Editorial: Climate Change

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (right) and UN climate change executive secretary Patricia Espinosa held a press conference in Madrid Sunday on the eve of the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference COP25. (Source: AFP)

The last five years have been the hottest ever recorded. Sea levels are at the highest in human history (…). The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and is hurtling towards us

In a recent press conference ahead of the COP25 presided by Chile in Madrid (2 – 13 December 2019), UN Secretary-General António Guterres rung the alarm bell concerning the survival of our ecosystems and world in general . The threat has never been so serious. The global temperature average recorded during the last five years – from 2014 to 2018 – has been the warmest ever recorded in 139 years of study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, an average of 2 degrees higher than during the 20th century. The 1983-2012 period has been the warmest in 1300 years. This dramatic global warming has generated a succession of events that makes climate change very regularly appearing on news headlines. From large-scale and repetitive wildfires (Amazon, Central Africa, Australia, etc.), glaciers melting and therefore sea-level rising, hurricanes and extreme weather events, to the dangerous loss of biodiversity, our societies must renew their approach to nature urgently. Time is very limited. It is crucial for us to extensively study climate change at its core to better understand the extent of its effects and the flaws of our model of civilisation. 

Annual global temperatures from 1850-2017 (Source: Ed Hawkins)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change proved the responsibility of humans in the phenomenon in its Second Assessment Report (1995). Since the acknowledgment of the existence of climate change, the international community tried to translate these policy recommendations into concrete proactive plans towards a more sustainable international system. 1992 Rio Earth Summit, 2005 Kyoto Protocol, and 2015 Paris Agreements, some of the many climate summits held to tackle the global gas emission issue feeding climate change. Nevertheless, these plans, if ever ratified, lack in ambition compared to current needs, even the Paris Agreements. In 2018, the IPCC published the ‘Global Warming of 1.5°C’ Report as a wake-up call for immediate systemic changes to avoid what is said to become an existential threat. In 2019, the same research group shows the correlation between climate change and the health of our land, ocean and biodiversity in its entirety. Climate change is impacting and will impact us even more every living system, opening a new era for our planet: the Anthropocene epoch.

It is undeniable that there has been a general awareness among governments and individuals. Environmental movements like Extinction Rebellion or the Climate Youth Strike for Climate, embodied by Greta Thunberg, seek to put pressure on our governments for ambitious environmental policies. The civil society is increasingly advocating for concrete actions. Climate change is exacerbating our modern security issues as food security, migration, resource scarcity, human rights violation, threat of another financial crisis and others. At least 200 million people could be forced to move as a consequence to precarity of livelihood regarding the climate or directly due to climate change disasters. Likewise, the resilience of our cities and system in general against such a phenomenon are being seriously questioned. Despite these warnings, exacerbating already existing security issues, some countries remain reluctant towards the adoption of environmental plans and even question its very existence as claimed by President Trump. The US officially declared their intention of withdrawal from the Paris Agreements on November 5th. Russia, China, the US still see the melting of the Arctic as an opportunity to enhance trade flows with the opening of a new commercial route. The Brazilian government still burns largely the Amazonian forest despite warnings of tipping points. The Australian government opened in the last few years their largest coal mine ever, despite the existential danger for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reluctance of number of actors nowadays stresses the need for further discussions on the different issues related to climate change and its solutions. 

While all of this sounds pessimistic, albeit factual, our societies have never as much questioned themselves, opening the door for new progress. SENSUS would like to offer this platform to anyone that would like to share her/his view on a specific topic related to climate change. Exchanging ideas with others is the best way to raise awareness, especially on such a serious issue. 

Baptiste Moinier

Baptiste is a final year BA International Relations student at King’s College London writing for Sensus as regular contributor. His particular interests of study include the impact of climate change on migration, sovereignty as well as climate resilience practices and strategies with a specific focus on the role of the European Union in climate change global politics.