There is compelling evidence that climate change is a serious and urgent threat to human societies and the natural ecosystem worldwide. Despite this, public opinion and governmental policy varies greatly. Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon stated that we are the last generation that can adapt to avoid the worst impacts of climate change whilst being the first that has been truly aware of the problem. This is reiterated by leaders in the upcoming Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21), a crucial meeting in achieving an international climate change agreement following the Kyoto Protocol. This will attempt to set legally binding targets for Greenhouse Gas Emissions to limit temperature rise globally to 2°C. Support is increasing worldwide: Pope Francis has shown support by reaching out to the catholic community to engage on moral and scientific grounds, and Obama is taking more efforts to improve the environment in the US. We have a duty to act, will we finally take responsibility?
Action towards protecting the environment is often discounted by politicians aiming to protect their popularity and enhance the economy. Since the General Election in May, environmental policies in the UK seem to be thin on the ground. There’s a focus on economic gain – cuts to green energy subsidies leaves questions over the headset of the UK as we go into COP21. Government policy must eliminate economic and social barriers in order to progress. The public seem to have adopted this attitude too. The majority are unwilling to change the way they live in the sake of the planet because we like having energy on demand. Although there is general concern of climate change, it is secondary to other daily issues in people’s lives (Lorenzoni and Pidgeon, 2006). Benefits of early action far outweigh the cost of not acting in terms of the climate system. According to the Stern Review, lack of action is equivalent to 5% of GDP annually, whereas acting to reduce GHG could limit costs to 1%. Looking past short-term economic gain in protection of the environment is, therefore, essential. World leaders seem to be lighting up to climate change and engaging in a positive energy around the environment.
Although there is overall agreement and knowledge of climate change, action towards adaptation and mitigation is slow. Nature climate paper found that among climate science papers, 97% agree about anthropogenic climate change. Sadly, the 3% seem to be having a great impact. Climate scientists use more cautious language in contrast to the strong words used by sceptics (Nature). Methods of communicating issues of climate change to the public need to be improved and tailored to individual countries to be successful. Recent climate variability appears to determine perceptions of the importance of climate change (Hansen, 2012). Extreme weather news reports in the UK seem to be increasing; with 2014 being the “wettest winter” and record-breaking heat recorded on 1st July 2015. How can we look past these events, and the overall big picture?
Climate change is already impacting the World’s most vulnerable locations; there is strong evidence of extreme weather events worldwide. Climate change is not just an environmental issue but also an ethical one – approximately 150 million people are at risk of displacement by 2050, according to a report from The Guardian, resulting from sea level rise, as well as food and water security. COP 21 should aim for a global pivot rather than an environmental pirouette. It is a moral issue: the public need to engage as intervention brings about political shifts, protests and public pressure is extremely important, and is being seen more as concern rises. Action alone is impossible, but united we can create a difference.
, , and , 2012: Perception of climate change. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 109, 14726-14727, E2415-E2423
Lorenzoni, I and Pidgeon, N. (2006) Public Views on Climate Change: European and USA Perspectives, Climate Change, 77: 73-95.