Today’s IPCC report should come as no surprise. Scientists have been warning of the impacts of human induced climate change for decades. Their science and forecasts, unequivocally linking human influence on the warming of the atmosphere, ocean and biosphere, have for years been systematically sidestepped by fossil fuel lobbyists, corporate interests and ineffective global commitments. However, the writing is now finally on the wall.
The scale, frequency and speed of extreme weather events currently unfolding around the world can be directly linked to the decades of inaction and corporate complicity. Decades of the oil industry knowingly and willfully polluting the planet to maximize profits. Changes now being witnessed in the global climate system are unprecedented – it has been thousands of years since the Earth has seen such instability across every region of the world. Global south, global north, the impacts are starting to dismantle the very fabric of society that we have relied on to thrive on this unique blue planet. Wildfires, floods and heatwaves are already driving many regions to the brink.
Many of the changes we are seeing are also baked into the future because of historical emissions, with global temperatures set to increase until the middle of the century, at least. This will have particular impacts on the water cycle and ocean – more severe wet and dry weather, changes in ocean chemistry and currents, ice sheets and sea level.
The ocean absorbs most of the excess heat created by human-induced climate change[i], impacting marine species and ecosystems, reducing their resilience and abundance, and changing the breeding grounds and behaviours of fish and marine mammal populations. Temperature induced coral-bleaching events wipe out some of the richest and most biodiverse areas in the ocean. Adding industrial fishing to the mix squeezes marine life to an ever-diminishing area where it can truly thrive. The increasing fragility of the ocean now threatens human resilience, compromising our food security, driving extreme weather events and removing the protection that intact coastal ecosystems provide for communities worldwide[ii]. The natural blue equilibrium we depend on is being lost.
The report makes it clear, whilst we cannot escape changes, we can limit them through dramatic and drastic cuts in carbon emissions, and through the restoration of nature. We can still limit climate change to 1.5C. The time has come to put decades of rhetoric and failed promises into action. The time has come to end the fossil fuel industry. Just as the oil industry ended the whaling industry, so too must come the end of fossil fuels for a better, new way.
Whilst some of us are fortunate enough to have the resources to avoid the current impacts of our changing world, it’s now clear that the extreme impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss are already with us. These impacts call for radical action from us all, particularly the most fortunate and wealthy. Rather than succumb to eco-anxiety or bury our heads in the sand, we must do everything we can to create the change we want to see over the next decade, to tip the scales back in the favour of the ocean, the environment and to secure a long-term place for our species on this incredible blue planet.
The global pandemic has shown that governments can act at speed, innovate, collaborate and mobilise huge levels of finance to tackle an emergency.
In the coming months, as we approach COP26, we must continue to unite to urge global leaders to deliver the radical action required – everything to get us to net zero faster. Join us in signing the Ocean & Climate Emergency petition, which we will be delivering to Downing Street this autumn. We not only need to see the restoration of the ocean ecosystem, but also the action that will end the dominance of the fossil fuels across society.
However, individually and collectively, we can’t just demand governments to act. If we expect governments and business leaders to radically change the world around us, we must also hold ourselves up to the light. Are we playing our part? Are we doing enough? What more can we do? What can we do without?
The report offers a clarion call to us all. It is time to act. Every kilogram of carbon we can stop from entering the atmosphere matters. Every hundredth of a degree of warming we can prevent is vital. Every action – small and large – is now vital as we seek to stabilise the global system that billions of fellow humans depend on.
Business as usual is killing the planet we live on. It’s time for a new way.
If we found another planet with as much life on as we still have on Earth it would blow our minds. We have so much still to fight for, so much to protect, the future is still ours to create. We must now rise to the challenge to restore our home for all life. Our lives depend on it.
Hugo Tagholm, CEO, Surfers Against Sewage – @hugoSAS