In late September 2013 the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its Fifth Assessment Report.
If businesses, economies and governments continue the current “business as usual” trajectory, by 2040 global carbon emissions will tip the planet beyond 2° Celcius, resulting in dramatic destabilization of the planet’s climate: rising sea levels, flooding, droughts, heatwaves, more intense hurricanes and extreme weather.
The IPCC, for the first time ever, presented an absolute, cumulative cap on carbon emissions of one trillion tonnes. Human activity, since the industrial revolution, has released 531 billion tonnes as of 2011. So we have used up more than half the cap. And without dramatic changes in the way our society works, we will exceed that cap by 2040 and push the planet into irreversible, catastrophic climate change.
The higher the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere, the higher the chance of runaway climate change. And 350 parts per million (ppm) CO2 is agreed to provide a high probability of not achieving 2° Celcius rise but alarmingly the world is already at 400 ppm. So we have already exceeded the certainty of safety.
Triggering Runaway Change: Arctic Methane Release
The Arctic is warming at a faster rate than any other region of the world. And thawing permafrost in the Arctic threatens to release hundreds of billions of tons of methane. This is a catastrophic threat because: 1) Methane is more than 20 times more powerful than CO2 in driving climate change; 2) The release of billions of tons of methane can trigger a tipping point: runaway catastrophic climate change and mass species extinction.
All this means that carbon emissions have to peak no later than 2020 and then dramatically drop. From what I see, we are not even beginning to address the scope of the problem.
Fossil fuel firms (oil, gas and coal companies) have proven reserves (identified deposits) that are being extracted and sold for burning. These proven reserves exceed the total carbon cap. The Carbon Tracker Initiative reports that 80 per cent of proven fossil fuel reserves can never be extracted but in fact must remain in the ground.
And yet the way fossil fuel companies are valued on stock exchanges (their market capitalization) is based on their proven reserves. See the problem? It means that there is a seven trillion dollar asset bubble that is waiting to burst, when investors fully realize the implications and see that what until now they have valued as financial “assets”cannot be monetized because they are in fact planet killers. The time when the markets fully realize this there will be a financial collapse of fossil fuel stock prices.
Climate Change is PR Disaster
The IPCC Report was in the news for a couple of days and then disappeared from mass media news cycle. This is the largest crisis humanity has ever faced: Life on earth hangs in the balance. And yet the media attention given to Miley Cyrus twerking was infinitely greater than the coverage of the IPCC report.
This has led one friend, Bob Pickard, a 25-year PR veteran to write a thoughtful blog on why this issue is not generating the needed sense of urgency or call to action in the mass media. So how do you maintain a high level of urgency in media stories on the issue over decades?
Google analytics starkly tell the story of the level of interest in this issue over the last eight years: Interest peaked in 2007 — when An Inconvenient Truth won two Academy Awards and Al Gore and the IPCC scientists jointly shared the Nobel Prize.
While the IPCC scientist and Al Gore had been focusing on facts, Republican strategists like Frank Luntz have been working to frame the issue as one of debate without consensus. Aided by oil and gas companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying US politicians to delay action.
So How Do We Go Forward?
The next blog will focus on strategies for achieving rapid, transformational economic and social change.
Thanks to the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation for providing access to the Vice Chair and Secretary of the IPCC enabling the research for this piece.
Jim Harris is the author of the #1 international bestseller Blindsided, which is published in 80 countries. He speaks at conferences worldwide. You can email him at jim (at) jimharris (dot) com and follow him on twitter @JimHarris.