Like me, you probably have house insurance. The risk that my house may burn down may be small, but it is still there, so it makes sense for me to take precautions in case it happens. In other words, thinking about a house fire is all about risk management.
With a major event looming in the world of climate change – the publication of the fifth Assessment Report by the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) – it’s worth thinking about climate change as likewise a risk management issue.
If it seems like a big leap from the risk of a house fire to the risk of catastrophic climate change, then let me explain. The IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report – AR5 as it’s known in the jargon – is a huge piece of work, involving hundreds of scientists from around the world.
Running to thousands of pages it is, simply, the most authoritative assessment of climate change available.
Released every six years, Assessment Reports come out in four parts; three working groups reports, then a combined ‘synthesis report’. The working group reports deal respectively with climate science, impacts and adaptation, and mitigation of climate change.
Such a big piece of work is of course complex, nuanced and detailed – but at its heart, the upcoming Assessment Report (the first part is published at the end of September this year) carries a simple message.
It will say that the climate is changing. That mankind’s emissions are the main driver of this change, and that the science on this is more certain than ever. That the risks posed by a changing climate are massive.
UN member state Governments sign off the IPCC reports, accepting its findings – and this point is critical. Because despite the warning that will be sounded by this IPCC report, like successive reports before it, the gap between what the science tells us need to happen to prevent uncontrollable climate change and the actions being taken by Governments around the world, is huge.
Which brings me back to point about risk management. Given that the IPCC and others, like the World Bank, are saying that the risks posed by a warming world are enormous, why is our response so feeble?
We know what the solutions are.
Take the energy sector: it is the biggest source of manmade greenhouse gas emissions, so we need to urgently decarbonise the energy sector. We have to quit fossil fuels and switch to clean renewable energy. The world’s on-going dependence on fossil fuels carries huge environmental, social and economic risks.
We need to phase out investment in fossil fuels, especially coal, and shift that investment into renewable energy.
Recognising this, WWF’s global Seize Your Power campaign is calling on governments and financial institutions worldwide to increase investment in renewable energy by at least US$40 billion over the next 12 months.
The Andasol solar power station near Guadix in Andalucia, Spain, is the world's first and largest solar thermal parabolic trough power station. It was opened in 2009 and produces around 180 gigawatt hours per year, providing enough energy for around 200,000 people. It has a thermal storage system where molten salt stores the heat energy that can continue to turn the turbines for up to 7 hours, after sunset, or if the sun goes in. That may be just a start, but long-term, switching to renewables is the only option.
research (The Energy Report) shows that a world run entirely on renewable energy is possible. Switching to renewable energy isn’t just the best choice, it’s our only option, because the way the world produces and uses energy today is not sustainable.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that there are short-cuts. It would be nice to think that, as some argue, we can simply switch to ‘clean’ fossil fuels like shale gas or ‘clean coal’, but that’s just not the case.
In the end, I come back to the simple messages that the science is telling us. The climate is changing. Mankind is largely to blame. We aren’t doing enough. The window of opportunity is rapidly closing. We do still have time to prevent the worst effects of climate change, but the world must do much, much more to deal with this existential risk.
By Jim Leape, former Director General, WWF International.