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Destabilization of the environment encompasses a range of critical natural systems and processes. In this this episode. We set climate breakdown within the full picture of overall environmental destabilization.
Exploring this means and the consequences for the future to do so im joined by johan roshton. A world leading global sustainability scientist. Who led the development of the planetary boundaries framework for human development in the current era of rapid global change among other positions.
He is director of the potsdam institute for climate impact research and a professor in earth system science at the university of potsdam johan. Welcome. Thank you so first question from us how severe is human destabilization of the natural world in short.
It is serious um. Its just a year back that the scientific community in a paper in nature. Did a 10 year update on tipping points in your system.
So the risk of crossing threshold that could lead to irreversible self amplified warming in the world and we found that 9 of the known 15 systems are are on the move theyre showing worrying signs of variability and here are included systems like accelerated ice melt in west antarctica the slowdown of the ocean circulation and the upstream in the ocean. Amplified. Permafrost thawing.
You know accelerated or amplified. Frequency. And amplitude of forest fires.
All of this. When you package. It together of course with scientific uncertainties.
When you add all these pieces together you come to the conclusion that we for the first time have to recognize that we are at risk of destabilizing. The whole planet and destabilizing the whole planet means pushing biophysical systems like life support from the water cycle. All the way to global mean temperature and extreme events across a point where we lose control where things may start self amplifying in the wrong direction.
And this is why we have since just a few months actually come to the conclusion that we have to consider declaring a state of planetary emergency and we have over 100 countries that have based on science declared a state of climate emergency. But when you put all the evidence together on climate biodiversity land degradation overuse of water air pollution chemicals plastics. If you put all the different planetary boundary.
Challenges together it becomes more teleconnected integrated planetary emergency position. And this is not to scare anyone. This is to unleash more action towards a transformation that can take us back to a safe operating space on earth and just to close on the evidence of of the challenges were facing i mean covet 19.
The the global biggest global slowdown of the world economy since the 1930s a devastating human disaster is a manifestation of this global trend. The anthropocene that weve entered because this virus is a spillover from wildlife. It is a a risk that increases with our degradation of natural ecosystems so deforestation encroaching natural habitats agriculture expansion interacts with the hyper connected globalized world so you know if you want to build resilience that everyone now talks about we have to take a broader planet around the approach and really you know systematically start governing the entire planet and could you just go into a bit more detail about the consequences of this emergency.
You mentioned. The coronavirus pandemic being one of those consequences could you give us a better idea of how we you can take this. The huge changes are going on the global level with natural systems and processes.
How what are the consequences of that for human societies well at the fundamental level. We are losing natural ecosystems and and biodiversity. So fast that is impacting on food production.
Its impacting on soil productivity. Its impacting on water quality. Its impacting on air quality so these are local impacts hitting hitting local vulnerable communities in predominantly immediately already already.
Today we have at 12. Degrees. Celsius warming.
We see extreme weather events amplifying like droughts and floods. We have a situation right as we speak with with drought conditions hitting parts of east africa. Which more and more evidence shows is linked to the desert locust invasions.
We see right as we speak. Which interacts with the covet 19 crisis because it leads to food deficits and food riots in a situation. Where people of course cannot hold social distancing.
So you have these kind of perfect. Storms. Arising with climate.
Impacts. Already. Today.
So. Climate. Impacts and an undermining.
Nature. Together. Affects.
Predominantly. You know the fundamentals that we depend on water air and food and these hit already today. But then we have slower variables.
Which is you know over exploiting oceans over utifying fresh water systems destabilizing big ice sheets that are kind of slow creeping crisis that do not kind of hit in a big virus type disaster overnight. But they slowly undermine the ability for human development societal development and and to re have a chance of delivering on the sustainable development goals. So and then the problem here is that many of these processes are not only slow.
But they are very difficult to turn around so we have more and more climate scientific proof to show that you know if we if we approach 2. Degrees celsius warming we are today at. 12 weve agreed to try and hold 15.
But were you know continuing to rapidly move in the wrong direction you come to two we can no longer be sure of um having a chance of stopping the loss of the west antarctic ice shelf. Which which would you know commit humanity to another two meters sea level rise. Not not that it would you know increase sea levels overnight.
Which of course would hit hit hundreds of millions of people in coastal zones around the world. But it would be reversible and it and it would continue over centuries and and im trying to plea with people all the time that what is a century hundred years is nothing even 200 years is nothing. I mean when you think of it very carefully we should as as humanity on earth today feel a moral responsibility not only for our children and grandchildren.
But also for their children and their grandchildren. We should be talking of longer time scales and this is the emergency point is about you know taking responsibility for a livable planet over centuries ahead. Im gonna im gonna pull the generational car now im im a millennial um.
Im about 30 years old um. Many people in my generation are becoming increasingly visible in the news as stepping up to become campaigners when it comes to this problem. As we look out over the next couple of decades.
The time in which mine and others will generations will increasingly come to the political for how do you see these problems. The consequences that youve described playing out over the next couple of decades. Well go on to the kind of things you think need to happen.
The response from from people. But could you just talk a bit more about how those consequences play out in the next couple of decades in your mind. Yeah.
And i think here. Its really important to keep to keep two two factors in the air at the same time the most important one is actually not the impacts that will be felt over over your next. 10 or 20 years.
As as as a millennial generation on earth. The number one issue is that its over as far as we know today. Its over the next 10 20 years that we determined together.
We who live here now whether or not we press. The on button of irreversible changes. So to give you one concrete example the climate science shows quite clearly that we have to cut global emissions by half over the coming 10 years we have to bend the global curve of emissions no later than this year 2020 and then cut emissions by half why because if we do not succeed in in that turnaround in such a short time scale.
We have no chance of staying below 2 degrees. Celsius warming and that may you know in 30 years. Time had the impact of crossing critical points on permafrost and force that that would then not allow the second half of this century to be manageable.
So that is where where the where the urgency lies and and why the action is needed now then on the second ball. In the air absolutely as as temperatures. Rise from 11 to 12.
From 02 to. 13 you know we we may be reaching 15. Degrees celsius over the next 20 years from what we know today.
The impacts of that is that we will gradually have more extreme events more droughts more floods more disease more heat waves it will get gradually tougher well have worse winters more problems with disease outbreaks more bark beetles killing forests more forest fires. But that will be along along a linear trend line over the next 10 20 years. So we dont foresee any any collapses occurring.
But but it will get you know more expensive and tougher and have stronger health impacts. But my worry is that we need to understand that just because that will occur linearly and and feel manageable. I mean at least for the for the rich developed countries in the world that doesnt mean that were not in a in an urgency point because it is during that time that we determine whether or not we will be able to handle what what happens beyond those 20 years and thats the thats the big lesson we have to learn from from you know navigating the situation.
Were in right now on earth. And you spoke earlier about the need to adopt this stance of planetary emergency in countries across the world. What what actions then are a part of that emergency response that you would see is typifying this this full scale emergency stance beyond the the cl just as we can say the climate approach that you described.
Before yeah. So. So.
The the number one challenge is that 195 countries have to realize that they add up to being a very big world on a small small planet. And that we now have to understand that we have to collaborate all 195 countries to avoid that this emergency turns into unmanageable risk. So that is the challenge number one to in a situation.
Today. Where where we are you know you could argue at an all time low in terms of trust between countries we have a weak united. Nations we have the us.
Just leaving the wh show. We have we dont have high levels of capacity for collaborative governance at the global level. When we need it more than ever.
So. That thats challenge. Number one to put the planetary emergency agenda.
Right at the general assembly of the united nations at the security council of the united nations and make clear that this is not an environmental issue. This is about security about economics about jobs and about dignity and fundamental development and then to put it right at right where it belongs at the heart of the heads of states uh governing the development for the world. I mean.
Thats number one. But number two is im quite excited about one um opportunity that that is uh arising. Very quickly.
Which is that after the paris climate agreement city mayors and business leaders were among those stakeholders that stepped forward most actively to say yes we we listen to science. We will uh. Were willing to implement the paris agreement and we do that by adopting science.
Based targets for climate. So basically. We say we translate the science into operational numbers that gives us a pathway for decarbonizing and reducing emissions now this has been so successful that were now working very actively to develop science based targets for all the planetary boundaries.
So basically having a global apex target on nature on nitrogen on phosphorus on land on water to be translated as kind of guiding posts for business for cities for communities. And i think. That is something we also can can see as very concrete tools for this transformation.
It doesnt replace economic policies like carbon taxes. It doesnt replace laws. It doesnt replace you know politics in any way.
But its its its one of those compliments that we have not had in the past and then third. I think we simply have to you know put end dates on doing wrong we have to put an immediate end date on taking away. The 500 billion.
Us dollars on annual subsidies for fossil fuel burning. We have to put an end date on the combustion engine to something like 2040 we have to put end dates on coal fire plants in the world i mean were seeing positive trends in many places. But not so positive trends in other places.
We now need to you know accelerate that trend line and then the final and perhaps most important factor is to start documenting all the benefits of a zero carbon sustainable future just to show that sustainability again is not an environmental issue anymore. It is really about better quality of life. Its about better economy.
You can earn more money you can you can stay healthier your better place to deal with future pandemics because if you breathe clean air your lung capacity is better prepared for the next lung infectious disease you need to we need to start being much better at communicating the narrative. That sustainability is you know as i feel that the youth movement is much better at doing to show this is the desirable future. This is this is the the cool future i want this is the future.
I want i dont im not suggesting like the environmentalist did in the 1970s that everyone should go back to the caves and kind of stop doing things now. I think we are at this quite exciting moment that we can show that sustainability can be the path towards. You know better cities better lives better better better lifestyles in general.
So i think these are kind of pieces of the puzzle that we now need to immediately start acting on i think thats a great note to finish with johann. Thank you so much for joining us today thank you .
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