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Action on climate change is still lagging – but solving problems other people want solved could help
When a British shop recently proposed signing a 10-year contract with a fruit supplier from South Africa – a move aimed at providing predictability for both partners – company officials got back a completely unexpected response: We’re not interested.
Climate change, the producer said, is making it harder to guarantee a consistent-enough crop to meet such a long-term contract, particularly when Britain has exacting standards for the quality it needs. South Africa’s own growing population needs more food these days, it added – and China is always willing to buy whatever’s on offer, regardless of quality, no questions asked.
As climate change creates new pressures on farmers, markets, trade and supply chains, old ways of doing things are shifting – a reality that might help create the right kind of pressure to drive action to curb global warming, some experts say.
“If we can’t make the business case (for action), we’re going to fail,” noted Will Day, a sustainability adviser for consultancy giant PwC.
Despite having achieved the colossal task of putting in place the Paris Agreement on climate change, the world is still moving far too slowly to deal with a fast-moving problem, experts said at a meeting of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) this week.
Promises made under the Paris deal will get the world 30 percent of the way to achieving its aim to try to hold onto a relatively stable global climate – and “the remaining 70 percent is going to be much harder than the first 30 percent”, warned Simon Maxwell, the executive chair of CDKN.
Right now, the Paris Agreement “does not yet add up to anything close to the emissions reductions needed”, he said.
A big part of the problem, Maxwell said, is that putting plans into action is harder than making them, particularly when that involves tricky issues of regulatory changes, finding the needed cash, making sure things happen in the right order and negotiating ever-complicated politics.
“Every single thing we do in this space is political and if we do not think about politics we will fail – and we cannot afford to fail,” he said.
But there are some hopeful signs emerging – and a clear view of areas where important progress could be made, experts said at the two-day meeting. For example:
--Increasingly it is ministries of finance – not the less-powerful environmental ministries – that are driving action on climate change in many countries, they said.
--Pressure from investors – including investment management group BlackRock – is forcing more big companies to look at and publicly state the risks they face from climate change impacts, a move likely to help create action to deal with those risks. If the trillions of dollars invested by pension funds come under similar scrutiny – or if those trillions can be directed into more climate-friendly investments – then the stage is set for major change, they said.
--The leadership void on climate change created by U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change is creating opportunities to rebuild and reshape climate leadership – including by driving a surge of action by cities, states and businesses. What could happen if people at all levels – from community and citizen action groups to cities and national policymakers – all begin pushing together on climate-related issues people care about, such as air pollution?
--Infrastructure roadblocks in the way of a fast expansion of clean energy – from battery storage to transmission lines – are fast being resolved. If the right incentives can be put in place – such as removing fossil fuel subsidies and putting the money instead to health, education and other social goals that help politicians win elections – progress could be even faster, the experts said.
One of the most effective ways of pushing ahead climate action, they said, may actually be to talk a lot less about the need for it, and instead begin listening to what people do care most about, and finding the links.
Families worried about job losses or air pollution or the rising cost of flood insurance or the lengthening allergy season don’t want to hear that they need to put climate change first. But if clean power can create jobs, and swapping polluting vehicles for clean ones on the streets makes children healthier, many more people will see the point of climate action and potentially throw their support behind it, the experts said.
“The transformation is underway and we now know we can, with that, deliver all sorts of other public goods and reward people for having invested in that change,” said James Cameron, the chairman of the Overseas Development Institute.
“We need an equal dose of fear and excitement about the transition ... so we create demand for the policy changes and other interventions we know we need to do.”
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