Opinion
17 Jul 2019 03:48pm

Debate: Can the effect of climate change be reversed?

We ask a panel of experts, academics and public figures if the effect of climate change be reversed

debate july 630 2019
Caption: Image: Getty Images

Dr Simon Evans

Deputy editor and policy editor, Carbon Brief, on Twitter

“A record 80% of the British public say they’re ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ concerned about climate change. That’s the highest recorded in UK government surveys going back to 2012. A record-low 19% are ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ concerned.”

Rod Downie

Chief polar adviser, WWF UK

“If emissions continue to rise at current rates, we have about a decade before 1.5°C of global warming is inevitable and the impacts are irreversible. Further warming beyond this will lead to mass wildlife extinctions and human catastrophe. The Arctic is ‘ground-zero’ for climate change. The rapid changes that we see here today will continue at least up to mid-century. But substantial cuts in greenhouse gas now could stabilise even the Arctic, after mid-century.

“We are the last generation that can stop devastating climate change. The world needs to be ‘net zero’ by 2050. This requires transformational change in energy, transport and food systems and the way we manage our land and oceans, combined with technology solutions to capture and store carbon.”

Mike Childs

Head of science, Friends of the Earth

“The National Infrastructure Assessment estimates emergency measures to combat increased flooding and droughts would cost us £40bn over 30 years. But resilience would cost ‘just’ £30.5bn over the same time.

“Governments have to get us on a path to net-zero emissions as soon as possible. Natural flood management like tree-planting and simply wasting less water are also vital. “And if we installed proper home insulation, we could make a real change. Energy efficiency may not make headlines, but it should.”

Mardi Mcbrien

Executive director, Climate Disclosure Standards Board

“Leading corporations have been reporting on the climate challenge to the global investment community via CDP, reaching over 7,000 companies in 2018. Over 700 organisations support the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations. However, the members of the World Federation of Exchanges currently list 48,000 companies, so there is a long way to go.

“We need to move beyond the hype and turn the conversation on climate change into concerted action with a global response that is proportionate to the scale of the challenge. This includes large-scale disclosure of climate risks and opportunities to provide investors with the information they need to effectively finance the transition to a low carbon economy.

“Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, global warming would continue to happen for at least several more decades, if not centuries. It may not be too late to limit some of the worst effects of climate change, but the clock is ticking.”

The IPCC report Global Warming of 1.5ºC

The most up-to-date summary of climate science

“Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions. These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”

Alexandra Phillips

Green Party MEP, South East England

“This is taking spinning to a new level. We need to tackle the serious threat of climate change head on. Frankly the US department of energy should feel ashamed of itself when it’s attempted to rebrand fossil fuels as freedom molecules.”

Emma Howard Boyd

Chair, the Environment Agency

“It’s not too late to reduce the speed and extent of climate change, but we should heed the words of the young climate activists around the world: this is an emergency.

“Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said we have 12 years to limit global temperature rise to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. But, a key point they made was that even if we manage that, the physical threats are still multiplying.

“So, we need to both reduce carbon emissions to net zero (which the UK’s Committee on Climate Change says is possible), and also prepare for the acceleration of physical impacts that we already know are coming – like heatwaves, droughts, the spread of disease, and floods.”

Pen Hadow

Director, Arctic Mission Ltd

“It’s not too late to reverse the contribution of human-related activity on our global climate. We need local-to-national leadership, effective protection of ecosystems – and a growing acceptance of the significance of personal self-restraint in our consumer habits. Ultimately our planet’s resources are finite and its capacity to process the by-products of our activities without significant undesirable consequences is limited.

“To date exploitation of the natural world has been taken as a freebie by businesses. But our continued sustainable existence is inextricably linked to the natural world’s healthy existence. We all need to find our role to make this work – it’s not a rehearsal, or even a dress rehearsal. You’re on stage now, and everyone’s watching.”

Oliver Yates

Independent candidate, the Australian parliament

“It’s worth stating, coal is the leading cause of climate change in Australia and that Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter. Arguments that Australia has a small impact on global warming are horribly and deceptively wrong.”

Julie Baddeley

Senior corporate adviser, the Hughes Hall Centre for Climate Change Engagement, leading the WEF Climate Governance Initiative

“Only if international business acts immediately and radically do we have a chance of containing the issue.

“I don’t underestimate the challenge. Reducing emissions, adapting to the physical impacts of climate change as well as managing the transition risk as governments around the world sharpen their approach, is hard. It may require wholesale changes to supply chains, a redirection of investment policies, and operating in a world where there is less travel, less consumption, less meat on the menu.

“I remain optimistic. Business leaders are good at grappling with analysis and change when we have to. Every company will be affected by this agenda, and as directors we need to be asking the right questions, and commissioning the necessary work with determination. This is the biggest challenge for companies in my lifetime and we all need to work together to deliver a future.”


Topics