When the fire alarm goes off

Last Monday, 8 October, the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published. The report contains the sum of current knowledge on what 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees of global warming respectively entails. These temperature increases are linked to the targets that virtually every country in the world has agreed on in the so-called Paris Agreement.

 The IPCC brings together researchers within different fields from all round the world and each report is subject to comprehensive review processes. The work is consensus based and careful to ensure everything included in the report is based on solid scientific grounds. This means they err on the side of caution, i.e. that they tend to underestimate the risks associated with climate changes. It is therefore not that surprising that the warnings and risk assessments have been dialled up in this report compared to earlier reports. As more research is done and knowledge acquired (and as the world gets warmer) new effects will also be discovered.

 The report points to the need for more urgent changes now if we are to achieve the climate targets set. We also know what needs to be done. We should stop using fossil fuels, we should build climate-smart houses, we should find new ways to produce steel, cement and plastic, we should eat less meat and dairy products from ruminants and we should fly less. All these pieces must be part of a strategy for a sustainable society in line with the Paris Agreement. We cannot do everything in one day and we do not have all the details ready, but we know where we can start. For example, I have previously written about transportation and buildings.

 Right now, we are a bit like a group of people sitting in a house where the fire alarm has gone off, but nobody is reacting, because we are all thinking that if no one else does anything, maybe I misheard and maybe there is no fire alarm. But there is. And what’s needed is for some people to stand up and do what has to be done. If some people start, others will then follow.

 But not everyone will be celebrating. Those with large holdings of fossil fuels will lose out. Lobbyists will employ their usual arguments and do what they can to slow this development. They may not say that the measures are wrong, perhaps, but they will find arguments that someone else should do something else, later, not now.

 However, the longer we wait to tackle climate change, the more expensive it will be. We have waited long enough about acting on the information we have had, and this means that we need to act now and use the alternatives that are available. To reach the climate targets, we need to roughly halve emissions every decade. That is totally doable. It’s just a matter of getting started.

 Tip of the week: Access the material from the IPCC. The report itself is comprehensive but there are several different summary versions on different levels. Everything is available here