on 2nd July 2014

Gambling with the future of the planet

People hate to think what might happen if we fail to stop the worse effects of climate change. Well, as one senior climate scientist said to me recently: “Impacts are happening already and currently we are going to shoot well past two degrees of global warming. It’s time to batten down the hatches and get ready for the major storm… If we act now, we can reduce the overall extent and severity of damage, but we are set for extremes and there will be substantial loss and damage from climate impacts.”

These stark words left me with a rapidly sinking feeling: What type of society are we creating, what type of world are we heading towards?

Recent science analysis predicts that we are heading for between 4- 6 degrees °C of global warming. Such rapid change in our climate system will bring about profound and in some cases catastrophic damages. This is the stuff science fiction movies are made of: Storms and typhoons will be more frequent and will kill more lives and destroy more infrastructures. Our ecosystems will be irreparably damaged: Think bleached corals, rainforest dieback, desertification and more wildfires. With rising sea levels, coastal zones will be permanently flooded and whole areas will be lost for habitat and agriculture due to salt water intrusion and salinization. The world’s most vulnerable countries are under threat: The Maldives and Vanuatu are today known as paradise destinations for honeymooners and beach fans. Well, in a climate impacted future, these places might not exist anymore; they will be lost to the rising sea. It is evident that such major changes across the globe within and across nation states will change the very nature of our political and geographic boundaries, potentially exacerbating migration, conflict and security issues around the globe.

While these changes are happening, the international political discussions around climate change and a global commitment to reduce emissions have come to a near complete standstill. For the last two weeks, experts have once again been meeting for the UN framework convention on climate change in Bonn, Germany, to negotiate a global solution. However, progress is slow and increasingly complex. The political reality is far removed from what is needed scientifically. There is a huge chasm between the growing speed and scale of the problem and the slowdown by governments to address it – and as one negotiator said to me recently: “Whilst the politicians are stalling, the planet is boiling.”

This week in Bonn, CARE, German watch, Action Aid and WWF have launched a report called “Into Unknown Territory:

The limits to adaptation and reality of Loss and Damage from climate impacts”. It concludes that adaptation to climate change alone will no longer suffice and that we have to prepare for a radically different planet. It highlights that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people and countries who have done so little to cause climate change are perversely the ones being impacted the most. In its poverty-fighting programs around the globe, CARE is more and more confronted with the reality of climate impacts. They are unfolding at the frontline of local communities and upon the world’s poorest and most marginalised people, especially women and girls. “We have not had time to recover from the last drought”, a woman famer just told one of my CARE colleagues in Niger. “Now we are going hungry again.” After 2005 and 2010, the Sahel currently faces another food crisis. Failed rains are not the only cause, but the situation is worsened by the changing climate of the region.

Whilst nobody has any clear understanding of what such a highly impacted climate future might look like, there are indications of just how bad it can get both for developing and developed regions alike. The solution requires a massive transition and paradigm shift to respond to a world of climate damage, necessitating scaled up investment in disaster risk reduction, emergency planning and all measures to reduce risk. Decision-makers need to refocus their approaches, to tackle vulnerability and build resilience and adaptive capacity. We need to recognize that we don’t have all the answers or the solutions. Therefore, continuous learning and research is needed to build our collective capacity to respond to increasing risks and uncertainty.

Unfortunately, the many fears over the on-going global financial crisis, food crisis, population growth and security concerns mean that climate rarely get the attention it deserves. But it is time to realize that climate change is increasingly a main driver behind many of today’s – and tomorrow’s challenges. We can’t return the planet and claim compensation for the damage done. We urgently need global leaders to step up political ambition and action on climate change across the globe – instead of fragmented territorial responses guarding minor national interests. We need recognition that only through truly collaborative global action can we tackle our global climate crisis and that if we don’t, the poorest and most vulnerable will suffer the most.

But in the end, we will all be losers.


Kit Vaughan

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