re heading for a 3C world if we continue with current rates of action, which would have hellish consequences.
According to the Panel, limiting the global average temperature rise to 1.5ºC is still possible; however, it will require “unprecedented” transitions in all aspects of society, including: the transformation of energy, agricultural, urban and industrial systems; engagement of non-state actors; and integration of climate action into broader public policy and development frameworks.SDG Knowledge Hub, 8th October 2018
The scale of the challenge is scary.
Yet I also really appreciate the clarity and direction given by this report. And I also appreciate that it got way more attention than I’ve seen any previous climate report get. It was covered by all mainstream news outlets, caused a stir on social media and has shifted the terms of debate significantly towards 1.5C being the new goal to reach for, rather than 2C.
In my own country of the UK, cities Bristol and Manchester responded by releasing new climate plans to get to net zero well before 2050 as the IPCC report demands. The UK government is considering upgrading our 2050 climate target from an 80% cut compared to 1990 levels to net zero. The Science Based Targets initiative, that verifies corporate climate targets as being aligned with science, is working on a new methodology for 1.5C. So things are shifting. The climate movement is rallying around this.
So that’s why 2019 is a critical year for climate change. For some ideas on what you can do to play your part, check out these two posts:
- The 3 simplest and more power personal climate actions
- Feeling powerless? Here’s 7 types of citizen power