When we think of climate change, many of us still think of something that is in the distant future. Something that our children or grandchildren will be impacted by. It remains a vague, ill defined threat – never solid enough to fully comprehend, let alone respond to. Unless of course you live in New Orleans. Or the Philippines. Or in any one of the increasing number of places that are being impacted by unprecedented climatic events.
The unfortunate reality is that we are now living through the early impacts of climate change. 2015 was the hottest year on record and so far in 2016 we have seen temperature records smashed. This past April was the hottest April on record globally – and the seventh month in a row to have broken global temperature records.
April was also the third month in a row where the monthly temperature record was broken by the largest margin ever. The graph below illustrates temperature deviation from the average for each month from 1850 – 2016. This recent run of temperature extremes is shown at the end of the graph as the line shoots towards 1.5 degrees.
The changes that are happening in the physical world are outside of the bounds of what many scientists thought possible. We’re outside of the range of the climate models. The long held political goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees is looking more difficult than ever while the reality of global warming impacts at just 1 degree (where we are now) is starting to sink in.
This past summer, the worst coral bleaching incident ever recorded resulted in 93% of the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef suffering bleaching. Recent analysis indicates that up to 35% of the northern reef has died (and this was the healthy part). The primary cause of this bleaching is the warmer than average ocean temperatures, coupled with the rise in ocean acidification as oceans absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere.
Climate change is with us and we need to adjust to this new reality. The challenge to cut greenhouse pollution has never been more urgent, while we need to begin adapting to the impacts already underway.
When Al Gore released his film “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006, it triggered a widespread increase in global awareness of the problem of climate change and the need to act. At the time, the fledgling renewable energy industry wasn’t ready to scale at speed. Now it is. This time, it isn’t a film putting climate change on the public and political agenda. It is the reality of a changing climate.
Just like the climate system, economic and political systems are non-linear. It is what makes the future so hard to predict. And just as the climate system is starting to change faster than scientists had predicted, the transformation to a low carbon economy is likely to happen a whole lot faster too. Welcome to the age of disruption.