Real clothes for the Emperor: Facing the challenges of climate change

6 November 2012, 6.00 PM - 6 November 2012, 6.00 PM

Explore, At-Bristol, Bristol Harbourside

When I look at this [carbon emissions] data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius, which would have devastating consequences for the planet.

Fatih Bihrol (2012) Chief economist at the International Energy Agency
Kevin Anderson: Professor of Energy and Climate Change, University of Manchester, Tyndall Centre.

In June the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development reconvened in Rio, twenty years after the international community first came together to develop a blueprint of sustainable development for the new millennium.

In 2012, whilst faltering steps towards sustainability have been taken in some areas, on climate change we’re going to hell in a handcart – and fast!

Global carbon dioxide emissions for 2011 – a year of economic recession and upheaval in the West – rose by 3.2% on the 2010 figure, which itself was up 6% on 2009. We are entering uncharted waters; 7 to 9 billion people living in a world with a climate changing at rates unprecedented in human history and beyond that at which ecosystems are attuned to adapt.

This seminar laid out the case for concern and, perhaps more importantly, demonstrated how the early harnessing of human will and ingenuity may still offer opportunities to deliver relatively low-carbon and climate-resilient communities.

This Cabot annual lecture was organised in conjunction with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership.  This event also forms part of the University's Festival of Social Sciences and Law.

Powerpoint presentation [PDF, 1.6 MB] (PDF, 1,601kB)

Transcript [PDF, 125.8 KB] (PDF, 125kB)

Responses from attendees [PDF, 270 KB] (PDF, 270kB)


Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson
Image by Russell Watkins / DFID

Many scientists and policy-makers continue to claim it is possible, albeit challenging, to contain the global increase in mean surface temperature at or below 2°C relative to preindustrial levels.  However, despite the increasingly vociferous rhetoric around ‘transitioning to a low carbon economy’, current emissions growth is much more aligned with temperature rises of 4°C or higher, and possibly within just a few decades. Disturbingly, against the backdrop of unprecedented emissions growth, even a 4°C future now demands significant levels of mitigation.

This framing of climate change represents a radical departure from the more incremental mitigation proposed by many policy makers and scientific reports. Whilst orthodox expertise maintains “2°C is not only possible but achievable without sacrificing the benefits of economic growth and rising prosperity”, this paper argues “it is difficult to envisage anything other than a planned economic recession being compatible with 2°C, 3°C and increasingly 4°C futures”.

Consequently, whether in terms of mitigation or adaptation, we face a profound paradigm shift, triggered ostensibly by climate change, but with repercussions across all facets of contemporary society. Such a fundamental transition leaves society with three clear choices. To continue the delusion that climate change can be addressed adequately through rhetoric, financial fine-tuning and piecemeal incrementalism; to interpret such conclusions as a message of despair and futility; or to acknowledge that “at every level the greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack the clarity and imagination to conceive that it could be different”, and that through immediate harnessing of human will and ingenuity we can yet deliver relatively low-carbon and climate-resilient communities.

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