The need for Climate Action (UN SDG 13)

Below are some reasons why Climate Action is so important. And why we should urgently act!

Is climate change real?
Yes, climate change is very real.

In the first half of 2016, the global average temperature was already 1.3 °C above the average in 1880 when global record keeping first began. According to 99% of scientists, climate change is real, and largely caused by CO2- and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. This includes the combustion of fossil fuels for heating, electricity generation, transportation and industrial processes, as well as emissions caused by deforestation and agriculture.

There is a large risk that the world-wide climate will change irreversibly, as has happened before during the Earth’s geological history.

Unfortunately, the process of global warming is masked by the natural fluctuations that take place in the weather. This makes it hard to detect and comprehend. But once you recognise its consequences, you see them everywhere.

“Je gaat het pas zien als je het doorhebt (You only see it once you get it)”

Johan Cruijff
Soccer player

If we don’t take Climate Action now, what will happen?
In March 2018, Sir David King, the former UK government’s chief scientific adviser, repeated his warning that climate change is ‘the biggest threat to civilisation’ ever. It’s an ‘existential threat to all countries and all people’

The consequences of climate change can already be seen in the daily news, and this is just the beginning. Climate change leads to a growth in the frequency and intensity of droughts, forest-fires, storms, hurricanes and floods. Apart from these physical impacts, climate change also affects people’s health, cause displacement and migration and threaten security and political stability

Back in 2002, insurance experts estimated that annual damages would grow to $300bn by the year 2050. This is three times the cost of the Gulf War in Iraq! A 2017 report by insurance experts Climate Wise confirms that this rise in damages is indeed taking place

NASA scientists say this is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Once in the atmosphere, greenhouse gasses stay for a long time, and continue to contribute to global warming. The global warming we are seeing now is only the effect of emissions which took place years ago

So-far, natural factors like CO2 absorption by the oceans have helped to reduce the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and cool the Earth down. But the 2018 ‘hothouse Earth’ paper by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts highlights how a domino-like cascade of forest fires, warming oceans and melting ice sheets could increase rather decrease global warming. This would tilt the Earth into a ‘hothouse’ state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be increasingly futile

“There is no bigger problem than climate change.
The threat is quite simple, it’s a threat to our civilization”

Sir David King,
UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser

Can irreversible climate change be avoided?
Limiting the global average temperature increase to 2 °C is thought to provide a 50% chance of avoiding irreversible and catastrophic climate change. This is like playing Russian roulette with a two-chamber revolver. For a better chance, of 66%, we should limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 °C. That’s still playing Russian roulette, but this time with a three-chamber revolver. To achieve this, a vast reduction is required of the amount of greenhouse gasses that are emitted into the atmosphere each year.

Why try to prevent irreversible climate change? Why not adapt to it?
Change is of all times, and mankind has always managed to adapt. So why try to prevent climate change? Why not simply adapt to it?

The answer is simple. Adaptation to climate change will be necessary, too. But the cost of adaptation is many times the cost of trying to prevent climate change. So the more we can prevent it, the better.

In 2006 already, economist Sir Nicolas Stern showed that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change far outweigh the costs of not acting. Without action, the overall costs of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year, now and forever. Including a wider range of risks and impacts, this could increase to 20% of GDP or more, also indefinitely. Initially, it was estimated that an investment of one percent of global GDP per annum would be required to be invested to avoid the worst effects of climate change. In 2008, this estimate was increased to 2% of GDP to account for faster than expected climate change. But this is still far less than the cost without action

A 2017 Harvard study claims that just over the period through 2025, more than $2,200 billion of economic output is at risk. It confirms that fighting climate change is much less expensive than letting it happen

Your company’s assets, business or markets are probably at risk, too. It makes sense to see what climate change will mean for your organisation in terms of physical and regulatory risks, and how you can help to prevent the problem in the first place.

What is being done at a political level to avoid irreversible climate change?
In 2015, representatives from 196 countries agreed in Paris on the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement By ratifying this so-called Paris Climate Agreement, countries committed themselves to pursue ambitious climate policies. In 2017, the Dutch Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving (PBL) calculated that to achieve the 2 °C target, a CO2-emission reduction of at least 90% will be required by 2050. To achieve the 1.5 °C target, a CO2-emission reduction of 100% will be required, for both the EU and The Netherlands. This means a complete decarbonisation of the energy system.

By 2030, the CO2-emission reduction will need to be 40% to 50%, depending on the target.
The total greenhouse gas emission reduction including other gasses than CO2 will need to be 50% to 55% compared to 1990.

Legislation such as the Dutch Klimaatwet, and sub-national agreements such as the ‘Klimaatakkoord’, mean that sooner rather than later targets will be rolled out to all organisations as well as individual civilians. Sooner rather than later, it will affect your organisation, too.

Why take Climate Action if perhaps China, India or the US do not?
Climate change is a typical ‘tragedy of the commons’ type problem. It invites free-rider behaviour whereby people do not take action, hoping that others will do so for them. Given the urgency of the problem, this is a terrible characteristic, however. If irreversible catastrophic climate change is to be avoided, every effort counts. All greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced straight away.

It means demanding political, religious and businesses leaders to play their part. It means investing in technology and infrastructure. And it also means taking a good look at ourselves and having the guts to take individual action. There are so many sustainable products we can buy and things we can do already. Not in 2050, but now.

And as for China, India and the US:
-China’s political leaders acknowledge the importance of sustainable economic growth. China has long had its ‘one child policy’, without which humanity would be in dire straits already. China has ratified the Paris Climate agreement ahead of the leaders of the G20. And in 2017, more than half of global renewable energy investment came from China. For every € 1 the United States put into renewable energy last year, China spent € 3. As much as 26% of all national electricity production came already from renewables, as opposed to the global average of 12%.
-India’s religious leaders have long observed that you can’t have your cake and eat it. India has the highest percentage of vegetarians in the world. According to the 2006 Hindu-CNN-IBN State of the Nation Survey, 31% of Indians are vegetarian, while another 9% only consume eggs (ovo-vegetarian). This, combined with India’s huge population, means India has more vegetarians than the rest of the world together. By eating no meat, they avoid a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.
-The current US administration has reversed many of the climate measures taken under the Obama administration. But the federal administration has only limited influence on emissions. Many states, pension funds and, significantly, the pope continue to advocate climate action. From 2005-2016, greenhouse gas emissions in the US have been reduced by 12%. Admittedly, this was mainly achieved by burning shale gas instead of coal in electricity generation But as long as this coal does not find its way to other markets, this is a very positive thing.

Rather than wait for future inventions or for other people to act, let’s copy the good things already taking place. As Mahatma Gandhi once said: ‘Be the change you want to see in this world’. Hopefully, this will inspire more and more people to follow.

Every drop counts. Have a look at our services to see how you, too, can help.

What if I’m still not convinced that Climate Action is necessary?
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions means using less energy and raw materials. And it means switching to new, renewable sources.

Using less energy and raw materials saves money. Especially these days, it provides a better return than keeping your money in the bank.

Switching to new, renewable sources means being less dependent on traditional suppliers and is good for geo-political reasons. If you don’t want your children to be at the whims of some foreign dictator, just do it!
So, rather than staying in denial mode, start taking Climate Action. All help is needed!