The successful closing of the climate agreement in Paris was celebrated over the weekend throughout the world. Indeed, the global commitment of keeping global warming below 2 ºC, preferably below 1.5 ºC, is a historical step towards a more sustainable future. Issues that raised discussion during and after the conference included how to delegate responsibility between the 200 different countries, how to finance the necessary actions, how to report and monitor the changes, and how to assess whether the actions taken are sufficient. While important per se, the agreement must be seen only as a start of a new era of consistent hard work towards a global community whose values are in balance with environmental objectives. Committing to this work and converting to a new way of thinking is the real challenge.
Seeing the world as a global community is a necessity for us to succeed. Let’s use our air as an example. Air is a global resource, and the people and surroundings that suffer most from the consequences of air pollution and climate change are often not the major sources of the emissions. For instance, the Arctic is severly influenced by human activities at lower latitudes. The rapid change in the Arctic climate is a serious threat to many vulnerable ecosystems and livelihoods in this unique environment. Rapid changes in regional climates (e.g. increased risk of draughts or storms) pose a challenge for the people living in these areas, and cause political tensions or forced migrations, in other words, these events could generate serious ripple effects. On the other hand, the emissions of greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants are often coupled to local and regional air quality problems, such as the recent dramatic smog episodes in Beijing. Wherever possible, climate and health cobenefits should be used as a way to motivate emission reductions and the use of clean technologies. People throughout the world need to extend their thinking beyond the borders of their countries and see the connections between their own quality of life and the global environment and peace. Information technology can play an important role in achieving this.
Many underlying values in our economic systems need to change as well. We do not live in a world where our planet’s resources can be treated as practically infinite. We need to develop a habit of balancing every choice of exploiting the material resources available to us with the consequences that that choice will have on the environment – and ultimately on ourselves. This requires forward thinking as well as determining the value of many things we are not used to setting a price tag on. This is a drastic change to the principles and values set by industrialisation , on which many of our consumerist habits have been built. Change is always painful, and rethinking our economic premises will have profound consequences on the ways our societies will function in the future.
Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of time on our hands to counteract climate change. To ensure nimble reactions as new monitoring data and research findings emerge, we need a system for a meaningful and more efficient interaction between scientists, policymakers, the private sector and society in general. While robust organizations like the IPCC are the most important actors for ensuring these interactions, a good way of creating personal links between professionals might be, for example, a social media platform where one can connect directly and in real time to a number of experts. At its best, a concept like this would allow for soliciting opinions of multiple experts on a given topic, even anonymously, if needed.
Managing climate change is managing peace. The necessary change in our mindsets requires a change in the way we think and feel about our role as part of our environment. That is why science, technology, arts and humanities are equally necessary in truly achieving the goals of the historical agreement reached in Paris.