The battle against climate change is becoming a social movement, says Climate-KIC

The 200 years that it took to industrialise the world and seep damaging carbon into the atmosphere can be mitigated within the next three decades, but only if funds are made available to kick-start a rapid decarbonisation process that revolves around social awareness.

That is the view of John Schellnhuber, chair of Europe’s largest public-private innovation partnership Climate-KIC, who believes social pressure and an immediate decarbonisation strategy are key to ensuring that global warming is limited to the “well-below 2C” target established through the Paris Agreement.

Speaking at the Climate Innovation Summit in Frankfurt today (8 November), Schellnhuber said: “You have physical and biological tipping points in this system, but equally you also have social tipping points in the sense that innovations and campaigns can change the world dramatically within the next few decades. My favourite one is divestment – a social movement that says that money must not be invested in damaging business cases can be very important.

“There is no future for energy production from fossil fuels. The only way to deliver global stability is through rapid decarbonisation; it is the main actor in this movie. All other actions are supporting actors, this means that any tonne of carbon that can be avoided now, should be avoided now.

“It looks like a heavy task, but it will be a global revolution. But unlike previous ones, it will not be delivered in two centuries, it will be delivered in three decades. It’s quite a nice challenge and we have the powers to fulfil it.”

At the Summit in Frankfurt, Schellnhuber outlined the historical industrial movement of countries and the subsequent rise in emissions that followed. But while today’s atmospheric carbon damage can be traced back to the 1800s, Schellnhuber argued that mitigation could be implemented within the next three decades.

By 2020, Schellnhuber suggested that an “immediate emissions peak” would be introduced. By 2030 the energy sector would have been decarbonised, leaving 2040 and 2050 free to concentrate on removing the current carbon levels from the atmosphere.

However, with atmospheric concentrations of CO2 passing the symbolic 400 ppm threshold earlier this year, Schellnhuber argued that the globe is now operating with just 400 gigatonnes remaining in its ‘carbon budget’ – which could be overshot within the next 10 years.

Expanding networks

Opening today’s event via weblink was the recently-appointed Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Patricia Espinosa, who echoed Schellnhuber’s beliefs that social campaigning could “ignite” the Paris Agreement into action.

“The political will that produced such success in Paris has led to rapid ratification of the Agreement in early November,” Espinosa said. “Right now, governments are meeting in Marrakesh to discuss the details of how the Paris Agreement will move forward.

“Their discussion must be complemented by a wider discussion on how to achieve transformative change and truly meet the climate challenge. We must expand the network when working on climate solutions. Transformational change will not happen if only a small fraction of the private sector takes action. Transformational change requires action from every community in every country.”

Fortunately, social awareness of climate issues does seem to be rising. Alongside growing calls for divestment from higher education, two recent high-profile events have served to demonstrate a growing understanding of climate change issues among a global audience. Not only did the Rio Olympics this summer dedicate time to climate change issues, but actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio also dedicated his Oscar acceptance speech to warn of the “urgent threat” of climate change – both of which led to an increase in internet searches related to climate issues.

SecondNature co-founder and global sustainability specialist Charles Perry recently told edie that environment and sustainability professionals can become the leaders of this new social movement, paving the way for a low-carbon, resource efficient economy.

Matt Mace in Frankfurt

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