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On paper, the climate emergency fails to convince

On paper, the climate emergency fails to convince

Wednesday, 09 March 2022
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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5 min read

As the planet and its population edge closer towards disaster and despite increasingly alarming IPCC reports, responses to climate change lack the necessary sense of urgency. Switzerland is one example.

It’s a phenomenal undertaking. The 270 main authors of the second part of the Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) examined over 34,000 publications and analysed more than 62,000 review comments to produce the 4,000-page “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” report. The message could not be clearer or more dire: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

“Criminal abdication”

The impacts of climate change are well established. The planet has already warmed by +1.1°C since the pre-industrial era. This has contributed to species decline, an increase in infectious diseases, a higher rate of drought- and heat-induced mortality, falling crop yields, a greater number of extreme weather events, rising sea levels that put coastal areas at risk, and the list goes on. Continued global warming will exacerbate these “climate hazards” and, as the IPCC report warns, even temporarily exceeding the +1.5°C threshold will result in “severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible.” While noting that action is being taken to adapt to climate change, the authors of the report conclude that not enough is being done to keep up with the pace of global warming, and that human and natural systems are near their adaptation limits.

The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.

When the report’s findings were released, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres responded in no uncertain terms by accusing world leaders of “criminal abdication”. In a statement, he described the report as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home. Today’s report underscores two core truths. First, coal and other fossil fuels are choking humanity.” The clock is ticking and still a sense of urgency is lacking. Including in Switzerland.

“A complete lack of concern”

By a trick of the calendar, at the same time as the IPCC report was focusing discussion, the Swiss Federal Assembly was preparing to discuss the Glacier Initiative, which had collected sufficient popular support to be debated in parliament. The initiative aimed to lay the groundwork for national climate change policy and enshrine the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement in the Swiss constitution. Prior to this, in June 2021, the Swiss had voted in a referendum on proposed amendments to legislation governing CO2 emissions. The revised and strengthened law, which had the backing of the Federal Council and the Parliament, set an ambitious objective to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Supporters of the initiative delivered some hard facts: Switzerland was in the front line of climate change. Temperatures in the Alpine nation had risen by 2°C since 1864, which was twice as much as the global average. Alas, Swiss voters chose not to seize the opportunity to take radical action and rejected the revised law. A few weeks later, in August 2021, the first part of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report was anything but reassuring. It stated that the +1.5°C threshold could be reached as early as 2030. Did attendees at the COP26 Climate Change Conference three months later work night and day to find solutions? As the private jets flew out of Glasgow with world leaders aboard, the general sentiment was that the conference had failed to deliver.

Average temperatures in Switzerland have risen twice as fast as the global average.

In Switzerland, after the failed CO2 referendum, all hopes were pinned on the Glacier Initiative. Its central tenet was that Switzerland should become carbon neutral by 2050, forcing a shift in climate policy away from fossil fuels – oil, gas, petrol and diesel – in favour of sustainable energies. The initiative set a target to end all fossil fuel consumption by 2050 at the latest. It also stipulated that carbon offsets must be located in the country. Again, it was not to be. The National Council (the lower house of parliament) rejected the proposal and instead accepted a considerably less ambitious counter-proposal put forward by the Federal Council. “That the initiative was rejected just days after publication of the IPCC report shows members of parliament’s complete lack of concern for climate change,” declared Georg Klingler, a climate and energy specialist at Greenpeace Switzerland. Will the third and final part of the IPCC report, this time on the mitigation of climate change, scheduled for release next month, set alarm bells ringing in Switzerland and the rest of the world? Or will it sink with barely a ripple?

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