Of all the fraught issues raised by the climate crisis, tipping points–or, more recently, “tipping cascades”–are the most fraught. Pessimism can be self-fulfilling–it comes to that.
And yet there is the truth, which isn’t looking particularly good. Which is why I recommend The Tipping Points at the Heart of the Climate Crisis, which was published a while ago in The Guardian. It’s the best simple overview to the state of tipping point science I’ve seen, and its both up to date and judicious. No “doomsterism” here, but not false comfort either. Rather, simple quotes, as for example when Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research tells us:
‘The 2016 agreement committed most countries to limit warming to 1.5 to 2C . . . Winkelmann argues that 1.5C is the right target, because it takes into account the existence of the tipping points and gives the best chance of avoiding them. “For some of these tipping elements,” she says, “we’re already in that danger zone.”’
I particularly appreciated the straightforward manner in which Michael Marshall, the author of this piece, dealt with the debate about 2018’s “Hothouse Earth” paper, which was itself a tipping point. After its publication, the extent of our danger was palpably clearer. Straightforward like so:
“In 2018, researchers including [Tim] Lenton and Winkelmann explored the question in a much-discussed study. “The Earth System may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions – Hothouse Earth,” they wrote. The danger threshold might be only decades away at current rates of warming.
Lenton says the jury is still out on whether this global threshold exists, let alone how close it is, but that it is not something that should be dismissed out of hand.
“For me, the strongest evidence base at the moment is for the idea that we could be committing to a ‘wethouse’, rather than a hothouse,” says Lenton. “We could see a cascade of ice sheet collapses.” This would lead to “a world that has no substantive ice in the northern hemisphere and a lot less over Antarctica, and the sea level is 10 to 20 metres higher”. Such a rise would be enough to swamp many coastal megacities, unless they were protected.”
Once up a time, people feared that “adaptation” would become a convenient excuse for avoiding mitigation. More recently, it’s become harder to believe that adaptation, taken seriously, would be anything but challenging.
Two recent reports by the New York Times have made this crystal clear:
The first, The Great Climate Migration, is nothing less than astonishing. I will not even attempt to summarize it, though I will note its comment that “In the most extreme climate scenarios, more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the course of the next 30 years.” And I will add the observation that this will be a challenge to both our national soul and our democracy. It’s an obvious truth, of course, but it bears repeating.
The second, How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering, turns away from the suffering abroad, and spotlights the suffering right here at home. Again, there is no surprise, though I myself have never seen the legacy of redlining expressed as carefully mapped urban heat islands. Nor did I know just how hot those islands were.
“Across more than 100 cities, a recent study found, formerly redlined neighborhoods “are today 5 degrees hotter in summer, on average, than areas once favored for housing loans, with some cities seeing differences as large as 12 degrees. Redlined neighborhoods, which remain lower-income and more likely to have Black or Hispanic residents, consistently have far fewer trees and parks that help cool the air. They also have more paved surfaces, such as asphalt lots or nearby highways, that absorb and radiate heat.”
Read this. Then go back and reread Ta-Nehisi Coates’ classic The Case for Reparations. The implications are as painful as they are obvious.
Adaptation is not going to be cheap or easy. Nor is it just a matter of sea walls and heat pumps. It’s about facing history.
This, the new report from the Civil Society Equity Review coalition, is the first since the coalition began in 2015 to focus on Loss and Damage. It argues that the wealthy countries must take a great bulk of the responsibility for the impacts that climate change is already having in developing nations.
It highlights how the world needs to establish effective responses to climate disasters, remake global food systems to be resilient in the face of destabilized ecosystems, and respond to increasingly frequent migrant crises in ways that protect the rights of those forced to leave their homes.
The report shows that the first step is for wealthy countries to immediately begin providing public climate finance, based on their responsibility and capacity to act, to support not only adaptation, but also just responses to the loss and damage already being caused by the climate crisis.
The report calculates countries’ “fair share” of responsibility using an equity analysis, based on historic contributions to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, and their capacity to take climate action, based on national income while taking into account what is needed to provide basic living standards.
The new Christian Aid fair shares report — Climate Inequality in the Commonwealth: A call for urgent action (which we provided the analytic support for) is a step forward for at least two reasons. First, it very practically provides a fair-shares analysis at a sub-global level, within the 53 member Commonwealth of Nations. Second it calls for the wealthy Commonwealth nations to support the poorer members by very specifically aiding them in eliminating energy poverty. In fact, it expresses that support not in cash terms but in terms of in terawatt hours of renewable electricity generating capacity. The renewables side of the analysis is based on the latest work of the International Renewable Energy Agency
Well its two years since Paris, and the Bonn climate conference is over, and the future looms.
It’s a good time to stop and read the new report of the Civil Society Equity Coalition, which EcoEquity, a core member of the Climate Equity Reference Project, is extremely pleased to support. It’s a really short report, so you have time to do so. Read at least the summary, and don’t be put off by the report’s subtitle, which is “Towards a meaningful 2018 Facilitative Dialog.” The Facilitative Dialog is one of the “ambition mechanisms” that was created by the Paris Agreement, and we should all wish it the best. Dialog, after all, is fundamental to governance, and indeed to civilization. In the absence of a global state, we’re going to have to make the most of it, and of all the ambition mechanisms, if we’re going to have a real chance of stabilizing the climate system.
Paris was a breakthrough, no question. At the same time, it left us with a whole hell of a lot to do. The problem is that much of it has to do with offshore suffering. And, well, this doesn’t exactly seem to be a moment of high internationalism.
Still, it’s worth reminding ourselves that global solidarity is going to be an absolute necessity if we want to to avoid global catastrophe. And that, despite this moment of strange, strained, nationalism, there are people that are desperately in need of a helping hand. You don’t need to forget the poor and the vulnerable in the US to remember the 3.5 billion poorest people around the world who face increased risk of floods, droughts, hunger and disease.
So let’s spare a moment to note, in particular, just how pathetically little adaptation funding there is on the table. Here’s a graph:
And here’s a link to Unfinished Business, a new report from Oxfam International that will give you a rundown on exactly how to read the graph. (Hint: The big numbers in the blue bar are official lies; the real amount is much smaller.)
And here are a few words from the report itself: “In particular, the [Paris} agreement left many questions on climate finance unanswered. It extended the Copenhagen commitment from developed countries to jointly mobilize $100bn per year by 2020 for climate action in developing countries by another five years through to 2025. And it strongly calls for those countries to increase their funds for adaptation beyond current levels. But it failed to include meaningful mechanisms to ensure that adaptation finance will increase sufficiently, or to address the massive neglect of adaptation compared to mitigation in international climate finance flows to date.”
Keep the phrase “Unfinished Business” in mind. It will come in handy as we make our way though the post-Paris years.
Ready for a stimulating new cut across some old territory? Think about “responsibility,” and take a look at Carbon Majors Funding Loss and Damage, a discussion paper by Julie-Anne Richards and Keely Boom of the Climate Justice Project — “an independent not for profit, non-government organisation that uses the law to expose environmental and human rights issues relating to climate change.”
Among other things, the analysis here includes the idea of corporate — rather than national — historical responsibility. In fact, it shows “that a small number – fewer than 100 – entities have a significant responsibility for the climate change currently being experienced.” More generally, it’s based on the idea that private entities that have profited from, and continue to profit from, the fossil-fuel economy should be responsible for a good fraction of the “loss and damage costs” associated with carbon pollution.
This is a ground breaking idea, and it deserves a lot more attention, in this our unfortunate age of corporate personhood. “Persons,” after all, have responsibilities as well as rights.