Hope or crunch in 2013?

Apologies for a rather long hiatus in the blog. I’ve had to devote a lot of time to other writing projects, and while I’ve been keeping up with sustainability news, I haven’t had the opportunity to reflect on it so much.

For KLICE, I wrote their monthly comment, entitled Is there still hope for the climate? Many of the themes will be familiar to readers here: continued and increasingly bad indicators for climate, disinterest from our leaders, many campaigners beginning to despair and think only of the time beyond collapse.

But we’re also potentially at a point when the general public begin to wake up to what we’re doing. I covered that in more detail in a post called“Are we near the tipping point for climate change awareness?” Since then the trends have only increased. Hurricane Sandy seems to have a big impact in the US with 70% blaming climate change for it being such a large storm, and the continued wet weather in the UK may have a similar if less dramatic effect here. It would be interesting to know what effects the record high temperatures in Australia are having on the debate there.

On the other hand, we’re also nearing another potential tipping point. The international target has consistently been to avoid exceeding a 2C rise in global temperatures, but given there is a distinct lag between action and consequences, at some point this will be inevitable. Fatih Birol of the IEA predicted in 2011 we could have “lock-in” by 2017. The World Bank’s most recent report (106 page PDF: see media summary here) forecasts a rise of 3.5-4C by 2100 even if all existing pledges are fulfilled, and if not we can expect it by about the 2060s. Much more radical action is needed than most governments are even talking about, let alone implementing.

A Greenpeace report just out makes the same points in a much blunter way. They list 14 fossil fuel projects in planning or development round the world which between them would increase emissions by 20% by 2020 – completely the opposite of what we need. They describe them as “carbon bombs” and the imagery seems apposite. James Murray of Business Green gives an excellent summary of the report. He writes that he ‘tweeted that I was “trying not to think about this new Greenpeace report too hard, because the implications are absolutely terrifying”.’

So are we headed for hope or disaster? It’s not at all clear. It seems to me that while we’re in a situation where urgent decisions on the future of the planet need to be made, we’re also in a situation where, perhaps for the first time in a generation, you feel they just could start to be made, if public opinion switches and pressure is put on governments. 2013 could be an interesting year.

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