Waking up to climate change

Executive Director, Global Campaign for Climate Action

©Philippe Laurenson/Reuters

While the world focuses on the ongoing economic crisis, the challenge of climate change grows increasingly desperate. A number of lessons still have to be learned. 

From Tahrir Square to the streets of New York, citizens worldwide are protesting the status quo. In a world where the gap between rich and poor is widening, where corporate influence carries disproportionate weight, and where we are rapidly spending down nature’s capital, the public is saying “Enough!” Is this a passing fad or long-term trend? The realities of climate change and rising CO2 emissions suggest we’re in for a bumpy ride ahead.

Consider these facts: ocean acidification, warming and hypoxia are damaging life at the base of the ocean food chain. This, combined with the decreased resilience of marine ecosystems as a result of overfishing, marine pollution, resource extraction and other stresses, means that the 3.5 billion people who depend on the oceans for food increasingly will go hungry.

Those who rely on land-based sources of food are not likely to fare much better. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, “An increasing number of countries are reaching alarming levels of water scarcity and 1.4 billion people live in areas with sinking ground water levels. Water scarcity is particularly pronounced in the Near East/North Africa and the South Asia regions and is likely to worsen as a result of climate change in many regions.” At the same time, the report notes, “Satisfying the expected food and feed demand will require a substantial increase of global food production of 70% by 2050.”

This projection does not include the increasing demand for food crops used in biofuel production, which will only make matters worse. Studies show that climate change is already impacting food production and is responsible for price increases of around 20% in recent decades. Remembering the riots which erupted in Egypt, Bangladesh and Haiti in 2008 when food prices reached their all-time high, the potential for increasing social unrest is substantial.

Clearly, any way you look at it, climate change represents a threat to global security—not just in 2050, but right here, right now.

We need the concentration of CO2 to stabilise in the atmosphere at 350 parts per million or lower if we are to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. We have already overshot the mark at around 390, so we need to act fast to bring it back down. The longer we wait, the steeper the reductions will have to be in subsequent years. Alternatively, we stabilise at a much higher level and take our chances that some mysterious force of nature will rally to our defence. It’s not our generation that will suffer the worst consequences of a bad gamble, however, but that of our children, grandchildren and generations to come. If this is not to be our legacy to them, here’s what we need to do:

First we must finalise a fair, ambitious and legally binding global climate agreement. It must be fair for the poorest people who did not cause climate change but will suffer the most from it. This means adequate finance not only for mitigation, but for adaptation. It must be ambitious enough to leave a planet safe for us all; the existing pledges on the table only get us about halfway there. And it must be binding with real targets that can be legally monitored and enforced. To start with, parties to the Kyoto Protocol need to commit to a second commitment period beginning in 2013. But ultimately we need an agreement that includes all major emitters, while recognising the common but differentiated responsibilities between countries at different stages of development. The prevailing attitude of “I won’t move until you move first” must be countered head-on; we simply don’t have the time to procrastinate.

Second, all countries must embark on rapid and clean low carbon development pathways. This is a win-win situation. Take the Maldives, for example. President Nasheed made headlines in 2010 with his announcement to become the first country in the world to go carbon neutral and has developed a Carbon Neutral Plan to make it a reality. This is not only environmentally friendly but makes good economic sense as well. The Maldives spends around 14% of its GDP on imported oil, more than on education and health care combined. And as they can store relatively little of it at any one time, they are extremely vulnerable to changes in the price per barrel. The benefits of clean, low carbon development are becoming increasingly obvious. HSBC projected that the low carbon energy market will triple in size by 2020, to US$2.2 trillion. And a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Carbon Disclosure Project found that low carbon leaders amongst the world’s major corporations substantially outperformed the Global 500 average in terms of shareholder value.

Third, we need to stop arguing and start listening—really listening, that is, and acting as if our lives depended on it. The stories of real people being affected by climate change are being told with increased urgency. These are stories of flooding and famine, of drought and fire. They are heartbreaking and frightening, and too often we succumb to the natural human tendency of pretending that such things won’t happen to us. Until they do. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev became convinced of the need to address climate change by the terrible heat wave and devastating wildfires in the summer of 2010. In a speech delivered on 4 August that year, he said, “We need to learn our lessons from what has happened…Everyone is talking about climate change now. Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past. This means that we need to change the way we work, change the methods that we used in the past.”

But have we really learned those lessons yet? Some have, but others are lagging behind.

In 2050, when the world looks back on the legacy of our generation, how will you be remembered?

Global Campaign for Climate Action

See also: 

FAO (2009), "How to Feed the World in 2050". 

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 

Carbon Disclosure Project

©OECD Yearbook 2012




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • "Countries that are home to high proportions of immigrants tend to have better integration outcomes”, according to the OECD Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015, released on 2 July 2015. Read more on The Guardian.
  • The People’s Republic of China decided to enhance longstanding collaboration with the OECD and to join the OECD Development Centre, in a historic visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on 1 July to the OECD in Paris.
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • One dollar in aid for trade generates eight dollars in extra trade for all developing countries and 20 dollars for low-income countries. Read OECD Secretary General's post on the newly released Aid for Trade at a glance 2015.
  • In the US, many part-time workers were left behind by the economic recovery. The vast majority of the nation’s 26 million part-time workers receive no benefits beyond their paychecks and almost one-third say their financial condition is flat out poor. A Market Watch article.
  • Where in the world are you most likely to be working too much—or napping? Read the results on Quartz.
  • Catherine Mann, OECD Chief Economist, explains on Bloomberg why "too much bank lending can slow economic growth".
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Come va la vita in Italia? How's life in Italy? The OECD Better Life Index is an interactive online platform in seven languages that goes beyond GDP by offering important insights into measuring well-being and quality of life. Try it for yourself!
  • Millions of refugees have been condemned to a life of misery in the worst displacement crisis since the second world war, according to Amnesty International. Read more on The Guardian.
  • What does it mean to live on less than US$2 a day? Xavier Godinot, Delegate for International Affairs of ATD 4th World and René Locqueneux, a member of this NGO, gave an insightful presentation on the topic based on their field experience, at the 2015 OECD Forum.
  • How to jump-start slack investment to drive global growth and jobs dominated discussions at the annual OECD Ministerial Council Meeting, chaired by the Netherlands, which ended 4 June.
  • The IMF calls for a decisive energy subsidy reform in order to use the freed resources to meet critical public spending needs and to reduce pollution ahead of the Paris climate change summit.
  • More than 35 million young people, aged 16-29, across OECD countries are neither employed nor in education or training according to the newly released OECD Skills Outlook.
  • Have a look at these posters representing a world without fundamental rights at work – including child labour, forced labour and inequality. Read more about this ILO image competition here.
  • Rising inequality threatens social cohesion and growth. Income inequality has reached historical highs in most OECD countries and is still rising.
  • Time to vote! As the dust settles after the UK general election, let’s remember that voting at the ballot box is not an innate right enjoyed by everyone. Indeed, although the number of democracies across the world has spiked from 48 in 1989 up to 95 today, billions of people are still living in non-democratic, authoritarian regimes.
  • How can we achieve a zero-carbon future? A new World Bank report provides a few insights.
  • Today alcohol causes more deaths worldwide than HIV/AIDS, violence and tuberculosis combined. In order to reduce damages to health, the OECD recommends that regular drinkers reduce their consumption by one unit a week, that is, a small glass of wine for example. In addition, increasing prices, regulating advertising, effectively treating drinking problems together with stricter police enforcement would greatly contribute to reducing damages done to individuals and society.
  • video alcohol
  • Africa vs profit shifting African countries heavily rely on the income generated by multinationals’ taxation, which can represent as much as 88% of a country’s tax base. Little wonder Africa is involved in the OECD’s initiative to address tax base erosion caused by profit shifting, known as BEPS. The need to strengthen inter-governmental co-operation to curb cross-border tax losses was reaffirmed at the Africa Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) in Sandton on 21 April 2015.
  • Africa v. profit shifting
  • Rana Plaza
  • Wal-Mart, Other Retailers Sued over Bangladesh Factory Collapse Two years after the April 24, 2013, Bangladeshi factory collapse in the capital of Dhaka, the victims' families filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in Washington against Wal-Mart Stores Inc and other U.S.-based companies that sourced out their products from the Rana factory. Read more on Telesur's website.
  • Today, after three years of drought, California is in the midst of a full-blown political and environmental crisis, with restrictions imposed across the state, reports the Financial Times.
  • Lack of water holding back Asian growth In Asia, the world’s most dynamic region with the fastest economic growth, 75% of countries face serious water shortages.
  • ADB water
  • Why is the gap between rich and poor growing despite rises in GDP? Do benefits help? Does aid work? (The Guardian)
  • Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis expressed its scepticism towards the Eurozone’s institutions and gave ideas for ways forward. "Greece must become reformable again", Yanis Varoufakis said.
  • Business brief: Israel's water
  • #OECD360: Your country in figures.
  • How to ensure transparency in public procurement? Read Cobus de Swardt's article on OECD Insights.
  • Asia to maintain a strong 6.3% growth rate in 2015 and 2016, according to the Asian Development Bank
  • After three decades of extraordinary economic development, China is shifting to a slower and more sustainable growth path, according to the OECD's latest Economic Survey of China.
  • In pursuit of the American Dream
  • Iceland's strong recovery stems from the good use of its natural resources, the energy sector and tourism according to Peter Dohlman, IMF Mission Chief for Iceland.
  • cyclone
  • Government representatives and experts from around the world are gathering in Japan this week to develop a post-2015 framework for global disaster risk reduction. The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) will share expertise at the conference.
  • Switzerland’s recent moves towards greater tax transparency were welcomed by the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, based at the OECD, as a boost to international efforts to end tax evasion. Work will continue with Switzerland, notably on implementation, in 2015.
  • Help bridge the gap between business integrity policies & practices:participate in this new OECD survey by clicking on the image.
  • What can we do to promote better literacy skills for all? Read Andreas Schleicher's latest blog on oecdeducationtoday.
  • Secretary General Angel Gurría describes the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) as a useful tool to enhance educational systems but states that improving a country's ranking should not be a goal per se. Article in Spanish by El País.
  • pisa
  • [VIDEO] Although many countries have made great progress in narrowing gender gaps in education, new challenges are looming.
  • Tim Harcourt Video
  • G20 and Australia: Bestselling economist Tim Harcourt speaks to the BBC about how Australia has gone from "Down Under to Down Wonder".

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2015?

Euro crisis
Unemployment
Global warming
International conflict
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2015