The last several years have seen a tremendous surge in the worldwide commitment preserve a safe climate future.
My previous article explored the dramatically increased commitments from national governments. This article highlights the growing engagement of major spiritual, human-rights, military, First Nations, environmental, anti-poverty and financial groups.
As one of the world's most effective climate leaders, author Bill McKibben, recently summarized in the UK Guardian:
"Pressure is growing. A relentless climate movement is starting to win big, unprecedented victories around the world, victories which are quickly reshaping the consensus view…"
Here are just a few examples of this burgeoning new climate movement.
Moral & spiritual climate leadership
The pope recently said "the time to find global solutions is running out."1 He plans to issue an encyclical calling on all 1.2 billion Catholics to act on climate change. He also will try to bring the world's religions together before the Paris climate summit to spur global action.
All of that happened in 2014. As Argentinean Bishop Sorondo said: "The problem of climate change has become a major social and moral problem, and mentalities can only be changed on moral and religious grounds."4
The emergence of the climate crisis as a moral issue has continued in the early months of 2015.
Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden linked climate change and morality in a speech: "The issue is how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change."
In March, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, argued the moral imperative of the climate fight saying: "if we fail, future generations will not and should not forgive those who ignore this moment, no matter their reasoning … Future generations will judge our effort not just a policy failure, but a collective moral failure of historic consequence.” [Italics mine.]
A few weeks later, the head of the US Episcopal church told the Guardian, "I really hope to motivate average Episcopalians to see the severity of this issue, the morality of this issue,” and chastised climate deniers for being "blind" to the science. "One of the significant changes in particular has been the growing awareness and activism among the evangelical community."
Apparently the sense that climate change has become a moral issue is now widespread. A Reuter's poll released in late February found that 72 per cent of Americans now feel "personally morally obligated” to reduce emissions.
Poverty & human rights climate leadership
In the years leading up to Copenhagen2009, anti-poverty and human rights groups were mostly on the sidelines. In a famous example, a 2006 study showed that random terms like "ice cream" and "donkey" were far more common than "climate change" on major human rights groups' websites.5
Contrast that to today where a new human rights alliance —Action/2015 — has formed that unites thousands of activist groups from 120 nations. Their shared goal: "A movement to end poverty, inequality and dangerous climate change." 6
Oxfam International now sees the clear link: "Climate change is the number one threat to human development."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned climate change is "an existential challenge for the whole human race — our way of life, our plans for the future."7 "Tackling climate change and fostering sustainable development agendas are two mutually reinforcing sides of the same coin." 8
Military leadership on climate
In recent years the United States military has started warning us that climate change is a "threat multiplier" and a "catalyst for conflict" that is "having an impact on national security… We are actively integrating climate considerations across the full spectrum of our activities."9
The brutal and destabilizing recent civil war in Syria is a fitting example. According to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , climate change helped set off a chain of crop failures and other drought impacts that drove 1.5 million Syrians from their homes, providing much of the kindling for a civil war to engulf the nation and region.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change a "clear and present danger"10 and warned that "unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy."11
US President Barack Obama in his 2015 State of the Union 12 address said bluntly: "No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change… The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it."
Human health climate leadership
Global energy and finance join climate fight
The newly-fledged campaign to convince investors to divest from the fossil fuel sector is just a couple years old but is already the fastest growing divestment campaign in history, according to the University of Oxford.15 As with other divestment campaigns the goal is to revoke social license for unethical actions.
And in the last few years many of the world's major global financial and energy groups have started speaking out and taking action on the climate threat. Here are just a few recent examples:
On the urgency of the climate threat
- The International Energy Agency (IEA) 2014 report: "Radical action is needed to actively transform energy supply and end use."16 Without that, the world is headed for "potentially devastating" increase of +6oC. 17
- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director Christine Lagarde described the climate threat as "the greatest economic challenge of the 21st century." The consequences of climate change will be "merciless" and we are "perilously close" to a climate change tipping point.18
- The World Bank issued a series of "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided" reports with the hope that it would "shock us into action."19 Their President Jim Yong Kim said: "The World Bank is committed to tackling climate change more than anything else."20
- PricewaterhouseCoopers report: " This isn't shock tactics, it's simple maths… The only way to avoid the pessimistic scenarios will be radical transformations in the ways the global economy currently functions… business-as-usual is not an option."21
- Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the groundbreaking UK government report in 2006, now says he "got it wrong on climate change – it's far, far worse … potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette…" 22
- The Economist magazine editorialized recently: "A hundred years from now, looking back, the only question that will appear important about the historical moment in which we now live is the question of whether or not we did anything to arrest climate change."23
On carbon risk:
- Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services now warns that the credit ratings of countries will be affected by global warming.24
- Bank of England is "deepening and widening our inquiry" into the threat of a "carbon bubble" in the UK economy.25
- US Securities and Exchange Commission now requires companies to annually disclose to investors any risks from climate change and its regulations.26
- CERES, a group of 70 global investors managing $3 trillion in assets, is pushing 45 of the world’s top oil and gas, coal and electric power companies to assess the financial risks from climate change.27
- In the last few months both Shell and BP surprised the financial world by urging its investors to support such shareholder resolutions that require the oil companies to assess and report on the risk climate change poses to their assets and bottom line.
- Oxford University has launched a "Stranded Assets" research programme backed by HSBC, Standard & Poor's and others.28
- IEA now warns that two-thirds or more of proven reserves of fossil fuels will be unburnable if world keeps warming to less than 2C.29
- Goldman Sachs reports that a trillion dollars in future oil project investments are at risk.30
- Kepler Chevreux, a leading European broking house, reports that global fossil fuel industry faces $28 trillion in lost revenues over the next two decades, if the world takes action to address climate change.31
- Lloyd's of London, the world's oldest and biggest insurance market, has recently called on insurers to include climate change risk into their models.32
On carbon pricing:
- IMF's 2014 book, "Getting Energy Prices Right," calls for carbon taxes in Canada and other nations.33
- The World Bank joined in to urge nations to put a price on carbon now.34
- An OECD report "Climate and carbon: Aligning prices and policies" also calls on governments to quickly put a price on carbon. "Whatever policy mix we put in place, it has to lead to the complete elimination of emissions to the atmosphere" said the OECD Secretary-General. 35
- Global oil giant BP just reported that "carbon emissions are rising too fast for comfort." For the second year in a row BP has called for governments to enact a "meaningful global carbon price."
On the costs of delayed climate action:
- The IEA issued "Energy Technology Perspectives 2014" that calculates that humanity faces trillions of dollars in new costs as a result of just the last two years of foot-dragging on climate action.36
On ending funding for coal:
- World Bank, the US Export-Import Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank have all recently decided to severely limit the cases in which they will finance new coal power because of the climate damage coal causes.37
On energy tipping points
- Citi report "Energy Darwinism" shows that the global energy mix is shifting more rapidly than expected towards renewables.38
On climate denial
- Over 80 corporations — including Microsoft, Bank of America, Coca-Cola and General Motors — recently dropped their affiliation with a major US legislative alliance (ALEC) over the group's anti-climate efforts. Google CEO said his company was also leaving because climate deniers were "just literally lying" and those working against climate action were "making the world a much worse place."39
Pipelines & climate protests
The evolution from rubber stamp projects to multi-year battles has emerged in just the last few years. Now even the US President considers climate pollution a critical issue for oil pipelines.
First nations a major force in climate fight
The Assembly of First Nations says: "The changing climate is at the very core of First Nations’ concerns."40 First Nations are emerging as leaders in many battles to reign in fossil carbon expansion projects in Canada and the United States.
Up next: the road to Paris for Canada and its two largest trading partners, USA and EU.
The emergence of such a broad and worldwide climate movement is helping drive increasing ambition in America, Europe and other major economies. My next article in this series will compare the current level of climate ambition in Canada to that of its two main trading partners: USA and EU28.
5 "Don’t Even Think About It" by George Marshall
8 UNDP: "The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet."
9 Article in nytimes: climate change deemed growing security threat by military researchers . Report is here as a PDF
36 Report: IEA ETP2014 Article: thinkprogress: climate action delayed is climate action denied
37 Coal funding. World Bank action: washingtonpost: the world bank cuts off funding for coal US EIB action: washingtonpost: US will stop subsidizing coal plants overseas is the world bank next EBRD action: bloomberg: EBRD scraps most financing for coal power plants EIB action: bloomberg: european investment bank