‘Avoiding dangerous climate change is impossible. Dangerous climate change is already here. The question is, can we avoid catastrophic climate change?’Sir David King, then the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, in 2007
New scholarship on the systemic environmental risks we face is published frequently. Follow us on Twitter to stay abreast of evidence and responses. Here we explain how the Cadence Roundtable engages the evidence.
Working for the best, planning for the worst
We might already have lost control of whether tipping happens. A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates…could still be under our control to some extent.Lenton et al, Nature, 27 September 2019
Under a high emissions scenario, the Met Office projects temperatures in the UK to rise 3.7-6.8C by 2070 (UKCP18). The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has warned the government to prepare for global warming of 4C, a rise which many scientists consider incompatible with our current civilisation.
Indeed there is now evidence that positive feedbacks are being activated, for instance in wildfires and the retreat of polar ice, potentially unleashing a cascade of tipping points in the Earth system.
Building collective capacity
“[Adaptation to climate change] is really run by the Government like a Dad’s Army. We can’t go on with this ramshackle system, which puts huge pressure on individuals, who are reacting well but the system is not fit for purpose, and doesn’t begin to face the issues.”Lord Deben, presenting the Annual Report to Parliament of the Climate Change Committee 2019
The CCC assesses 33 domestic climate risks, encompassing sea-level rise, drought and flood and overheating, impacts on nature, pests and diseases, economic shocks, interruptions to food supply and global disruption affecting national interests. Its 2019 progress report found that 12 of them – more than a third – lacked any long-term plans, and none of the four sectors where vulnerability or exposure should be addressed (the natural environment, infrastructure, health and built environment, or business) were showing good progress.
The work is demanding, not least emotionally. It is not something we can do alone.
Catalysing post-normal policy making
Environmental breakdown is creating a new, highly destabilised domain of risk. The consequences include financial instability, ill health and conflict. In all, environmental breakdown is creating a new, extreme normal of persistent, compounding and constantly evolving destabilisation across most areas of society, economies, politics and the environment.We are not ready (IPPR, 2020)
Even while we pursue a net-zero future, it is now also critical to plan for the consequences of past delay. And climate change is not the only dimension of environmental breakdown. Human well-being depends on the health of numerous natural systems, including soil, biodiversity and the oceans. All are now under unsustainable levels of stress and can no longer be taken for granted.
Our civilisation is under threat from complex and cascading environmental breakdown. This systemic existential risk dismantles many of the certainties and assumptions on which our society is founded. It profoundly challenges the culture, processes and standards to which organisations work and policy is made.
Thinking globally, preparing locally
‘It is prudent to plan adaptation strategies for a scenario of 4°C, but there is little evidence of adaptation planning for even 2°C. Government cannot hide from these risks’Foreword, Progress in preparing for climate change 2019, CCC Adaptation Committee
Governments both national and local face new responsibilities in this age of uncertainty: in economic well-being, financial stability, energy resilience, food and water security, health, foreign and migration policy, humanitarian aid; and even in reconceiving socio-economic systems to forestall collapse.
It is time to prepare for a very different Britain in a very different world, and to engage the public in those preparations. If you feel ready for it, let’s act together, and let’s ensure that our organisations and networks take up the challenge. We are here for each other.