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Working for another world

Jonathon Porritt explains why another world is on its way – and explores how we will get there
Panoramic view of colorful sunrise in mountains

This article first appeared in our COP28 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 30 November 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

In our racked and riven world, holding space for authentic hope gets harder and harder.

But then again: ‘Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’ I draw deep comfort from those words of Arundhati Roy.

It’s true that ‘looking on the bright side’ can all too easily become an exercise in wilful self-deception. But ‘looking on the dark side’ is a default self-indulgence embraced by far too many.

China, for instance, is still seen as the principal climate-wrecker because of its continuing dependence on burning coal.

God help you if you try and point out it’s a bit more nuanced than that, with more than half of all new wind and solar capacity in 2023 being installed in China and electric vehicles (EVs) already making up more than 22% of all the country’s new vehicle sales.

It’s the same with Australia, which still emits more greenhouse gases per person than any other G20 country, including China.

But ever since Scott Morrison’s coal-loving government got kicked out in May 2022, a formidable transformation has been unfolding, with more renewables added to the grid every month.

In September, those renewables provided 40% of total electricity demand.

And it’s South Australia that leads the pack here, with 73% of its electricity coming from wind and solar – the highest proportion of any major grid in the world. It’s on track for 100% by 2030.

Reaching the peak

Some people just don’t want to hear these stories. According to the International Energy Agency, that magical tipping point – where emissions from the fossil fuels used to produce electricity finally peak – is getting closer and closer.

So let’s raise our sights! The renewables revolution is unstoppable, still accelerating (in both rich and poor countries) and will out-compete almost all fossil fuel generation over the next decade on cost, efficiency, flexibility and resilience.

Which makes the UK government’s recent and utterly reprehensible backsliding on a host of green targets all the more incomprehensible.

Whatever claim our country once had to climate leadership is dribbling away by the day – even
as the science of climate change becomes more alarming.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cares not a fig for that science, and has pretty much told his own advisers on the Committee on Climate Change where they can stick their advice.

It’s a staggeringly foolish reversal, instigated apparently in the hope of picking up a few anti-woke, climate-denying motorists in the so-called Red Wall seats.

Entering another world

Tory politicians may be deaf to the science, but they’re not deaf to the money. So I found myself speculating how they might have reacted to a major new report in October from Lloyd’s of London.

The report warned that the impact of extreme weather events could incur losses of more than $5 trillion (yes, that really is a ‘t’, not a ‘b’!) ‘as crops fail and water and food shortages escalate’ over a five-year period in the near future.

‘Lloyd’s is committed to building society’s understanding and resilience around systemic risk, and protecting our customers against increasing climate threats’ – this was how John Neal, Lloyd’s CEO, put it.

Let’s just hope he’s managed to get a date in Rishi’s diary.

That kind of scale of economic damage is almost unthinkable. But it shouldn’t be.

A new study from Victoria University in New Zealand estimates the cost of storms, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires caused by the climate crisis is around $140 billion a year since 2000 – that’s roughly $60 million an hour for the past 20 years.

So guess what? The insurance industry (and its insurers, the reinsurance industry) has – at last! – properly woken up to the implications of all this. Particularly in the USA. Particularly in those states facing multi-billion dollar economic losses from climate-induced disasters that continue to occur year after year after year.

‘Another world’ is indeed possible. But let’s not assume the way in which that world is going to be ushered in is going to be pain free.

If it’s to happen fast, which it absolutely has to, the shock to our current world needs to be massively, traumatically disruptive, causing irreversible shifts in the way we organise the global economy.

So, still looking on the bright side, I find myself eagerly, if somewhat paradoxically, looking forward to the collapse of the global reinsurance industry within the next few years. That should do it.

Jonathon Porritt is an author, campaigner, founder-director of Forum for the Future and former chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission (2000-2009).

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