Climate Change: a systemic view and the one question every leader will have to answer

| October 1, 2015

We are launching our Climate Change featured forum with a call to action from Ingrid Messner. She says we all need to ask ourselves how we are contributing today to solving the global challenge of climate change.

Sometimes, it is good to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and all stakeholders involved. You might then notice that even in complex situations, solutions can come from the smallest elements of a system…

Back to 1992: After the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, 196 states ratified the UN framework convention on Climate Change. This agreement acknowledged the existence of human-induced climate change and gave industrialized nations the major part of responsibility to combating it. People knew what was likely to happen if business as usual would stay on.

Fast forward: Twenty-three years later, it is happening. 2015 is on track to become the hottest year on record. Globally, we just experienced the hottest August on record. Even though 196 nations and more than 97% of all top climate scientists agree on the fact that we all must do what’s in our power to avoid global warming beyond 2 degrees, there is still no agreement on how to do this. The global community lost valuable time by not committing to specific, high-enough targets and then getting on with the job of reaching these targets in each country. Today, the risks of not acting become clearer every day: more extreme weather events more often, causing all sorts of large-scale challenges.

Over the last decade, while the planet is heating more and more, people are getting more and more frustrated with governments’ and businesses’ insufficient actions. The reactions to this frustration have been quite diverse: in some cases real anger showed up. In other cases, people actually developed a perspective of hope that all the solutions we need are actually here. In any case, people from all walks of life have become more and more active leaders in the combat against climate change. They do not want to wait until governments have clarified the last little detail for the ONE agreement on an international level.

This people movement will be most visible on 29th November this year, when on the day before the next UN Climate Change conference starts in Paris, thousands of people everywhere around the globe will march the streets. Public pressure is building on politicians to not only set targets that are fair and effective to keep us below the 2 degrees warming but also to come up with policies and regulatory frameworks that actually support these targets. Besides the Climate March, there are countless other online and offline civil society organisations and initiatives striving towards a decarbonized, cleaner world.

Another group that has seen the writing on the wall, are investors – money is moving away from fossil fuel. In September this year, California became the first state in the US to pass a state-level divestment bill. This is huge news for the fossil fuel divestment movement. In Australia, super funds and universities are divesting as well. Several banks have started to refuse funding of large-scale coal-mining projects.

Given the fact that in 2014 alone, 17.5 million people were forced to flee their homes because of weather-related hazards, climate change is no longer just a scientific issue; it is increasingly a moral and ethical one. In June this year, even the Pope called for “decisive action, here and now” to stop environmental degradation and global warming. The Pope is reminding us all of our direct responsibility for the wellbeing of all other people and nature.

There are many pathways to potential solutions that have already proven their positive, reducing impact on CO2-emmissions. We do have the technology available to have globally 100% renewable energy by 2050. Circular economies, collaborative consumption, technologies to draw carbon out of the atmosphere, new materials and more eco-efficient supply chains, … and the list goes on.

And it does not has to be large-scale: Where national governments still struggle to take full ownership of the climate challenge, local governments start to act and set their own targets. A network of the world’s megacities, called C40, is committed to reducing climate risks and greenhouse gas emissions. This more practical form of leadership is already happening at many local government levels.

In this sense, the outcome of the UN Climate Change conference in Paris ending on 11th December will be more of a signpost on the road to a decarbonized world. It will not start or stop behaviours. However, high binding targets can speed up the decarbonisation process of the main economies and set businesses up for faster action. Low binding targets or no agreements will further motivate the people movement, innovative businesses, local governments and civil society organisations to do even more. Many people have already accepted their full responsibility.

In any case, all these groups, businesses, organisations and movements are made up of people like you and me. Thus, the one question to answer by everyone with any type of leadership ambitions will be:

“How am I contributing today to solving the global challenge of climate change?”

I really mean today and not tomorrow or next quarter or next financial year or after the next election!

I am curious to hear your answers.



  1. Allan Catlin

    Allan Catlin

    October 6, 2015 at 9:49 am

    Climate change

    It is heartening to read of many people and bodies not waiting for weak governments to bite the bullet and act on Climate Change. Each individual can now act in the knowledge that others are with you in the fight to control our mad pursuit of coal fuelled "improvements" to our lifestyle. We have become a consumer society in mammoth proportions, not being able to wait for better things, no patience to concentrate on the things that matter to our real future, not whether we will die out as a life form, but when.

    • Bill Boyd

      Bill Boyd

      October 9, 2015 at 2:57 am

      climate change and the lack of suitable action

      There is a lot of meaningless action and even more meaningless words being being said about climate change and it is all being focused by vested interests like a whirlpool. There are eminent scientists who have voiced opinions that the carbon should be captured and buried –just like nature did it for millions of years (coal fields), there are scientists that say use atomic fuel to generate clean power (forget where the waste will be stored). There are many learned people who push for wind, solar and wave power (good arguments but requires vast of amounts of money with little return for investment). The focus is always on money and return. The earth has it's own method of reducing the carbon and therefore regulating the global impact of climate change but the action to help nature is continuously being side tracked by the investment argument. Take a look at the globe with then and now photos taken by satellites and see the enormously vast areas of jungle and rain forest areas that have been cleared just to plant palm trees that have no climate control value but contribute to the problem. In south America and the amazon basin almost half the original area has been cleared for farming that results in large amounts of methane gas in the atmosphere weather conditions have altered where this land clearing has occurred. Animals and plants are continually being deprived of the habitat necessary for their survival. To alter climate change, steps have to be taken to prohibit land clearing in all countries. This would give nature a chance to again regulate the carbon problem as trees convert carbon to wood more effectively and efficiently that any investment operation. Yes, stop coal fired operations as they free the carbon collected over millions of years. Yes, turn to solar power and wind power for renewable energy .But more importantly: PLANT TREES everywhere land clearing has taken place.

  2. Jason Held

    Jason Held

    October 9, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Find the fulcrum

    Any highly complex system requires two different things in order to change. First you need to be able to measure and model that system, to find its fulcrum. Then you apply pressure on the fulcrum's levers into the direction you wish to go.

    With no accurate model for global climate behaviour, and only a loose correlation to how weather is affecting people, I question whether political pressure (and/or appealing to public heart-strings) is really the fulcrum for change. The collapse of the carbon market last year shows that creating a cost pressure isn't it either.

    Perhaps the fulcrum is to disrupt our behaviour with positive motivators. Innovations like Elon Musk's Tesla automobile, battery electric storage for the home, and cleantech that *consumers* actually want to buy off the shelf should be coupled with tax incentives and supportive government regulation. Then people will be green not because they are shamed into it by the Pope (or what most folk view as high-and-mighty scientist types), but because being green saves them cash.

    And watch, with popcorn in hand, as the CO2 emmissions plummet.

  3. Anti Cupiditas

    October 15, 2015 at 7:23 am

    Climate Change

    Climate has never been static. The present rate in the warming of the planet is obviously due to mankind's over-doing just about everything. Industrial pollution & over population are undoubtedly the two most contributing accelerants. Instead of a dramatic change in climate every ten thousand or so years it looks as though mankind has managed to shorten these periods to perhaps an ice age every nine or so thousand years or perhaps even as short as 7-8 thousand. Can we stop it ? Some people seem to be disillusioned enough to believe that. Rising sea levels as alarming as they are, are not of as high a rate as the rate of stupidity of billions of humans. Nuclear warfare or chemical warfare or increased population growth due to medical advance & religious ignorance will ruin it all long before the climate gets a change to do it. Even if we stopped all polution now climate change will continue like it or not. This is the way the planet is designed to function. Nature will win because humanity is too stupid & greedy to control itself. Even those who profess to be so extremely concerned about this climate change will not refrain from jetting in air polluting planes from climate change conference to climate change conference. Everything they claim to fight for involves the use of polluting petroleum products. The ancient Greeks came up with the right description for it: hypocrisy! Perhaps some of those "experts" will one day wake up & convince the religious & other megalomaniacs of the industry & medical fields that birth control is literally the only option for mankind to ensure a reasonably decent existence over the next thousand or so years until Nature begins yet another rejuvenation or cleansing cycle by way of an ice age like it has done every ten or so thousand years. Meanwhile I suppose the greedy/insipid will just do as they always have done. No tax, no academic gobbledeegook, no nothing can change the course we're on apart from a miracle of course.