Davos 2020: fires and floods prove world leaders must act now on climate change

24 January 2020 | Mitigation


By Ban KI-Moon and Patrick Verkooijen 

Ban Ki-moon is chair of the Global Center on Adaptation and a former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.


There is an increasingly dangerous disconnect between the urgency of our climate emergency and our failure to do anything about it.

It's not as if we don't understand the severity of the problem. The global elite believe that the top five risks facing the world today are all environmental, according to the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report.

    Allow us to correct this perilous mislabeling: The threats do not come just from the environment, but from human inaction. This is not only a failure of language, but also a failure of leadership. As António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, warned at the start of the Madrid climate talks in December, we are fiddling while the planet burns.

    Every global summit that shirks decisive climate action chips away at the public's trust in our ability to face up to the challenge. Yet Davos — where government, civil society and business leaders mingle — has an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the urgent need for collective action.

    Our leaders should start by showing what a future without fossil fuels will look like; that it is not only desirable, but also a realistic and superior alternative to what we have now. And for communities that are already suffering from the impacts of climate change, our leaders should commit to the most effective solutions to help these communities adapt to a warming planet.

    Fortunately, we have countries, communities and businesses that are showing the way and investing in promising solutions. Since 2014, Costa Rica has generated almost all of its electricity from renewables.

    Bangladesh has vastly reduced the death toll from cyclones by investing in early-warning systems and rapid evacuation drills. China is combating coastal flooding with "sponge cities" that soak up excess water from torrential rains. Cities from Hyderabad to New York are painting rooftops white to reflect the sun and lower indoor temperatures during their sweltering summers.

    Farmers across the African Sahel are regreening vast tracts of semi-desert by coaxing tree roots back to life. Trees help retain more water in the soil, which improves agricultural yields and reduces the risk of famine.

    Cities such as Miami and Houston are already investing in flood defenses. New York's Staten Island is building a seawall. The longer we delay climate action, the higher that barrier will have to be.

    In transportation, too, we can see the future. By 2040, electric cars could make up 57% of all passenger car sales worldwide, while in China, 1.2 million "new energy" vehicles, which includes electric and hybrids, were sold last year.

    The Global Commission on Adaptation estimates that spending just $1.8 trillion on climate adaptation by 2030 will deliver $7.1 trillion in net benefits. Luckily, we are witnessing the beginnings of a revolution in the financial sector. More than 370 institutional investors with $41 trillion in assets under management have joined the Climate Action 100+ initiative to ensure that companies they invest in take necessary action on climate change.

    These investors are placing sustainability and climate risk at the center of their investment approach and committing to strong action on sustainability advocacy. That promises to be a game-changer for capital markets.

      Tragically, it is too late to save the victims of Australia's apocalyptic bushfires this year, despite the efforts of the brave firefighters who have been battling to contain the flames, and the millions of animals that have perished. Here, too, we must reflect upon the immense and terrible costs of our negligence: Scientists predicted more than a decade ago that these fires would happen.

      When it comes to the clear and present danger of climate change, we have been crying wolf for too long. The window is narrowing and the time for pious concern is over. Unless we act now, we will soon be confronting a crisis of public trust as well as the climate crisis that is already upon us.


      Source: CNN Business