Coupled with stark warnings issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report last October on the impact of 1.5C and 2C warming above pre-industrial levels, and the devastating effects of climate-related disasters, there is but one conclusion to be drawn: it is time to act now! The only possible response is emergency action to transform our social, economic and financial systems.

Fifty years ago, the Club of Rome alerted the world to the environmental and demographic challenges ahead. The central message of The Limits to Growth – A Report to the Club of Rome was that the quest for unlimited growth in population, material goods and resources on a finite planet would eventually result in collapse of both economic and environmental systems. Unfortunately, based on growing scientific evidence in the intervening decades and unless humanity radically changes course, this conclusion remains as valid today as it was then. 

But the future need not be a disaster. Instead, by fully recognising the climate challenge, a basis could be created for a societal renaissance, ensuring well-being for the many and harmony between humanity and nature. However, this would require the collective implementation of far-reaching emergency action.

A fundamental part of such action is the shift towards clean energy, which should be seen in the light of recent figures released by the International Energy Agency (IEA), showing that energy-related CO2 emissions increased by 1.7% in 2018 compared to the previous year. Fossil fuels met nearly 70% of a burgeoning growth in global energy demand, with coal-fired power generation accounting for 30% of all energy-related CO2 emissions. Coal power expansion more than offset phase-outs elsewhere. These increases come despite growth in renewable energy hitting double-digits, with a 31% increase in solar alone. This substantial growth simply wasn’t enough to keep pace with a significant rise in global demand for electricity. 

These figures show that the current level of investment in renewables is woefully inadequate to shift the global energy landscape onto a cleaner, greener pathway. The following priority actions, as laid down in the Club of Rome’s Climate Emergency Plan, respond directly to that urgent need by providing a precise roadmap with clear timetables and targets:

1. Halt fossil fuel expansion and fossil fuel subsidies by 2020: no new investments in coal, oil and gas exploration and development by 2020 and a phase-out of the existing fossil fuel industry by 2050. Phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies by 2020. Redirect such funds in support of investments in renewables and energy efficiency.

2. Continue the doubling of wind and solar capacity every four years, and triple annual investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies for high-emitting sectors before 2025: Give priority to developing countries to avoid lock-in to the carbon economy and adopt sustainable finance taxonomies and disclosure requirements for private and public investors.

3. Impose realistic pricing and taxation to reflect the true cost of fossil fuel use and embedded carbon by 2020: introduce carbon floor prices and converge carbon markets and instruments globally. Tax embedded carbon through targeted consumption taxes. Direct tax revenues to research, development and innovation for low-carbon solutions, cutting taxes or propping up the welfare state.

Clearly there are many other issues which need attention if humanity is to live in harmony with the planet, and with itself, not least the preferred longer-term social and economic frameworks. However, unless climate change is addressed as an emergency, those debates become academic as the opportunity for constructive human development will not exist. The time is now to respond to this urgency if we want to not only survive but emerge stronger, as a thriving civilisation in balance with our planetary boundaries.