The polite version of JFDI is “Just Flipping Do It”, the antidote to procrastination. Procrastination is common and has multiple causes ranging from laziness and the undesirable if unacceptable desire to avoid doing something with unpleasant consequences for the individual or people required to take the necessary action. Where there is a problem affecting a large group of people, as a species, we generally prefer to leave it to others to pick up the litter or reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Business as usual is preferred, leaving to other groups of people or states in our contemporary world in the future – for example, net-zero by 2050 – to deal with the problem, thus leaving it to our children and grandchildren. Often procrastination and prevarication are confused – they are close bedfellows as efforts are made to undermine the case for urgent action which threatens business as usual.
The UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was agreed in 1992 and established in 1994 to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system”. The first COP, the Conference of the Parties was held in Berlin in 1995. Glasgow hosts COP 26 in November 2021, and we have still not slowed the pace of greenhouse emissions entering our atmosphere.
Twelve years later, in 2006, the economist Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE) undertook a Review on the Economics of Climate Change. Stern argued that climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, presenting a unique challenge for economics. Click to read more on this issue.
The Stern Review’s main conclusion is that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change far outweigh the costs of not acting. In 2006 he estimated the cost of effectively addressing the challenge of climate change at 1 percent of global GDP, he revised the estimate in 2008 up to 2 percent as the growth in greenhouse gas emissions accelerated. As was to be expected, there was a great deal of negative comment. Click to read more.
There were many positive responses amongst them: Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, a European Commission Spokeswoman, said doing nothing is not an option, “We must act now”. Simon Retallack of the UK think tank IPPR said “This [Review] removes the last refuge of the “do-nothing” approach on climate change, particularly in the US.” Tom Delay of The Carbon Trust said “The Review offers a huge business opportunity.” Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace said, “Now the government must act and, among other things, invest in efficient decentralised power stations and tackle the growth of aviation”. Click to read more.
But still too little has been achieved.
In 2020 the amounts of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide rose by more than the annual average in the past 10 years. Greenhouse gas emissions are not falling. Dr. Heather Graven, Reader in Climate Physics, at Imperial College London, points out that “These atmospheric measurements provide hard evidence that, rather than slowing climate change, we are accelerating it. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are increasing faster than ever.”
The Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Office, Prof Petteri Taalas, has described our current efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as “way off track”. Based on current evidence, he concludes, “At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far above the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2C above pre-industrial levels.”
For far too long, we have focussed the debate on how much we might reduce emissions by 2050. US President Joe Biden argued that this is the “decisive decade” for tackling climate change, saying: “Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade – this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis… We must try to keep the Earth’s temperature to an increase of 1.5°C. The world beyond 1.5 degrees means more frequent and intense fires, floods, droughts, heatwaves and hurricanes – tearing through communities, ripping away lives and livelihoods.”
Politicians continue to make promises for future leaders with commitments for Net-Zero by 2050, setting aside concerns that net-zero is a dangerous trap. It is dangerous because it perpetuates a belief in technological salvation in the future, which undermines the need to cut emissions now. Just today, Australia has pledged to reach net-zero by 2050, and it has refused to set any ambitious targets for 2030. One of the world’s biggest and most criticised polluters has effectively refused to take action. This decision has been made by a generation of leaders who have seen one of the worst bushfire seasons in its recorded history from September 2019 until March 2020, following its record hottest year.
The causes and effects are clear. One might reasonably conclude that the “sins of the fathers will be visited upon their children.” Not just on their children but on those of other Australians and people around the world. The UN is an assemblage of sovereign nation-states, each with interests. The NDCs, Nationally Determined Contributions, are just that; they are declarations of intent. There is a sizeable potential chasm between promise and delivery.
Prof Euan Nisbet from Royal Holloway, University of London, explains the scale of the challenge:
“Greenhouse gas measurements are like skidding into a car crash. The disaster gets closer and closer, but you can’t stop it. You can see the crash ahead, and all you can do is howl.”
The engineers are more positive – they want to get on and solve problems, but that requires funding, the acceptance that waste and biofuels cannot solve the problem and an end to procrastination.
Please see this interview with John Coplin, FRAE, RB211 aero-engine Chief Designer, former Director of Technology and Design at Rolls Royce. John speaks with passion about why tourism matters and argues that the engineers need to be funded to make the transition to hydrogen. It needs to happen faster across the world in the next ten years.