Yet another climate discussion at the WEF – the most important developments, however, are taking place elsewhere
Climate scientists have been warning about climate change for more than 50 years. Until recently, when climate change has already become a reality in many places on our planet, they were largely ignored and even actively fought by many economists and companies. But why have governments underestimated something as important as climate change for decades, despite the warnings of climate experts? Besides the strong influence of oil companies (in the USA), another reason can be found here: Politicians mainly listen to economists. There are hundreds of thousands of excellent articles by climate scientists, but if you look at who governments cite in their own work on climate change, two-thirds of them are articles by economists. Yet economists mostly do not know a thing about science. Is this the reason why the governments of the world feel like they have little to do fighting about climate change?
The fact is: Climate change is no longer a threat looming on the horizon. It has arrived our everyday lives and is already threatening the survival of many people: Floods, species extinction, migration, droughts, super tornadoes, new patterns of cyclones, loss of ice fields in mountains, and many other many climate events – climate change is already happening. And there is not even much surprise behind it, as the main problems have already been known since the 1980s: Man-made greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide, CO2 – are causing the warming of our planet. At that time, concrete plans for action were already on the table, but a powerful industrial lobby prevented their implementation and deliberately undermined the reputation of the scientists involved. Scientists, by the way, have known about the greenhouse effect for much longer. The Swedish chemist Svante Arhenius pointed it out as early as 1896!
Now it can hardly be claimed that nothing has happened in politics in recent years. Today, politics and business are even competing to outdo each other in their efforts to prevent the climate catastrophe (often, however, with a lot of words and little action, as probably best demonstrated by the former German Chancellor Angelika Merkel). In autumn 2020, both the EU and China announced a roadmap for a CO2-neutral economy by 2050 and 2060 respectively. Shortly afterwards, the German automotive industry also committed to this goal. And after Donald Trump was voted out of office, the USA followed suit (though initially still mainly with the loud voice of Joe Biden). But the main activities for this (only in Europe there are already corresponding laws in place) will only be done in the 2030s and 2040s. For that, today’s politicians will no longer have to stand in front of the people.
Among the best examples of a lot of talk and the opposite of action is the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland. For years, the leading economists (with a few scientists then talking in the background) have been talking about the climate there. One has to wonder what else besides words is supposed to come out of it, since it is not only those who are probably clueless about climate change who discuss it, but also those with probably the strongest conflict of interests, which has manifested itself so powerfully in recent decades against climate action and is thus largely responsible for the ignorance of climate change. Even today, more than one in ten participants, including pretty much every super-rich person, travels to the WEF in their own business jet. Can we really trust them even slightly in the climate discussion? Do they not seem like the last ones who can be believed to improve the world?
The most progress has probably been made in science. The researchers’ CMIP6 models, which were published in the AR6 report in August 2021 and early 2022, are far more ambitious in their claims of model accuracy and far sharper in their results than their predecessors. For example, in some of them the spatial resolution of the grids on which the global climate is modelled is reduced to less than 100 kilometers. This makes it increasingly possible to determine the effects of cloud formation on the local and global climate. At the same time, the temporal density of the measurements has increased significantly. “This report is invaluable for future climate negotiations and policy makers,” said the chairman of the publisher IPCC (“Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”), South Korean Hoesung Lee. What is significant about the report is that the debates seem to have gone more smoothly compared to the negotiations eight years earlier. This time, the IPCC authorship seems to have clearly prevailed against the usual resistance of politicians and economists to clear formulations. Thus, responsibility was also clearly stated: According to the IPCC, humans are (“with 100% probability”) responsible for all observed global warming since pre-industrial times (1.6 degrees on land, 0.9 degrees over the sea, 1.1 degrees on global average).
But there are also reasons for optimism (even if these are hardly to be found among the business leaders in Davos): Apart from some aspects of agriculture (which are, however, a significant climate factor and strongly linked to our diet; but here, too, the first – albeit still slower – developments are taking place), all human influences on the climate can be traced back to the way we produce (more precisely transform) and consume energies. And here lies hope: Driven by the amazing technological advances in photovoltaics and battery storage as well as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, we are on the threshold of the fastest and most far-reaching revolution in the energy sector in the last 150 years! We already have powerful technical capabilities to reverse the devastating climate trends without significantly limiting prosperity (which will be further expanded in the future). If new technologies come into play (such as “nuclear fusion” where, after many years and decades of stagnation, quite interesting possibilities are now emerging), the technological possibilities to counteract climate change are even more significant. The obstacles lie mainly in economic and political “constraints” in the form of specific conflicts of interest there. Overcoming these – that is the core of future energy policy. The alternative technologies for making energies available to us are already available (which can also be observed e.g. by some powerful ambitions to focus on ecological energy sources even of some oil companies).