The release of the international climate panel’s fifth assessment report of climate science has reinforced the reality of the climate crisis. The science is unequivocal: the problem is real, serious and human-induced. At the same time, we remain on course to cross dangerous thresholds implied by temperature rises of more than 2 degrees Celsius, and past emissions mean we are already locked into some climate change. So while the imperative to cut emissions is greater than ever, we will also need to adapt to at an unprecedented scale.
But I can’t help asking if the message is really any scarier than before – and the scary science has not prompted enough action to prevent climate change from escalating. What do we need beyond the science? Here are three initial pointers:
- The first rule of climate change club: Don’t mention climate change. Or at least don’t lead with climate change. Climate change needs to be put in the context of the most important other issues. For small holder farmers, the entry point might be how the seasons have changed over time and how those changes have affected their activities. For politicians this might be employment opportunities and wealth creation, ensuring the dynamism of the agricultural sector, preventing the withdrawal of insurance, or protecting the economy from GDP loss due to disaster events.
- Start with actions. The science needs to inform a call to action not a call for wailing and gnashing of teeth. As GCCA boss Kelly Rigg recently noted, we spend too much time on the first four components of public understanding of climate change (it’s happening, it’s pernicious, we are causing it, and scientists agree on it) and too little on the fifth –the fact that we can actually do something about it. Let’s promote our progress: Annual investment in green energy is around a quarter of a trillion dollars, forestry decisions are starting to consider potential revenues from avoiding deforestation, and climate risk is playing a greater role in many planning decisions.
- Think like a climate sceptic. Climate sceptics have had incredible success in influencing public and political opinion (though much less on scientific opinion). So let’s understand the politics of climate change and find the right policy spaces and discourses just as the sceptics do: Make it real to people’s lives, stress the benefits of living with less air pollution, play on the idea of precautionary action (we do it when wearing seatbelts), be honest about the potential benefits of a warming world (but also on the geographical distribution of benefits and costs), and use social justice arguments where they have traction.
This challenge is not a new one, but the new IPCC report, agreed by governments across the world, has laid down the most unequivocal case to date that climate change is happening and we are causing it. The rest is up to us.