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by Richard Joy
5th November 2021

Global leaders meeting at COP26 are in a difficult position. On the one hand they have to make difficult decision about the future of the planet. On the other hand, they want to make decisions that will be popular with their electorate.

If their voters demand climate action, then they will be encouraged to take bold action. But if their voters don’t see climate change as a threat, then politicians may prevaricate rather than make difficult decisions. Although some people are deeply concerned about climate change, a large proportion remain unaware that we are just a few years away from a climate catastrophe. Until the majority of voters understand the threats we face, it will be difficult for politicians to implement the policies that are required. The problem is that the threat is imminent. Global warming must not increase beyond 2°C, ideally it needs to stay below 1.5°C, although that looks virtually unattainable.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the two-degree limit will be reached by 2030. To quote from a report by the IPCC:

From a base point in 1870, it has been calculated that global warming will reach the 2 degree target when CO2 emissions exceed a total of 2,900 billion tonnes. Approximately half this quantity was produced during the period 1870 to 2000. In the period 2000 – 2015, one third of the remaining carbon budget was produced. It is projected that the remaining volumes will be produced during the period 2015 – 2030.

This gives us about eight years. The scale of the economic changes required is beyond anything that we will have seen before. It is only in times of war that nations dramatically repurpose their economies but when the need is great enough, nations can respond to the identified threats. In times of crisis there is a shared sense of purpose that drives society and the climate emergency now requires all nations to be united by common purpose. The challenge for our politicians is that they need the support of the electorate, but unless the electorate understand the stark choices facing us, they will prefer the status quo. Time is running out. Humanity will not win a war against nature.

Further information is available here.

Richard Joy is an expert in organizational transformation and strategic change. He has been actively involved in environmental politics for many years and has been part of a task force advising on policy options for green growth, headed by leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey.

Watch the recording of the Bristol University Press webinar COP26 and new strategies for climate action, featuring Richard and recorded on 19 October 2021.

Unsustainable cover

Unsustainable: The Urgent Need to Transform Society and Reverse Climate Change by Richard Joy is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £15.99.

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Image credit: Melissa Bradley on Unsplash