I will be riffing and philosophizing a lot on this going forward. It’s all over. An insane and terrified species destroyed its habitat and still claimed itself to be divinely created and the most intelligent life form on its planet. What a joke. My heritage of reformed church fundamentalism is one of the most severe forms of this insanity. It was all for nothing. Progress was indeed synonymous with self-inhiliation. We, indeed, were a shoe wearing virus.
The IPCC gave us 12 years to set the wheels in motion to save ourselves from the apocalypse known as climate change. Now in the scientific community, a consensus is building that we have only 18 months to implement aggressive climate policy.
Which means “that the decisive, political steps to enable the cuts in carbon to take place will have to happen before the end of next year”.
This does not mean we have 18 months before all hell breaks loose (at least for those in the temperate zones), but it does mean that steps to draw down carbon output to zero need to be in place to address the scale of the problem. Otherwise, our ability to save the biosphere will be completely out of our control.
The Trump regime, of course, will still be in office in January 2021. If he wins the 2020 election our fate is sealed. His environmental policies along with his war on the fight against climate change will have made Make America Venus Again a horrifying reality.
But today, observers recognise that the decisive, political steps to enable the cuts in carbon to take place will have to happen before the end of next year.
The idea that 2020 is a firm deadline was eloquently addressed by one of the world’s top climate scientists, speaking back in 2017.
“The climate math is brutally clear: While the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and now director emeritus of the Potsdam Climate Institute.
One of the understated headlines in last year’s IPCC report was that global emissions of carbon dioxide must peak by 2020 to keep the planet below 1.5C.
Current plans are nowhere near strong enough to keep temperatures below the so-called safe limit. Right now, we are heading towards 3C of heating by 2100 not 1.5.
As countries usually scope out their plans over five and 10 year timeframes, if the 45% carbon cut target by 2030 is to be met, then the plans really need to be on the table by the end of 2020.
With exquisite timing, the likely UK COP in 2020 could also be the moment the US finally pulls out of the Paris agreement.
But if Donald Trump doesn’t prevail in the presidential election that position could change, with a democrat victor likely to reverse the decision.
Either step could have huge consequences for the climate fight.
Right now a number of countries seem keen to slow down progress. Last December the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia blocked the IPCC special report on 1.5C from UN talks.
“We stand at the doorway of being able to bend the GHG emissions curve downwards by 2020, as science demands, in protection of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular the eradication of extreme poverty,” Christiana Figueres says, lead-author of the Nature comment and former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). “This monumental challenge coincides with an unprecedented openness to self-challenge on the part of sub-national governments inside the US, governments at all levels outside the US, and of the private sector in general. The opportunity given to us over the next three years is unique in history.” Figueres is the convener of Mission 2020, a broad-based campaign calling for urgent action now to make sure that carbon emissions begin an inexorable fall by 2020.
The authors are confident that both technological progress and political momentum have reached a point now that allows to kick-start the ‘great sustainability transformation’. 2020 is crucial, because in that year the US will be legally able to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Even more compelling are the physics-based considerations, however: Recent research has demonstrated that keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius becomes almost infeasible if we delay climate action beyond 2020. And breaching the 2°C-line would be dangerous, since a number of Earth system tipping elements, such as the great ice sheets, may get destabilized in that hot-house.
“We have been blessed by a remarkably resilient planet over the past 100 years, able to absorb most of our climate abuse,” says Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, co-author of the Nature comment and lead-author of the Science article. “Now we have reached the end of this era, and need to bend the global curve of emissions immediately, to avoid unmanageable outcomes for our modern world.”
Democrats are not sitting this one out. They have been working on climate policy to implement immediately, that is dependent on winning the Senate, the Presidency and maintain the majority in the House.
Hug your loved ones a little tighter today.