Written by Mike Robinson, Chief Executive
With the recent declaration of a climate emergency we are finally recognising the urgency of addressing climate change. But it is a complex and multi-faceted issue. We need of course to protect natural carbon stores, and prevent them becoming sources – so soil restoration, tree planting, nitrogen budgets, methane reductions are important. We need to stop damaging the planet’s ability to absorb natural releases. And we need to reconsider our priorities for food, focusing more on population and planetary health. But as challenging as the climate targets and statements are, they are still reliant on immediate action and arguably still have significant risk attached to them. Most of the IPCC forecasts, after all, are aimed at giving us a 66% chance of avoiding a 2°C rise in temperatures.
What is needed then is not tinkering around the edges; we need a fundamental and systemic change across society. We need to do things differently. We need to deliver against these targets. And then we need to share this with the wider world.
- We need to rethink our lexicon of terms
Sometimes when we talk about Nature it feels like too gentle a word – there is a danger it feels remote and ‘other’. I think we mean “the planet we rely on and everything that lives on it”. Maybe then people would understand its centrality to our lives.
- We need to work collaboratively and cross-sectorally & break down silos
We’ve known the science on climate change fairly certainly since the late 1970s. If all it needed to bring about change was science we’d have solved this forty years ago. It needs more cross-disciplinary joined-up thinking. And more cross over into applied solutions, communication, policy and action.
- We really need to WAKE UP to the urgency
By any measure we are losing the war. We need to see some big wins and quickly. On the positive side, more people are suddenly aware of these issues, which have been pretty critical for at least three decades. Plastics pollution isn’t new. Nor is biodiversity loss. Nor is climate change. We need to wake up collectively to our impact on the wider world, and I hope, to our absolute reliance on it. It is only then that we will generate the political space and momentum to actually bring about the necessary changes.
- We need to remain optimistic and focus on solutions
Optimism comes from believing we can do better: the challenge of working out how to be sustainable for the first time ever; in being solutions focused; and in taking action. We can’t lead if we can’t be optimistic about our ability to make the necessary change – but it has to be meaningful.
- We need to take responsibility.
Why have we waited 40 years for David Attenborough and a Swedish school girl to convince us there’s a problem? They have highlighted that we have a responsibility to future generations. Every November we stop and thank our forebears for their sacrifice. What will future generations stop and remember us for?
- We need to care about more than just money
Deep down we all know that nature matters, but we are still destroying it. Increasingly the environment feels under pressure to explain its economic value, because it just feels like no one is really listening. But since this is always secondary, it’s always on the back foot. We need to challenge every sector of society to prove its environmental good, not just its economic impact.
- We need to reappraise value
GDP is only a bit of money – money is only a bit of the economy – economy is only a bit of society – and society is only a bit of environment. We count GDP but not the damage it does to “the planet we rely on and everything that lives on it”. Yet the damage we have done to prop up our Victorian obsession with economic-only growth is immense.
- We need the resources to kick start this change
Only 1-2% GDP is required to take action, and many measures are likely to be cost neutral – but we need some money to get started! Why don’t we use the new wave of renewable investment and create a national renewables wealth fund to help finance some of this change?
- We need to see the opportunity in leadership
Up until the 1980s climate change was the accidental consequence of being unsustainable. But since the 1980s it has been an active choice! Ultimately, then, leadership requires choosing a different, better, more rounded path to the future. A path that considers its impact and values nature. Scotland is leading the world in some arenas in science, innovation and industry and we are developing a global reputation for leadership around climate change. This necessary move to a zero carbon society is a global momentum and we have a real opportunity to truly grasp this and lead. Edinburgh was the seat of the last enlightenment, The Age of Reason. We need a new enlightenment: An Age of Solutions.
- We need everyone to understand the key solutions and their role, and I don’t mean kids, I mean managers
Government have set some clear targets, but they could do a lot more. However they don’t have the tools and levers to deliver on even half of the targets. These are not government targets anyway – they are society’s targets, and everyone is going to have to help deliver them. That requires every one of us to step up. Every one of us to understand the key critical solutions. And every one of us to take some leadership in our own spheres of work and choice.
- We need to be more childish
We all believe our kids need to understand and care for the environment. But when we grow up we expect them to leave it behind them. Why do we think our responsibility to our environment (or “the planet we rely on and everything that lives on it”) ends when we get a job?
- Why do we think the environment is essential for kids but irrelevant for adults?
We seem to have delegated our responsibility to children. But children don’t have enough authority or power to bring about change. We don’t have time for that. Their priority is surely to call us out for not doing enough. The school climate strikes are doing exactly that. And there have been some really poignant and funny banners. One of them reads “if you won’t act like adults, we will… “. Maybe it’s time we all started to act more like kids…