This chapter considers the actions that need to be taken by governments to influence market forces and the areas where policy reform is required. It identifies key areas of policymaking and looks at the need for political accountability and transparency.
Action to reverse climate change will require extraordinary leadership by the major emitters of greenhouse gases, particularly China, India and the US, and all nations will need to find a common purpose rather than pursue individual strategies. Achieving consensus across the international community has been difficult so far and further progress will require the UN to have greater authority. In particular, the 2015 Paris Agreement needs to be overhauled so that targets are mandatory, not voluntary, and the aggregated plans of all nations need to be adjusted so that the remaining carbon budget is not exceeded. The limits on total emissions must be set at a level that is consistent with a maximum rise in global temperatures of 1.5°C. National monitoring and reporting will need to be strengthened. The current situation of voluntary targets, poor monitoring, false reporting and negligible consequences for countries that breach their self-determined targets is woefully inadequate and we are deluding ourselves if we believe such ineffective measures will avert climate catastrophe.
Converting new commitments into hard action will require the authority of the UN to be strengthened and international agreements to be underpinned by a number of core principles.
This chapter examines the reasons behind the depressing level of political inertia and our failure to respond to the climate emergency with the level of urgency that is required. Politicians seem unable to reject the mantra that economic growth is good, and consumers appear unwilling to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.
The longer we delay, the greater the scale of social change that will be required to transition to a net zero society and the more difficult it will be to manage a globally coordinated response. The problem is that civilization is caught in a trap; climate change will increasingly disrupt our economies. Societies will become more fragmented and political instability will increase, making it ever more difficult to coordinate an effective global political response.
Over many years, we have seen a procession of high-level forums where global leaders meet to discuss matters of international importance. At such events climate change is high on the agenda, yet in spite of all the conferences, commitments and good intentions, the level of greenhouse gas emissions continues to rise as global leaders prevaricate. This woeful inertia has gone on for too long. The next few years will require a dramatic shift in political thinking accompanied by an international commitment to action. However, if political leaders are to agree on a clear plan of action there are number of significant barriers that will need to be addressed. This chapter considers some of these barriers and considers whether it is likely that they will be overcome.
This chapter considers whether civilization is likely to make the transition to a sustainable society before it is too late. The scientific indicators show that things continue to move in the wrong direction, and we can observe for ourselves the growing catalogue of natural disasters, species extinctions and ever-greater destruction of the natural environment. The actions of governments need to be judged not on whether they are doing some good things but whether they will achieve the necessary outcomes in the required time-frame.
There was a time, not long ago, when there was only scant coverage of environmental issues on television or radio, but these days it is covered daily in news bulletins, documentaries and dedicated programmes. This increased focus on climate change and our impact on the natural world is raising awareness of the threats we face. There is growing public concern, and political parties place the green agenda at the forefront of their policies. Many corporate leaders have sensed the changing social mood and increasingly understand the scale of the threat presented by climate change. There are outstanding individuals who are championing environmental innovation and leading changes within their organizations. Corporate strategies are responding to shifts in consumer expectations and anticipating the implications of new environmental regulations. We are seeing significant investment in sustainable technologies that offer the hope of a more sustainable society.
There are many positive signs and this news should be celebrated, but we should not relax with a sense of relief that everything will be all right.
The key theme of this chapter is that government intervention is essential as market forces alone will not deliver the changes required within the timescales necessary. It explores the relationship between government policies and the various interdependencies that determine whether such policies will be effective. One of the propositions of this chapter is that simply designing policies is not sufficient. Successful government intervention requires an understanding of the factors that determine whether the policies will achieve their intended outcomes.
Climate change will, in time, affect everyone, but at the present time there is a pervading sense of, it’s not really going to affect me. As a consequence, governments face little pressure from the electorate. Significant pressure on governments to address climate change will only occur when the majority of people see a direct and probably imminent consequence for their lives. Currently, there seems to be a general awareness that climate change is a potential problem, but there is not a sense that there is an imminent threat to civilization. At present, the direct impact of climate change only threatens a relatively small proportion of the global population, primarily those in the emerging economies. Many within the advanced economies are still isolated from the immediate consequences of climate change, although this is starting to change as we see increasing incidents of forest fires, floods and extreme weather affecting the wealthier parts of the world.
Populations within the less developed countries, particularly those at subsistence levels, are more likely to be affected by climate change as even slight variations in weather patterns can disrupt those living at subsistence levels.
This chapter examines the rate at which carbon is being emitted into the atmosphere and looks at the concept of the carbon budget. It examines the policy gap that exists between the projected reduction in carbon emissions resulting from current policies, and the required reduction in carbon emissions. It examines the consequences of a failure to reduce carbon emissions rapidly and how this will require a cliff edge reduction in emissions, or risk reaching the tipping point. It also offers a summary of key data to illustrate the scale of the energy transition that is required.
Most governments acknowledge the threat of climate change and have plans to reduce carbon emissions over the next few decades. Although some governments are only making slow progress, others are working hard to become more sustainable. One of the success stories is the UK, which has achieved a significant shift towards renewables, and these efforts deserve recognition.
The UK is ranked as one of the best performing nations in reducing CO2. This is an important achievement but, as always, it is important to understand the full picture. Part of this success is due to the increasing proportion of energy that is provided by renewables, but it is also a result of the switch away from industrial production in areas such as steel, concrete, industrial chemicals and manufacturing. The UK economy is increasingly based on service industries and relies on importing the industrial products that it needs. This means that the UK exports its carbon emissions to those countries that produce the manufactured goods.
This chapter considers the factors that enable change to happen and examines where the pressure for the transition to a sustainable society is likely to come from. It looks at the capabilities that will be required to manage radical change successfully and offers a method of categorizing three essential capabilities. The chapter concludes with the proposition that ultimately, the process of social transition requires a shift in attitudes and beliefs at an emotional level not simply an acceptance of scientific evidence and data.
The size of the task that lies ahead, coupled with the limited time to achieve the changes will require exceptional political, corporate and civic leadership. The scale of change will be unprecedented in peacetime, although historically we know that countries can achieve rapid social and economic change during times of war. Anyone with experience of corporate change will know the difficulties of adopting new technologies, implementing new corporate structures and embedding a new organizational culture. Added to this are all the issues associated with programme governance, budgets and corporate politicking. Corporate change is difficult, but managing global economic, political and social transformation is on an entirely different scale.
In the build-up to the year 2000 (Y2K) there were concerns that the millennium bug would affect computer systems, leading to lurid predictions that business systems would crash, cars would suddenly stop and aircraft would fall from the sky. To avert these potential doomsday scenarios, many organizations replaced their IT systems and used the opportunity to restructure and streamline their operations.
This chapter considers the process of transition from both a political perspective and a technical perspective. The political perspective starts with an appraisal of three alternative scenarios for civilization and goes on to consider the types of policies that will be required if the current economic model is to become sustainable. The technical perspective offers a very brief summary of some of the technological changes that will support the rapid transition to a sustainable society.
History teaches us that civilizations grow, flourish and then decline. The Aztecs, the Roman Empire, Chinese dynasties, the Mongol empire and the trading empires of various European countries have all dominated regions of the world for a while and then declined. The challenge facing our modern global civilization is that unless we evolve to a sustainable society we not only risk the collapse of our modern civilization but we jeopardize the survival of humanity.
Over the next few years, we need to address six primary factors that will determine the future of humanity:
These factors were identified in a book, The Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead, by Paul Raskin et al (2002).1 The book considers whether it is possible to achieve the Great Transition and if not, what alternative futures might be in store for us. It offers three scenarios and examines how the aforementioned six factors will be affected according to different outcomes.
This chapter looks at the competence of governments to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and considers the lessons we need to learn if we are to meet the challenge of climate change. It also looks at how societies have responded to new social norms and considers whether COVID-19 will be the trigger for a transition to a sustainable society.
The optimistic conclusion is that the COVID-19 crisis will result in a radical re-evaluation of our social and economic priorities, leading to changes that will enable an effective response to global warming. The pessimistic conclusion is that we will learn little and society will revert to business as usual with a desperate race to restart the global economy and return to the old normal.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of those in the reasonably well off middle classes have enjoyed the changes to their normal, pressurized lifestyle. The stresses of commuting and long hours in the office have been replaced by time at home and new ways of working. Some people will even offer a guilty admission that they have enjoyed lockdown. For others in society, it has highlighted their vulnerability. Many of those in insecure, low-paid jobs have been tipped into poverty within a matter of weeks, their problems exacerbated by poor housing and difficult conditions within their communities.
The fact that COVID-19 has had such different effects across society is relevant to the discussion on the process of social change because we need to understand how an event such as a pandemic or global warming, is perceived by different groups.