These were the words spoken by living legend, Sir David Attenborough at the COP24 climate change negotiations in Katowice, Poland this week. The renowned naturalist and broadcaster took up the newly formed People’s Seat – a largely ceremonial position used to share ‘the voice of the people’ at the annual talks.
One could argue that the country delegates should represent the views of their citizens, but let’s leave that aside for now.
Sir David used the opportunity to share videos and voice messages from hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe, all demanding that political leaders take rapid and radical action to address climate change and its impacts. And they have every right to demand that, after the recent release of the IPCC Special Report on the differences in impacts between 1.5 and 2 celsius of global warming. And their conclusion is stark and sobering – we have just 12 years to take radical, unprecedented transformation in all areas of our lives to limit warming to 1.5c.
Why does this 0.5c difference matter? It may seem a trivial. But the report was clear – every fraction of a degree of warming significantly increases the impacts of climate change, and those impacts will be felt in the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the world – those least able to cope with such impacts.
At a special event here in Katowice yesterday, the IPCC took questions from country delegates, ministers, and members of civil society. They were unequivocal in their responses – that extra half a degree of warming will throw hundreds of millions more people into extreme poverty, and would undo decades of development in lower-income countries. Progress on the Sustainable Development Goal would be undone. Over 99% of coral reefs will be killed. And crucially, the impacts will be felt sooner, with greater severity, and in more areas around the world, including here in the UK. The loss and damage from climate would cause devastation on a scale humanity has never before faced.
Many countries representatives asked the IPCC scientists what we as a global community can do. Again, they were clear and stark in their response – we must act NOW. Not in 2029, not in 2049. But now, in 2018. And we must make unprecedented changes to our energy systems, to our modes of transport, and our how we construct buildings. And we must focus on actions which also help to achieve sustainable development, such as decentralised renewable energy systems to meet the energy needs of the 1bn who lack electricity.
But even at 1.5c, there are still serious challenges for communities and systems around the world. Agriculture and farmers will bear the brunt of these impacts, from droughts to floods to saline soils and a loss of biodiversity. The IPCC repeatedly mentioned that adaptation measures will be extremely important in any future scenario. But that the best strategies will be the ones that protect and enhance natural capital – the waterways, forests, and fields, upon which humanity depends. And you know what’s great? They also demonstrated that the best way to keep us to get to ‘net-zero’ emissions by 2050 (i.e. taking as much CO2 out of the air as we emit), are forests. But not just a few more trees around the edge of your local park. But massive-scale planting of trees, regenerating lands we’ve left to wither.
Limiting warming to 1.5c is urgent, necessary, and possible. We hope the leaders took note of what Attenborough and the IPCC said. We hope they are listening to the billions of people around the world, willing them on to take the rapid and radical action needed to protect humanity and the natural world.We will see over the coming days here in Katowice if they are prepared to be bold, and commit to saving the world.