How to avoid a climate disaster

Author: Bill Gates

“The solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need”. That is the subtitle of the book about which a lot of advertising was made on all kinds of media. And the author quotes in his work a number of interesting comments. What touched with me initially is that we need to think more quantified: yes, planting trees is good, but is that enough? And why?

That is the great added value for society: it creates awareness in numbers (numbers of billions of tons of CO2 equivalents per year) of the problem. All these numbers are so big for me that I can hardly imagine them.

The major classes of problems the author cites and discusses are:

  • Power generation         
  • Making stuff
  • Food Production
  • Mobility
  • Heating and cooling off

Towards the end, he cites a number of technological and non-technological recommendations.

  1. Multiply investments in research and development in the field of clean energy and climate by five over the next ten years.
  2. Focus more on high-risk, high-reward research and development projects.
  3. Link research and development to what we need most.
  4. Involve business from the start.
  5. Harness the power of tenders.
  6. Create incentives that lower the costs and reduce risk.
  7. Build the infrastructure that allows new technologies to enter the market.
  8. Change the rules so that new technologies can compete.
  9. Link CO2 to a price.
  10. Create clean electricity standards.
  11. Create clean fuel standards.
  12. Create standards for clean products.
  13. Get rid of what is old.

I regard his “plan” as a source of inspiration, which governments all over the world must (quickly) consider and follow up if we want to stand a chance.

Besides this, as an exercise in scenario planning, I see the following uncertainties with an important impact on a global level:

  1. Are all countries going to fight this challenge in closed ranks, or are governments going to act in scattered order?
  2. Will the technology be able to innovate quickly enough and will the solutions be accepted by society? These seem to be two criteria, but there is really only one: will the technology be successful soon enough or not?

If we put these things against each other, I come to the following possible four futures , provided that the governments comply :

What do these possible futures look like?

Some freewheeling in the scenarios gives the following: (Numbers are indicative.)

Scenario 1: Nature survives : the current generations understand the importance of fighting global warming together. Science provides alternative energy sources that are CO2 neutral. Politics provides measures that can compete with conventional energy sources like fossil fuels. Politicians speak intensively with science. Youth is encouraged to continue on these paths. More global cooperation in the fields of energy, medicine and food supply is being made, through targeted scientific research. Humanity is developing a broader framework for mutual cultural understanding across borders. The loss of biodiversity is more limited than the other scenarios. (E.g. ‘only’ 5%) Forestry is being done. Birth control is imposed worldwide.

Scenario 2: Started too late : The steps taken by politics and science are analogous to those of Scenario 1, but the technical solutions come too late. Global warming is spinning out of control and there is a major destruction of biodiversity by 80%. Global population shrinks by 80% due to the further spread of tropical diseases, food shortages and drought. Migration is to be expected. War for the last resources is very likely during the evolution of this scenario. A major economic crisis follows in which the stock markets collapse. The world market collapsed. People try to get by with local initiatives.

Scenario 3: It could have worked : Science is coming up with technical and non-technical solutions fast enough, but politicians and business don’t think it’s necessary to work together in concerted efforts. Measures to use the climate-friendly solutions and make them competitive differ too much from country to country and give multinationals loopholes to work elsewhere than in their home country with solutions that are cheaper and climate-unfriendly, all to satisfy stakeholders. In some countries protests break out against these differences in measures. The approach to climate change is inconsistent and inefficient. This gives rise to a huge rise of global warming of more than 4°C by 2060 as it can in scenario 2. Famine threatens through poor political coordination and drought. As a result, here too is a large decline in biodiversity of 80% .

Scenario 4: The doomsday scenario : We don’t have to say many words about that. The idea that things are better elsewhere will cause large groups of people to make desperate attempts to migrate away from the arid places on Earth. The drought will greatly reduce biodiversity (more than 80%). Due to the need for energy and food, there is a threat of global hybrid conflicts. These conflicts lead to a decimation of humanity. The global economy enters into an unsustainable crisis along the way and economy is reduced to 5% of current activity.

Conclusion :

What this breakdown shows to possible future scenarios is that the measures proposed by the author make sense, but only if two conditions are met:

  • Politicians will to work together across borders and cultures to give climate solutions a competitive advantage when they present themselves, by all countries simultaneously.
  • There is an effort made by companies, universities, governments and citizens alike to generate ideas and work on potential solutions together, again and again, even when an initial design does not seem to work.

The author offers a range of ideas for this. Governments can offer the platform on which these problems are tackled. However, it does not have to be strictly these scenarios that guide such work. But they do give a clear picture of what might be coming our way.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts