The conclusions of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C make the strongest case yet for the UNESCO motto ‘Changing Minds, Not the Climate’: changing how we measure economic success, changing how we make public policy, taking vital economic services into account, changing how we educate current and future generations. The ethical dimensions of our choices for growth and development lie at the core of such transformative change. Which values will we choose to drive economic, political and individual choices? What kind of society do we want to live in, and what kind of world do we want to transmit to future generations?
The IPCC identifies several climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more. For instance, “by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C.” The half a degree extra warming would affect 10 million more people by 2100 due to sea-level rise. The number of insect species projected to lose over half of their habitats is reduced by 66% at 1.5°C versus 2°C – including pollinators that are essential to food security.
However, limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 % from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.
The situation is alarming, but there is cause for optimism, if we act boldly and immediately. Many solutions are available, as highlighted in the IPCC report. In fact, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics recognizes the effective solutions developed by William Nordhaus and Paul Romer to integrate, respectively, climate change and innovation in economic growth.
William Nordhaus’ economic model enables us assess and integrate the costs of climate change. He has also demonstrated that the most efficient remedy to address climate change is a global scheme of universally imposed carbon taxes. Paul Romer has demonstrated the need for public policies to drive innovation and technology as an important determinant for economic development. UNESCO works closely with its Member States to analyze their science infrastructure and develop effective science-policy systems that are adapted to their situation and will drive the innovation we depend on to address the impacts of climate change.
Because global cooperation is needed to address these global challenges, UNESCO serves as a platform for scientific cooperation, knowledge-sharing and to harness the best available knowledge on natural resources, including water, ecosystem functions and services, the ocean, and the effects of climate change. Because values drive national policies and international cooperation, UNESCO has adopted the Declaration on Ethical principles in relation to climate change to support decision making of Member States, scientific communities and civil society towards human and sustainable choices.
1.5°C cannot be achieved without a change in mindsets, which will require enhanced efforts in education, public awareness, science, ethics, culture and communication, all pillars and mandates of UNESCO.
UNESCO is supporting Member States’ efforts under the UNESCO Strategy for Action on Climate Change and in-line with the UNESCO Declaration of Ethical Principles in Relation to Climate Change. We invite each and every one of you to be part of this change. Because every individual choice, in your home, in your community, will make a difference for our planet. Act now, and act boldly.