17 December 2018
It is easy to succumb to despair in the wake of the UN’s annual climate summits. As the gavel comes down, the avalanche of pre-prepared statements is released and for every line praising welcome progress there are two more reminding people that what little headway has been made is woefully inadequate in the face of the climate change threat.
“Inadequate,” says Lord Stern. “Very dangerous,” warns Johan Rockstrom. “We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis,” declares Greta Thunberg. “I know,” thinks the UK government. “Two days after the Summit closes lets unveil an expansionist new aviation strategy that largely glosses over the scale of the climate challenge.”
The narrow technical breakthroughs delivered in Katowice pale in comparison to the stark warnings that global greenhouse gas emissions are rising again. The dense legalese of the treaty rulebooks and political accords sometimes feel like we’ve called 999 to report a wildfire and the government has closed the fire station and sent a chartered accountant to help. David Attenborough warns that climate change is tearing at the very fabric of civilisation and world leaders respond with an unresolved row over the intricate rules governing carbon offsets. It would be understandable if many of the sleep-deprived delegates gathered in Katowice travelled home with a nagging sense of ennui packed in their luggage alongside their souvenir lumps of Polish coal.
Will we succeed in holding temperature increases below 1.5C or even 2C? Can a net zero emission economy be built within 30 years when greenhouse gas emissions are even now still rising? It remains the longest of long shots. But the signal from Katowice is that the vast majority of governments are still committed to giving it a right good go. The question for business leaders is do you want to continue with the high carbon relegation form or do you want to be part of the green fightback? There are only two more business cycles to decide and the world is going to change fast around you regardless of which path you opt for.
As it is nearly Christmas, perhaps it is best to close with a quote from Dickens: “Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast.”