We have no time left – Professor Will Steffen on climate change action and policy

8 Aug 2017
SOURCE:
Kate Alcock, Climate and Resources Manager

Future Leaders Participants 01 

"To meet the Paris 2 degree target – We have 22 and a half years to completely decarbonise, to be carbon neutral – There should be no complacency. We have no time left".

Professor Will Steffen had some sobering messages for Kiwi businesses about the magnitude of climate change. He says we must act with urgency.

Professor Steffen is Councillor of Australia's Climate Council and has worked with the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the ANU Climate Change Institute.

Vector and the Sustainable Business Council brought him out to talk to business and government audiences in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland about what we must do to limit global warming to within two degrees  

Climate science shows there is a mean carbon budget of 600 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left to emit before the planet warms by more than 1.5-2oC. Professor Steffen says there are options for how we approach the challenge.

If we start reducing emissions today, we will have 25 years to reduce emissions to zero and prevent warming of greater than 2oC.

Delaying the peak of our emissions until 2020 means we will have to transition to net zero on a much steeper trajectory– and that means transforming the economy more quickly, with greater risk.

Professor Steffen says we could try to stretch the budget to 800 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, which would buy us another 10 years, but that would not guarantee keeping warming below 2oC.

The implications of any warming above 2oC are difficult to predict, but scenarios of a world which has warmed 4oC show most of the tropics and subtropics will be too hot for human habitation and changed temperature & rainfall patterns make current large agricultural zones unproductive.

Studies suggest the maximum carrying capacity of this new system would be less than one billion humans – and today's population is 7.4 billion.

We can't change the science: but we can change our approach. To secure a warming of less than 2oC, we have three years to get our emission reduction pathway in place and underway.

The time is now for business and government to be working together to design and develop our plan and supporting policy settings to deliver the Paris targets, and beyond. Any further delay will mean greater risk from quicker changes further down the track.

The Professor says it's a collective problem for the country, for business and the community.  He says, "Effective climate change policy must focus on rapid and deep reductions in fossil fuel emissions. We have got no time left to fiddle around with offsets".

Kate Alcock, Climate and Resources Manager

Watch Professor Will Steffen's presentation here.