A new group of eminent Australian policy experts and academics have warned that climate change is one of the greatest threats to the long-term survival of human society, and is being made worse due to factors like overpopulation, a lack of government leadership and the growth of misinformation.
The report has been published by the Commission for the Human Future, which is chaired by former Liberal Party leader John Hewson, and which has brought together experts from a range of disciplines to address challenges facing global society.
In the ‘Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century’ report, the expert round table convened by the commission outlines what it has collectively identified as the ten most significant threats to humanity.
Chief amongst these is the threat to humanity posed by climate change.
“Climate change is happening faster than previously anticipated, driven by rising human carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion, agriculture and land clearing, superimposed on natural variability,” the report says. “It has intensified extreme weather events around the world. Both the speed and scale of its impact have been badly underestimated, physically and economically.”
The commission says that the threat posed by climate change is amplified as a result of other factors concerning the sustainability of the global society, including overpopulation, excess consumption, resource scarcity, poor governance and political inertia.
In turn, climate change itself amplified other high profile threats, including food insecurity, environmental decline and extinction, and has been a target for the spreading of misinformation and denial of science. The commission suggests that all of these risks must be addressed together to be successful.
“Nuclear weapons and climate change are the two greatest threats to the future of both civilisation and human occupation of the Earth,” the paper says.
“Both are not only catastrophic risks but direct threats to human existence. However, they are closely linked to many of the other risks facing humanity, including food and resource security.”
In dealing with the issue of climate change, the commission called on an end to further development of fossil fuel resources, and for governments to immediately adopt emissions reduction targets consistent with the Paris Agreement and an end to all fossil fuel subsidies.
Crucially, the commission called for governments to embrace climate change and to provide leadership to industries like the renewable energy sector, to support a transition away from fossil fuels.
“We’ve made a start in terms of reliance on solar and wind rather than fossil fuels. But, there’s never been a clear sense of direction there from government and the degree of acceptance of that reality,” former Liberal party leader John Hewson said.
“In the broader community, there have been some steps forward. But now here’s a country that is unusually well endowed with wind and solar access, and the technologies to provide all the power that we need and indeed to develop a very substantial export sector in parallel. And we have never given it a clear sense of direction.”
The commission brought together a range of Australian experts from a diversity of backgrounds and expertise, which all found common ground on the need for governments to embrace a science backed approach to global crises.
“What was extraordinary about this event was where we brought together experts from all sorts of different disciplines who are experts in climate change and environmental pollution, in ideas of biodiversity in political science in economics, and bringing together this diverse range of experts to discuss the prospect of the human future and the catastrophic and existential risks that we face,” Dr Arnagretta Hunter of the ANU’s climate change institute said.
In their report, the Commission for the Human Future said that the global response to Covid-10 was a “smaller scale” template for the kind of response that is necessary to address climate change.
“An emergency climate action plan must be adopted globally. The coronavirus experience provides, at a smaller scale, a template for the type of action required, and offers current leadership an opportune moment to abandon the present delay in responding to climate change,” the report says.
“It is strongly urged that countries adopt, at a minimum a 50% CO2 reduction target by 2030. This is achievable, both economically and technically.”
“All future fossil fuel developments, of any kind, for any purpose should be prohibited. Existing fossil fuel developments should be phased out by 2040. These actions are in keeping with the Paris target. They are completely achievable and will lower the probability of initiating a catastrophic tipping cascade towards a ‘hothouse Earth’, where all human life is at risk.”
While the assessment paints a bleak outlook for the future of human society, the commission was optimistic that addressing the challenges could be achieved while also taking advantage of the opportunities presented by pursuing sustainable development.
“The Commission recognises that the solutions discussed in this first report fall short of all that is needed to overcome the ten catastrophic risks. However, they represent a start in tackling our common threats together and, more importantly, they prove that solutions exist – and that they can offer a brighter, safer future,” the commission says in its report.
“Importantly, they demonstrate that there are huge benefits and great opportunities, new industries, jobs and creative lives, to be found in changing the way we do things in favour of our survival.”
“The Commission for the Human Future calls on the nations and peoples of the Earth to come together, as a matter of urgency, to prepare a plan for humanity to survive and thrive, far into the future,” the report concludes.
The Commission will work on the development of further discussion papers on each of the individual threats identified in its inaugural report, providing more details on each threat and the opportunities that exist in addressing them.
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