We understand that it is hard to see climate change as an emergency when it happens over such a long period of time. We have plenty of time to sort this out, don't we?
The issue here is that there is a time lag between when greenhouse gases are released and their warming effect taking place. Estimates of the size of this lag range from 10-50 years, depending on the size of the release, and the warming effects can still be felt many decades afterwards. This is because of the thermal inertia of the oceans. Just like a saucepan of water takes a few minutes after the heat is first applied to the water boiling, the water in the oceans takes decades to heat up after the additional heat is added to the atmosphere. This slows down the warming effect of greenhouse gas release. This gives us both a problem and an opportunity.
We are already on course for a temperature increase by of around 3°C by the end of the 21st century. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change has said that we need to limit global warming to 1.5°C to avoid some really dramatic and nasty effects of global warming. A time lag of decades means that we need to start dramatically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions right now! We have to act as if it is an emergency, because if we wait until we feel the effects of the change it will already be too late to stop it.
Whilst the full effect of greenhouse as emissions may take decades, the latest research shows that the majority of the warming effect takes place within 10 years of the release (Ricke and Caldeira, IOP Science, 2014). This means that any reductions we make now, will be felt within our current economic cycle, and so we have the opportunity to limit the worst effects of climate change if we act quickly and decisively. This is why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said we need to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and to zero by 2050 to limit warming to 1.5°C. The chart below demonstrates the scale of the change we need to make.
1. We are on track to reach a global temperature rise of 3 degrees by the end of the century (Nature, 2018)
2. We need to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and to zero by 2050 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees (IPCC, 2017)
3. 60% of wildlife has been lost since 1970 (WWF, 2018)
4. Only 7% of reefs in The Great Barrier Reef have escaped bleaching entirely (IUCN)
5. We’re on course to lose over half of all insects by the end of the century (Science, 2018)
6. Over the past two decades, sea levels have risen by 3.2mm per annum (Royal Society, 2020)
7. The last five years – from 2014 to 2018 – are the warmest years ever recorded in the 139 years that NOAA has tracked global heat (National Geographic, 2019)
8. With the current rate of soil degradation, we have 60 years of farming left (Scientific American, 2014)
9. Climate change will drive the migration of 200 million people worldwide by 2050 (National Geographic, 2019)
10. Six Pacific Islands have already been lost to flooding (IOP Science, 2016)
Reproduced from the B-Lab Climate Emergency Playbook
We suggest a 3 step response:
It's an emergency! We need to act now and there are some very quick and easy things we can do to reduce our carbon emissions now, such as switching to green energy, cutting out unnecessary journeys and switching to LED lighting. Our Trusted Partners can help you do this.
It's easy to jump to conclusions about what is causing our emissions and assume that once we cut our direct energy use we have solved the problem. In fact, we often find that a large proportion of the emissions of a business are less obvious, in our supply chain or our customer activities. If we are truly going to have an impact we need to look at all of our activities and understand what is really causing our greenhouse gas emissions, so that we can target our reduction actions most effectively. The only way to do this is to calculate your full carbon footprint.
It's not enough to just to understand, we have to act to reduce our emissions quickly, decisively and consistently over time. This means we need to set targets to reduce our carbon footprint that are in line with the global science-based goals. Then we need to create both long and short term action plans to make this happen, checking our progress on at least an annual basis.
"I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”