As the COVID-19 crisis started in Europe, I have been hit by the way our political and mediatic institutions shared the information.
First, we had been told that it was just an isolated virus spread in China. Then, when our Italian neighbors get affected, news on TV kept on saying that this virus was less dangerous than flu. Three weeks later, 3 billion citizens are locked down in their house. We never had such access to information but why this misunderstanding can still happen? Are we facing the same scenario with the climate crisis?
In December 2019, Madrid hosted the 25th conference of parties about climate change. More than 120.000 congressmen, scientific, environmentalists, business representatives gathered to strengthen international agreements to mitigate climate change. This year, as I was working on an environmental startup, I got interested in how these negotiations are happening and what are its outcomes.
In October 2019, civil protests burst in Santiago de Chili jeopardizing the security of the COP25. The Spanish government and the city of Madrid kindly proposed to host the event. In a few weeks, the country and the city got organized to welcome the international gathering. We could read: “It’s time to act”, “Madrid Green Capital” in the city. The emphasis was put on declaring the environmental issue as a worldwide “emergency”. Sadly, it has been only words. “Our House is on Fire”, was saying the former French President during the Johannesburg’s COP. Our house is on Fire and its high time that our leaders get to agree on a binding international action plan.
Dissident voices like Greta Thunberg think it’s already too late: “I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us”. On the “Cumbre Social por el clima”, an unofficial COP25 civil movements’ event, a critical voice put emphasis on the fact that we have spent more than 20 years negotiating and any realistic and pragmatic agreement have been signed to mitigate climate change to 1,5°C.
During COP25, the former Vice-président president of the United States (Al Gore) was in Madrid and gave its Climate Reality Project conference on climate change. I had the chance that my director from Deepki invited me (Xana Muñiz Vázquez). This speech motivated me to sit and organize some of my old notes.
I would like to share with you one of the numbers I’ve been collecting these last years. I get this information from vulgarisation videos or documents and books. I want you to carefully consider these data with hindsight. But as you already know, we are in a bad situation.
First, let us speak about Green Houses Gases
- We are changing the composition of the atmosphere. During summer 2018, the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere has exceeded 411 ppm (parts per million), a level never exceeded since 800,000 years ago and 4 million years ago.ª
- 95% is the degree of certainty, described as “extremely likely”, that “human activity is the main cause of the observed warming” since the mid-twentieth century according to the IPCC.ª
- We have signed international treaties but cannot bend the emission curve. Emissions of the six greenhouse gases initially covered by the Kyoto Protocol have increased by more than 80% since 1970 and 45% since 1990, reaching 53.4 Gt CO2 eq in 2016.ª
- We are far from reaching our reduction targets. Paris Agreement is not respected by the G20 (countries responsible for 80% of GHGs). France itself, as a leader of the climate debates, does not respect it. On 21 January 2020, the government decided to revise upwards its authorized CO2 emissions until 2023: the 2019–2023 carbon budget thus rounds to 422 million tonnes of CO2 eq. per year, compared to the 398 million initially planned for 2015ª. Therefore, the country has written in its law in July 2019 the objective of carbon neutrality for 2050. This year 2020, on Thursday, March the 5th, (during the first 65 days of the year) France has already emitted around 80 MtCO2 on its territoryª. In 2050, these 80 MtCO2 will represent the maximum quantity of emissions not to be exceeded for the whole year.
- In September 2019 in France, only 13 CAC 40 companies had reduced their greenhouse gas emissions since the Paris Accord was signed four years earlier, while the emissions of 22 others have increased; the last five companies in the index do not publish any figures on this subject. ª
- Again at the European scale, European Union Trading Scheme only covers 45% of all European GHG , COP21 6th article. ª
- And why we never speak about the Permafrost emissions potential? These huge expanses of frozen land, located particularly in Alaska and Siberia, estimated to contain some 1,800 billion tons of carbon. “More than double the carbon currently in the atmosphere. If it thaws, it can release this carbon in the form of methane, 34 times more powerful than CO2 when evaluated on a century-scale, and 86 times more powerful on a 20-year scale,” warns David Wallace-Wells. In short, global warming is likely to trigger a reaction that will itself increase the global warming phenomenon itself. ª
What is the situation with Biodiversity
- We are entering a new geological area the “Anthropocene”. Anthropocene extinction is an ongoing extinction event of species as a result of human activity.ª
- The current rate of extinction could be 100 to 1,000 times higher than the average natural rate observed in the recent evolution of biodiversity.ª
- In the last 50 years, we lost 60% of wild vertebrate species on Earth.ª
- “Wild species” count for only 4% of the total weight of living creatures.ª
- In Europe, 75% of the insects have already disappeared and they were fundamental to the pollination processes.ª Without bees, Einstein was saying that humanity could only last 6 months.
- Half of the world’s forest was destroyed in the 20th century for two main reasons: produce food ( 74%), extract more resources.ª
- 90% of the fish stock is been overexploited.ª
- The ocean is going acid because it’s capturing the CO2 of the atmosphere. The potential of hydrogen (pH) rounds the 8,1. It is 30% more acidic than in the pre-industrial era. Coral reefs may be gone in a few years, even though coral reefs are home to about 25% of marine species.ª
Where our global village is headed?
- Each IPCC report reassesses its projections for the coming century upwards. In 1990, the first report predicted a maximum global average temperature increase of 3°C by the end of the 21st century, the second a 3.5°C increase, then 3.6°C in 2001 before a maximum forecast of 4°C in 2007. After an increase of 0.85°C on average between 1880 and 2012, the increase in average global surface temperatures could reach 4.8°C by 2100 compared to the period 1986–2005, in the most pessimistic scenario.ª
- Freshwater scarcity affects more than 40% of the world’s population, a worrying proportion that is likely to worsen as temperatures rise.ª
- Between the 1980s and 2000, mortality due to climatic disasters increased by 60%, and between 1994 and 2004, 800,000 people died as a result.ª
- According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), by 2030, the world will need 40% more water, 50% more food, 40% more energy, 40% more wood, and fiber. The only way to meet these demands is to manage our ecosystems intelligently and sustainably.ª
- During COP24: 129 million euros were made available for the financing of the countries of the South by those of the North. It clearly remains a big issue for the international community. Indeed, says Fanny Petitbon of the NGO Care, “it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the $300 billion a yearthat will be needed to meet the adaptation needs of the most vulnerable countries by 2030”.ª
- Some, alert us about the worst. In 1972, the Meadows Report, written by MIT for the Club of Rome, predicted the collapse of our modern thermo-industrial civilization around 2030. More recently, Pablo Servigne with its Collapsology books, predicts that inevitable future.
Our problems are mainly by design
- In 2019, Carbon4, carbon strategy consultancy firm, listed the actions that could be done at an individual scale. They confirmed that it would lead to a drop of about -20% in the personal carbon footprint, i.e. a quarter of the efforts needed to achieve the 2°C objective. The remaining part of the reduction in emissions comes from investments and collective rules that are the responsibility of the State and companies”. ª
- 89,7% of the consumption of primary energy is fossil (34,2% comes from oil, 23,4% from gas, 27,6% carbon and 4,5% from nuclear sources). You can guess that 10,3 % comes from non-fossil sources (6,8% from hydroelectricity and only 3,5% from renewable ones) in 2017. ª
- Fossil fuel investments continue to increase. Every year since December 2015 (Paris Agreement) and between 2016 and 2019, we have seen a+15% increase in fossil energy investments ª. Global fossil investments amounted to some $1.8 trillion across all sectors when $750 billion have been injected for renewable electricity ª. Our economy is giving priority to the old model.
- 1/4 of the food is thrown away without being consumed. ª
- We need to change our finance. According to the IPCC, the world economy will have to spend $ 2.4 trillion annually to keep the temperature rise to 1.5 ° C ª. We need more funding. Our tax systems are not optimized because 1/4 of European banks’ profits are stashed in tax havens. ª
- The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) presents a comparison of the cost of climatic inaction versus the cost to stabilize the climate in terms of GDP %. We should invest 1% of GDP/year to stabilize it. If we don’t, we could have to spend between 5 to 20% of our GDP to save our economies in the near future. Another simulation says that in 2050, humanity will have to spend $500,000,000 each year to recover from climate change outcomes like sea level rising, migrant crisis or natural disasters.
Yes we can do it
- We already get to agree on international environmental protection treaties. The Montreal Protocol is an international multilateral environmental agreement that follows the Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer adopted on March 22, 1985. Its objective is to reduce and eventually eliminate substances that deplete the ozone layer ª. More, The Paris agreement is the first universal agreement on climate and global warming (COP21).
- Investment practices are moving fast as I was writing in a precedent text about Real Estate investment sustainability ª. For example, The Montréal Carbon Pledge is a convincing initiative, having mobilized 120 investors on all continents in less than two years. More than 80% of them have published their carbon footprint to formalize their commitment to the goals of the Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition ª. French development agency (AFD) became the pioneer development bank 100% compatible with the Paris Agreement ª.
- The capacity of solar energy alone has increased 26-fold since 2009, growing from 25 GW to 663 GW ª. The cost of photovoltaic solar panels has fallen by more than 80% in France from 2008 to 2016. ª
- We are aware of our objectives. The goals of sustainable development give us the roadmap to a better and more sustainable future for all. They respond to the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace, and justice. The goals are interconnected and, in order not to leave anyone behind, it is important to achieve each of them, and each of their targets, by 2030. ª
- Thursday, February 27th. In the Court of Appeal of England (2nd highest court): the court ruled that the extension of London Heathrow airport was illegal because the project did not take into account the objective of the Paris Agreement. ª
- Event scientists are moving away from their historic neutrality. Nearly 1,000 of them call citizens to civil disobedience in an op-ed published in Le Monde. ª
Mitigating climate change risks one of the biggest challenges of our generation.
I still cannot position myself between the Mutation <> Revolution dilemma. Is it a deep mutation that we need? Or a radical change is our only way out? I guess we want to protect our personal freedom and live in a stable world, that makes “climate justice” a central issue. We need different economic metrics and long-time oriented political strategies. And yes, this change will be possible only if we, citizens of this world, make pressure on our institutions.
COVID-19 reminds us that no country can be 100% safe in our modern and connected world. Like climate change, any border can stop the virus. The global economy will only overcome this crisis if trust returns. What kind of future do we want? “There are two choices that stand out for their importance”, according to Yuval Harari. “The choice between totalitarian rule and democratic reclamation. The second choice is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”
I imagine a future where we will be informed about the carbon footprint of a political measure or a personal buying decision. This number will be put in perspective with our global and yearly objectives and help us be more responsible. But we still have a long way to it.