New updated analysis on climate change paints a frightening picture of the future and documents how the expected frontrunner region, the European Union, only performs “poor” and lags far behind. This is why the next 1,000 days have to discover alternative ways to make a radical turn around.

By Erik Rasmussen, publisher of The Sustainian

It is disturbing to read. I never thought that reading a scientific report could be more frightening than watching a thriller. But this is nonetheless the feeling that numerous and well-documented reports on climate change are evoking. After having read most of the latest updated analyses, one would be tempted to perceive it as mere science fiction – as the sequel to the thriller “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Unfortunately, all of these reports paint a picture that we could only hope to be the scenes of a movie. But they are not. They describe reality of a very possible future. If we aspire for more than minimal influence on the next decades and the rest of the century, we have to act fast, strong and coordinated. As documented in a new analysis of the EU climate effort, even the expected frontrunner region is lagging far behind.

All of this together strongly justifies setting 1,000 days as the deadline for making a dramatic turnaround in the climate fight.

And this is what inspires me to write this column and at least point to some ideas that might help change the situation. One thing seems clear: We must reinvent our approaches. But first we must make an analysis of the context – and investigate why at the moment there is more science than fiction in the “day after tomorrow”.

The next 1,000 days will be crucial for the survival of the planet. That is what several recent reports have projected.

The most advanced and latest updated climate models conclude that with the current rate of progress, there is now a 93% risk that we will experience a global temperature increase exceeding 4°C at the end of this century. This will mean a double up on the 2°C limit that climate scientists have warned we should not exceed in order to avoid the biggest and most far-reaching climate catastrophes. This finding is supported by recently leaked conclusions from the UN organization Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s upcoming report on climate change. It will be released in October, but the first draft stipulates that “only rapid and far reaching changes will stop global warming”.

Thinking the unthinkable

It is really difficult to imagine how to live a normal life in a world that is 4°C warmer than today. It is uncharted water. But the common denominator for the current, available projections is that this level of temperature increase will cause dramatic changes in life conditions in most of the world. These changes will strike very differently in different parts of the world, but extreme weather conditions, drought, floods, extinctions of species, acute water scarcity, and drastic decreases in crop yields, are just some of the most probable and inescapable consequences.

On top of this, the there are consequences of the unequal impact of climate change. This will trigger social unrest, wars, and not least – large flows of migration. The humanitarian agency, CARE Denmark has in an extensive analysis assessed that within the next decades, we will see more than 250 million climate refugees – which is more than four times the current number of refugees. Take into consideration the enormous political and social consequences these influxes have entailed up until today, and then multiply this with at least four and we have the contours of insurmountable political conflicts.

In other words: when we exceed a 2°C temperature increase, a domino effect will follow. And even the best climate change models have yet to calculate or predict the effects of this – the only thing certain is that they will challenge and change our civilization for centuries to come.

Some might say that this is a hyperbolized doomsday scenario. To them, I’d like to say: read the increasing number of analyses that are carried out by respected scientific institutes round the globe.

The question is whether the intense focus on renewable energy and other green initiatives can make up for the dire scenarios. The answer will most likely be a “no.” Regretfully the transition is happening on a too long-drawn-out basis and is counterbalanced still by a strong economic and political interest in supporting fossil fuels sectors and productions.

Some might say that this is a hyperbolized doomsday scenario. To them, I’d like to say: read the increasing number of analyses that are carried out by respected scientific institutes round the globe. And read them carefully, as I did. They leave no doubt: The more precise the analyses are, the worse are the consequences predicted – and the faster and more efficient should our countermove be. We are facing the most critical and dangerous evolution in the history of mankind. One of the latest scientific studies asserts that there is now a 35% risk that the gravest scenarios express the almost inescapable reality.

Breaking the Bermuda Triangle

The most worrying is the fact that so few understand and acknowledge where the world is heading – and how fast. This awareness disappears in what you could call the “Bermuda Triangle of science”:

1) Widespread ignorance. The most important knowledge about the future of our globe circulates only in esoteric scientific communities, largely unknown to the public and especially to the victims of climate change as well as those that have the real power to change the situation.

2) Academic dispute. Despite an overwhelming burden of proof, any small sign of uncertainty will be disputed and imposed by peers, and thereby leave the impression of academic discord. These are exploited to a large extent by the industries having an economic interest in maintaining the status quo.

3) Political impotence. Because climate change demands such drastic and fast intervention, it challenges the political reality and decisiveness. There are not many votes for radical transitions and substantial societal interventions. The handling of the European migration crisis is an example of the political inertia.

I have reached the conclusion that the only thing that can make change happen is to ensure that we gain a broad understanding of the challenge and the wide-ranging commitment needed to solve it. This requires an enormous communications effort – it would probably be the biggest and most imperative in history. But do we have an alternative? There is an urgent need to break out from the Bermuda Triangle. And the people who know the state of affairs have an obligation to proliferate and ensure that we – at a minimum – foster a common understanding of the very probable 4°C future. We owe that to our future generations.

What we can do in 1,000 days

Several years ago, when I founded the think tank Sustainia, it was based on a clear mission. We wanted to demonstrate and communicate that even the biggest risks can be turned into opportunities. Since then, we have proved that this is in fact possible – together with a range of international institutions and companies, UN Global Compact, DNV GL and the Danish foundation Realdania, among others. We have founded the world’s largest platform for sustainable solutions, and in the beginning of June this year, we launched the new media- and market platform, The Sustainian – to demonstrate exactly how the UN’s 17 Global Goals and consequently, also climate change, can develop new markets, become drivers for business innovation and create new business opportunities.

But more is needed, especially because climate change continuously accelerates and is continuously neglected. The 23rd of June marked the 1,000 day milestone for the adoption of the 17 Global Goals. As documented by a thorough analysis in The Sustainian, the world is lagging far behind with their implementation, and this week a new analysis will show that the EU countries are not on track either regarding the climate crisis. The countries receive an average rating of “poor” – this is the rating that the one part of our world that should be a trailblazer has achieved.

For that reason The Sustainian has undertaken its own Global Goal – to document and communicate what is possible to achieve within the next 1,000 days.

When comparing the grave warnings of science with the way the world society has handled them, one cannot avoid feeling like an involuntary extra in the next version of “The Day After Tomorrow”. The question remains: how can this feeling of frustration be turned into innovation?

This is also the reason international key profiles and business leaders, among others led by Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman, use The Sustainian to encourage companies and their leaders to become the new activists and fill the void that politicians have left. At the same time, Polman is confident that under the right conditions, it is still possible to achieve the ambitious goals in a short time. For that reason The Sustainian has undertaken its own Global Goal – to document and communicate what is possible to achieve within the next 1,000 days. We know from our previous work and experience, how many solutions actually exist and are on their way, developed by new pioneers. But they are scattered about and largely unknown.

Performing the world’s largest drama

What if under a committed leadership, a group of the world’s leading companies those that have developed a wide range of the best and most convincing solutions, set out to turn their experiences and best practices into one big global campaign for a new version of “The Day After Tomorrow”? A campaign that with the assistance of the best communicators, artists, designers, etc. could communicate the most important story ever told. The most important messages for mankind can’t continue to be unfolded in inaccessible scientific reports and in closed conference halls for the few invited. We are facing the world’s biggest challenge and it should be staged on the main stage, in a language that can be understood by the public at large.

We have all the elements we need. We have the documented solutions, we have the actors – meaning the leaders and pioneers that have substantiated the opportunities, and not least – we are forced to disrupt our opportunities for creating a sustainable future within a short time frame. Now we just need to write the screenplay and stage the drama. It is on this stage that business leaders must play the starring roles and demonstrate how individually and together, they can ensure the progress we need. At the same time, this will close the gap of distrust that big enterprises increasingly face.

One thing is certain: We can’t go on with business as usual, because then there would be no doubt how it would end. The next 1,000 days will be crucial for how the play will be remembered by future generations.


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Erik Rasmussen is founder and Executive Chairman of Sustainia. From 1989 to December 2016 Erik held the position as founder and CEO of the house of innovation, Monday Morning. Erik has been elected one of the world’s 100 most influential journalists by World Economic Forum, has been a member of the International Media Council, and was recently awarded the prestigious Danish Publishing Prize for his influence on a generation of Danish journalists.