The Oxford Climate Society was delighted to have Professor Kevin Anderson, current chair of energy and climate change at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) at the University of Manchester, speak on how we can deliver on the Paris Agreement’s 2°C target through cogency, tenacity and courage. The choice to pursue the 2°C instead of the 1.5°C target is may appear strange, given how the former has worse ecological consequences, but it sets the tone in how we need to focus on more achievable targets before pursuing more ambitious ones. In turn, this centers the discussion on how we need to question our existing assumptions (cogency), refocus our priorities (tenacity), and take a reality-check on our current progress (courage).
He began by addressing how our current efforts to tackle climate change are not only politicized, but also relatively ineffective. Much discourse on climate change mitigation efforts are dominated by politicians, the ‘Glitterati’, celebrities that make superficial contributions to climate change mitigation while continuing high-emitting lifestyles, and even senior academics that may receive much of their funding from the latter. This even extends to the international scale, with the Davos Economic Forum’s message of allowing the privileged few to continue accumulating wealth and polluting, while neglecting the struggles of the impoverished. Even the Paris Agreement has its flaws, with its 2030 target distracting us from prioritizing immediate greenhouse gas reductions and its focus on negative emissions technologies, which are still far from the scale they are supposed to reach, being too far-fetched. This is where the aspect of cogency comes into play, as we need to realize that efforts to tackle climate change are entangled in greater political contexts that are both inhibiting mitigation efforts and giving us false targets to pursue.
The current politics of climate change, as Kevin argues, mean we can only make incremental progress towards slowing global climate change, when what we really need are larger political or value-system changes that can unshackle our potential to drive effective climate mitigation efforts. The general direction for these system changes builds on our cogency of how current discussions of climate change perpetuate uneven development, and that we instead need to shift our focus towards equity. On a global scale, this means ensuring a more even distribution of aid, resources and recognition between privileged and vulnerable populations, so that the latter can be safe from the impacts of climate change, improve their standards of living and eventually contribute to mitigation efforts. We also need a more balanced distribution of responsibility for climate change mitigation, where developed countries need to take the lead in driving CO2 emissions down to 0 by 2050 to fit within our approximate 700 GtCO2 (thousand million tones of CO2) budget to hit the 2°C target, and not continue to shirk this through fanciful technological solutions, emissions trading, and continually doubting the carbon budget for the 2°C target. More importantly, Kevin argues that discussions of equity need to take a temporal focus, and we need to be fair to our future generations. Relying on negative emissions or geoengineering technology places a great challenge on the shoulders of future generations, and this burden only increases the less we do about climate change in the present. Thus, moving from cogency we now need tenacity in pursuing more equitable approaches towards climate change.
With an idea of what needs to be done, now comes the hardest step of actually enacting change. Kevin states that this must begin with accepting that our current efforts to mitigate climate change have been largely ineffective, so that a new focus on equity can be put in place. For example with all of the UK’s campaign on reducing emissions, it has only made a 0.4% reduction in CO2 emissions since 1990, and this percentage may be even smaller after taking into account emissions from imports and exports. Even the rise of the International Panel on Climate Change and its frequent publications have not led to the reductions we need to see, with CO2 still increasing by 65% between 1990, the date of its first report, and 2018. On top of being cogent and tenacious, we need the courage to recognize that winning slowly is just as good as losing outright, and we cannot continue making the same changes while expecting a new outcome.
To achieve 0 CO2 emissions by 2050, this means reducing emissions at an average national rate of 10-13% per year, and other measures such as decarbonizing our energy systems by 2035 to 2040. This cannot be achieved under our overly politicized frameworks for tackling climate change, our lack of commitment towards tackling inequality, and buying into the false belief that we are making significant progress. To start making real, actionable change towards tackling climate change, we need the cogency, tenacity and courage to challenge our value systems as well as shift our attention towards a more equitable approach. Points that the audience raised helped co-produce advice offered by Kevin, namely on focusing on achievable everyday changes, the need to broaden our understandings of diversity, geometric flight pricing schemes (where successive flights per year become exponentially expensive) and the need to encourage open, honest debate on climate change. Overall, we need to realize that narratives of climate change are not just centered around the globalized views of the elite, but they matter to people of all cultures, communities and generations.
You can watch a recording of this event on the Oxford Climate Society Youtube channel.
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