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'Unintended consequences': Road to net-zero must harmonise different climate priorities, warns Nature Capital Committee

'Unintended consequences': Road to net-zero must harmonise different climate priorities, warns Nature Capital Committee

New report from independent advisory committee warns the government must approach net zero carbon target carefully, with joined-up policy interventions that do not inadvertently lead to higher emissions

The government's pathway to reaching net zero emissions will involve a wide range of nature-based interventions sensitive to myriad interlocking environmental considerations that could inadvertently trigger higher than anticipated emissions, according to a major new report from the Nature Capital Committee (NCC).

The independent advisory committee wants the government to ensure that any strategies geared towards meeting the 2050 net zero goal complement the government's broader climate commitments and fully consider the risk of driving up emissions in other sectors. In a new report published on Monday the committee delivered a sharp warning that the current "siloed" approach to climate change, where efforts are split between different departments and bodies with minimal overall coordination, will "fail to deliver the intended outcome and could even contribute to further degradation of the natural environment".

An approach fixated on any single issue could actually "make things worse in relation to climate change", NCC committee member Ian Bateman, professor of environmental economics and director of the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute at the University of Exeter told BusinessGreen.

For example, unregulated tree planting rolled out en masse in a bid to meet the government's manifesto pledges and reduce carbon emissions could inadvertently exacerbate global warming, the report suggests, highlighting how trees planted on peatland risk drying out carbon-rich soil and releasing more greenhouse gas than they capture. Similarly, trees planted on farmland could prompt an increase in meat imports from countries that farm beef on former rainforests.

The government earmarked £640m for tree planting and peat restoration in its latest budget through a new Nature for Climate Fund and mass tree planting and other carbon capture schemes - natural and otherwise - are deemed crucial to the UK meeting its net-zero goal. But the NCC report urges the government to plot its treeplanting efforts carefully to ensure that "the right tree is planted in the right place at the right time for the right reason".

However, the report also stresses that nature-based interventions to capture carbon emissions should be prioritised, given that they can be delivered "at a fraction of the cost" to engineered solutions and have potential to "enhance the stocks of natural assets and the ecosystem services they provide". But efforts need to be ramped up, and radically. A planting rate of roughly 30,000 ha of trees per year is necessary for the government to meet net zero in 2050, according to the NCC's calculations - a far cry from the 13,400 ha planted in 2018/2019.

Whether Ministers will take up the advisory body's recommendations remains to be seen, but the government has long championed the concept of natural capital, which argues that protections for the natural world can be enhanced by valuing the benefits it offers in economic terms. The Office for National Statistics last October estimated the total value of Britain's natural capital assets, which include forests, mountains, waterways, and minerals stood at almost £1tr. Last year the Treasury launched a review into "the economics of biodiversity" in a bid to further boost the economic case for improved environmental management and protection.

But critics argue that putting a monetary value on natural assets could inadvertently enable the destruction of habitats that are not deemed economically valuable. Others contend the approach forges an uncomfortable alliance between the environment and the financial system that has fuelled much of the damage to ecosystems seen to date.

NCC: Make environmental net gain a pre-requisite for infrastructure projects

The report's authors defend the natural capital approach and argue it should inform the Environment and Agriculture Bills currently working their way through Parliament. The flagship pieces of legislation, they contend, will be "main delivery framework" for the government's 25-year Environment Plan, published in 2018. More specifically, they propose a planning requirement for developers due to be introduced in the Environmental Bill should expanded to require them to move beyond delivering 'biodiversity net gain' and ensure 'environmental net gain' from any projects. 

Extending the rules to mandate that the backers of major energy, building, and transportation projects must achieve 'net environment gain' would push business leaders to collectively develop new ways to profit from environmental protection, as opposed to tacking it on to corporate social responsibility initiatives, said Bateman. "If we can simply find ways where businesses can make more profit out of something that improves the environment, than something that then degrades the environment, then that's the way that we're going to save the world," he suggested.

Everybody wins in a scenario where overall environmental gain is introduced as a prerequisite for major infrastructure planning, he added. "The developer carries on doing developments - and that's what they're good at," he explained. "They pay money into the mitigation bank, but a lower amount of money than they would have to pay long-term if they did it themselves next door to the building site, so they're better off. And the environment is better off because now it's being improved by experts... and those improvements are happening in the best places."

Echoing recommendations in an annual report published in January which warned that England's fast-deteriorating natural world risks becoming a "drag" on the economy, the NCC said the government must urgently improve its understanding of the country's natural assets. "Without the baseline data it will be impossible to determine whether initiatives such as the government's new £640m Nature for Climate Fund earmarked for tree planting and peat restoration, will deliver the required environmental improvements," the report notes.

Priority should also be given to running an England-wide environmental census of natural assets; improving natural capital modelling capability; and funding the development of better soil and marine monitoring. Meanwhile, the report calls on the government to disallow overseas carbon offsetting.

Bateman contends that while imperfect, natural capital is an important way to measure and compare overlapping and contrasting environmental metrics and priorities, by allowing businesses and policy makers to move away from a "bewildering array" of measurement units. "People get very worked up about the money thing, and I really understand that," he acknowledged. "[But] it's an attempt to try and make better decisions. I wouldn't for a minute say that it's perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than not doing it.

"Because if you don't do it, what usually happens is that the things that aren't measured and aren't valued get treated as if they're of no use or no value at all… People say, it would be wrong to value everything. And I say to that: Look at the last 50 years, where we haven't done that. Are you happy with how things have gone?"

Shell trims carbon footprint, as boss vows to 'step up' climate efforts

Shell trims carbon footprint, as boss vows to 'step up' climate efforts

2019 Sustainability Report confirms oil giant is making progress with a raft of low carbon initiatives, but concerns remain over incremental pace of decarbonisation

Shell has today reiterated its commitment to slashing its carbon footprint, despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus crisis and plunging oil price with CEO Ben van Beurden stressing that the company must "further step up efforts on all fronts, from climate change to ethical leadership to greater transparency".

The comments came in the foreword to oil giant's annual Sustainability Report today, which provides an update on its progress against its emissions reduction goals and its fast-expanding clean energy investment programmes.

"Early 2020 has been a time of extraordinary turbulence because of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic," Van Beurden wrote. "It has affected so many people around the world. Many have lost their lives. At Shell, we are doing everything we can to help in the global response to the virus.

"At the same time, Shell remains keenly aware of the longer-term challenges facing our society. Shell must further step up efforts on all fronts, from climate change to ethical leadership to greater transparency. We must continue to make a real contribution to people's lives."

The move comes just days after newly installed BP CEO Bernard Looney similarly reiterated the company's commitment to its climate goals, despite the escalating climate crisis.

Shell's Van Beurden said that in response to the crisis the company was taking steps to maintain resilience across its operations while also stepping up production of isopropyl alcohol, a key ingredient of hand-sanitising liquid.

But he also insisted that the company "remains keenly aware of the longer-term challenges facing our society", noting that throughout 2019 "demands for urgent action on climate change grew ever louder".

"All of society, from consumers, to businesses, to governments, recognised the need to accelerate global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "Shell shares this sense of urgency. We continue to take climate action on many fronts, including tackling our own emissions and helping customers reduce theirs by expanding the choice of lower-carbon products we offer. We are working hard to play our part in the global transition by providing more and cleaner energy."

However, he also acknowledged that both the company and society as a whole needed to do "much more" to tackle emissions "because change is not happening fast enough".

Van Beurden highlighted how the company was continuing to work towards delivering on its Net Carbon Footprint ambition to cut the intensity of the greenhouse gas emissions from the energy products it sells by around 50 per cent by 2050, and 20 per cent by 2035 compared to 2016 levels.

He also pointed to the new shorter-term targets to ensure the company's Net Carbon Footprint is two to three per cent lower than the 2016 baseline by 2021 and the fact Shell recently set a Net Carbon Footprint target for 2022 of 3-4 per cent below the baseline.

The report confirms progress against these short term targets is now linked to executive remuneration policy.

The new report also reveals that in 2019 the Net Carbon Footprint fell slightly from 79gCO2e/MJ in 2016 to 78gCO2e/MJ last year. "The reduction in our Net Carbon Footprint was due to an increase in sales of electricity in markets with declining grid intensity and growth in customer demand for carbon-neutral product offerings," the report states.

However, it also acknowledged that the metric is a measure of intensity - that is emissions per unit of energy - and as such estimated absolute emissions for the energy covered by the footprint calculations rose slightly between 2016 and 2019 from 1,645 million tonnes of CO2e to 1,646 million tonnes of CO2e.

Van Beurden reiterated that multiple initiatives were underway across the company and the wider industry to help deliver on its emissions targets, including investment in natural gas, biofuels, hydrogen, and renewable power projects, and increased investment in natural ecosystems that produce carbon credits.

In addition, the report underlines how work is on-going to tackle methane leakage across the industry, while Shell has stepped up its involvement in a raft of cross-industry climate initiatives, including the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), the Hydrogen Council, the Energy Transitions Commission, and the Getting to Zero Coalition, which brings together more than 90 companies to find a way to put a commercially viable net-zero emissions ship to sea by 2030.

However, Shell continues to face fierce criticism from environmental campaigners and some sustainable investors who maintain that while the company has stepped up investments in clean technologies its overall decarbonisation plans remain underpowered and out of line with a Paris Agreement-compatible emission reduction trajectory.

Specifically, campaigners have argued the company should replace incremental carbon intensity targets with a clear commitment to deliver net zero emissions backed by absolute emissions reduction targets.

However, today's report rejects calls for a near term net zero target. "While we seek to enhance our operations' average energy intensity through both the development of new projects and divestments, we have no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years," it states.

It also stresses that the company's long term ambition is to halve its Net Carbon Footprint in step with wider society. "By 2050, our ambition is to align our Net Carbon Footprint with the average footprint of the energy mix in the global energy system," it states.

Consequently, Charlie Kronick, oil finance advisor to Greenpeace UK, said two things stood out from the report: "Shell has no plan to align with targets of the Paris agreement, and between 2016 and 2019 their own estimate of their carbon emissions increased".

"In the context of 2020, with the climate and nature emergency's impacts starting to be felt around the world, Shell's performance is completely inadequate and their report is meaningless,"  he added.

Andrew Grant at think tank Carbon Tracker offered a similar take, arguing that Shell's report "doesn't reassure that either they are aligned with the goals of Paris in emissions terms or resilient to the risk of investing in stranded assets in financial terms".

Specifically, he argued that the report demonstrated that Shell "has no intention to reduce production of fossil fuels" given it plans to meet its target by "increasing the share of such low-carbon energy products in our portfolio, while also developing carbon sinks".

He also noted that the report "makes no comments on whether the project that [Shell] invests in will be financial resilient in a low carbon world, or whether they amount to effective bets against the planet succeeding in limiting warming to well below two degrees. Indeed, our recent research shows that they have sanctioned projects that fail this test within the last few years".

Good Energy and RAW Charging team up EV installation push

Good Energy and RAW Charging team up EV installation push

New partnership to support recently launched One Point service for businesses

Good Energy has continued its push into the electric vehicle (EV) charging market, announcing yesterday that it has entered into a new partnership with expert EV installers RAW Charging.

RAW Charging has been selected to support Good Energy's new One Point service for business EV charging installations following a competitive procurement tender.

The company offers patented cable management and reliable charging stations with guaranteed operational uptime and 24/7 driver support, Good Energy said.

RAW is also a signature partner of global technology provider ChargePoint, which operates the world's largest EV charging network boasting over 110,000 connected stations.

The news follows the launch last autumn of Good Energy's One Point service, which aims to provide businesses with an "all-in-one EV charging service", supported by 100 per cent renewable power.

RAW Charging's expertise has already been used on the service's first pilot project; which saw the company install four charge points at the Watergate Bay Hotel, near Newquay, in late 2019.

In addition to providing power to EV drives, the points also use smart load balancing technology to help level out supply and demand on the local network.

The new partnership also builds on a long-standing relationship between Good Energy and RAW Charging's sister company, RAW Energy, which has seen the company's work together on a number of UK solar and anaerobic digestion projects.

"Our One Point service is designed to bring together the best in the EV supply chain, helping businesses invest in clean transport and cut their carbon emissions," said Joe Wadsworth, head of sales and partnerships at Good Energy. "RAW Charging is a natural fit for us; the company has years of experience in delivering gold standard EV projects. We look forward to working with them on new projects to clean up the UK's transport sector."

'A lost opportunity': Green campaigners slam £600m Easyjet loan

'A lost opportunity': Green campaigners slam £600m Easyjet loan

As government confirms loan for ailing airline, campaigners step up calls for governments to

The government has awarded a £600m loan to EasyJet, sparking fierce criticism from green groups who accused ministers of squandering the opportunity to tackle aviation's outsized carbon footprint.

The Treasury and Bank of England confirmed late yesterday that the airline has accessed the new emergency coronavirus fund, lining up a £600m loan from the taxpayer alongside a further $500m injection from commercial creditors.

The news came as the airline's founder and largest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, warned that with the company's fleet grounded for the foreseeable future it could still run out cash by the end of the year.

In a statement issued ahead of confirmation that the government loan had been approved, Haji-Ioannou warned that the firm could face a liquidity crisis as early as August, arguing that assumptions people would quickly return to air travel this summer could prove to be "wildly optimistic".

The government's new loan fund is offering embattled businesses the chance to apply for loans at pre-crisis commercial rates. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned that applications will be judged on a case by case basis and will only be awarded "if all commercial avenues have been explored, including raising capital from existing investors".

However, environmental campaigners have argued that the Treasury should take a particularly tough line with any calls for support from airlines, noting that the sector has delivered huge payouts to shareholders in recent years and has been slow to develop credible decarbonisation strategies in support of the UK's net zero emissions goals and the wider aims of the Paris Agreement.

Mel Evans, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the government was squandering the opportunity to demand that bailed out airlines enhance their environmental performance.

"The upshot of the government's 2008 bailouts for the banking sector were that the banks stayed in good shape whilst the rest suffered years of austerity, impoverishing social care and our national health system," Evans said. "Just last week, we called on the Chancellor to make sure any bailouts to the airlines were spent keeping employees solvent and ensuring airlines were not exempt from paying for the pollution they cause.

"But instead, the government seems to have handed EasyJet a sweetheart loan of £600m, despite its founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou trousering £60m in dividend payments just last month. And this was after the coronavirus crisis had already hit. We have now lost a major opportunity to change one of the economy's more environmentally backward sectors. This is not a time to be publicly subsiding billionaires whilst undermining action on equality and environmental pollution."

EasyJet has previously promised to carbon offset all its flights in a bid to become one of the world's first 'carbon neutral' airlines and is in the process of upgrading its fleet as part of £4.5bn contract with Airbus.

But the Airbus deal has faced criticism from Haji-Ioannou who has warned that he would not inject fresh equity into the company "while the Airbus liability is in place".

Meanwhile environmental campaigners are calling for airlines and regulators to develop much more comprehensive decarbonisation strategies as part of any financial support packages.

The news of the EasyJet loan came on the same day as more than 250 environmental organisations from25 countries published an open letter urging governments to resist any aviation lobby attempts to rush into unfair bailouts of the industry.

Backed by a petition, the new campaign is calling on governments to focus bail outs on workers, not shareholders; introduce measures to cut air travel demand and strengthen low-carbon alternatives like rail travel; and end aviation's tax exemptions while putting in place a kerosene tax and fair progressive levies on frequent flying.

"For decades, the aviation industry has avoided contributing meaningfully to global climate goals and resisted the merest suggestion of taxes on fuel or tickets," said Magdalena Heuwieser from Stay Grounded, a global network of more than 150 organisations, who endorsed the letter together with other organisations including university institutes, trade unions and climate justice initiatives. "Now, airlines, airports and manufacturers are demanding huge and unconditional taxpayer-backed bailouts. We cannot let the aviation industry get away with privatising profits in the good times, and expect the public to pay for its losses in the bad times."

The latest developments came as Climate Home News reported that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is stepping up calls for the UN to tweak the rules governing the panned CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Under the current rules of the scheme the baseline against which aviation industry emissions are to be measured is to be based on average emissions for 2019 and 2020. But with aviation emissions set to plummet this year, the industry fears the scheme could launch with an artificially low baseline that would make it harder to airlines to meet emissions targets in the future.

In a new position paper, IATA said use of the two-year average could result in "significantly higher offsetting requirements and costs for operators further down the line".

Environmental campaigners pushed back against the industry proposal for the baseline to be based on 2019 emissions data, with Andrew Murphy, aviation campaigner at the NGO Transport & Environment telling Climate Home News it was "a non-issue".

"CORSIA was due to have next to no impact financially on airlines," he said. "That airlines may have to buy a few million more offsets, industry wide, across three years, is really of no consequence," adding that IATA was attempting to "stave off more effective government regulation".

It remains to be seen how the UN-backed International Civil Aviation Organisation will respond to the calls for a rethink to CORSIA, but last week banking giant Morgan Stanley published a research note predicting that the international offset scheme was one of the climate policies most likely to be delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Grid operators debut standardised flexibility services contract

Grid operators debut standardised flexibility services contract

New initiative from the Open Networks Project aims to help fast track the development of the burgeoning flexible grid sector

The fast-expanding flexible grid services sector received a major boost yesterday, as leading grid operators unveiled a new standardised contract designed to make easier for companies offering a range of demand response platforms to sell their services.

Developed by the Open Networks Project, which brings together all the UK's Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) under the auspices of the Energy Networks Association, the new contract is accompanied by a plan for delivery designed to further accelerate the development of the flexibility services market.

The contract has been drafted with input from all of Britain's DNOs, National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO), and legal firm CMS, with a view to providing a consistent agreement across the country for those wishing to provide vital flexibility services to the networks.

The drafting of the contract also captured vital input from across the industry at workshops, presentations, and consultations, guaranteeing the contract reflects the needs of flexibility providers and the communities Great Britain's DNOs serve, the ENA said.

The intention is that the contract will now be made available for all flexibility services firms in the pre-tender stage, providing a template for them to build upon.

ENA said it would also develop a second version of the contract following a consultation later this year that can take into account further stakeholder feedback gained through extensive engagement around the first contract. Then in 2023, there will be a review to see if the agreement should be codified.

Flexible grid services, either in the form of energy storage capacity or demand response systems, are widely regarded as an essential component of a decarbonised grid, providing grid operators with a cost effective means to manage the more variable levels of generation that come from the grid's increased reliance on renewable power sources.

However, industry insiders maintain that while the sector is growing fast it has been stymied by a range of policy challenges and legal barriers, with smaller scale localised and community projects seen to be at a particular disadvantage.

David Smith, chief executive of Energy Networks Association, said the new contract would help to overcome some of these challenges and deliver a major boost to the sector.

"Britain already has one of the most reliable networks in the world and as we transition to a much-needed future smart grid, the Open Networks Project is looking at ways we can speed up connections, encourage new flexible energy markets and help deliver Net Zero," he said in a statement.

"We're already moving towards a more dynamic energy system where simplicity for customers and operators will encourage new, faster connections. A common contract for flexibility represents a real milestone in our transition, and will help and encourage vital new local low carbon resources to be providing energy to our system."

The launch of the standardised contract launch follows the release of the latest round of flexibility figures from ENA. The new data showed that across all flexibility products, 1,900MW is being tendered out by the networks in 2020, a significant increase on what went out for tender in 2019. The standardisation being driven through the Open Networks Project, including the new contract, will unlock liquidity in local markets for flexibility, further driving down bills for customers, the ENA said.

Are the climate and coronavirus crises really so alike?

Are the climate and coronavirus crises really so alike?

There are similarities between the coronavirus and the climate emergencies, but what should really scare us are the differences

Over the past fortnight the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a surge in hot takes highlighting the unnerving similarities between the global public health emergency and the worsening climate emergency that runs alongside it.

Commentators from the UN Secretary General down, taking in almost the full breadth of the political spectrum, have noted how Covid-19 has exposed precisely the same long tail risks, institutional brittleness, structural absence of redundancy, socio-economic injustices, geopolitical tensions, cavalier insouciance towards environmental risks and limits, amoral misinformation campaigns and crazed conspiracy theories, and ideological hubris that have characterised the stuttering response to the climate crisis for over a decade.

As the former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger noted: "the main lesson we have to learn is this: Covid-19 is a dress rehearsal for climate change…"

It is a point that was echoed late last week by BP CEO Bernard Looney, who in a quietly remarkable blog post stressed that the pandemic would not compromise the company's newly announced pledge to deliver net zero emissions.

Whether you regard BP's net zero strategy as a turning point in global decarbonisation efforts or the latest in a long line of egregious greenwashing tactics, it is hard to argue with Looney's hypothesis that in response to both the coronavirus and climate crisis businesses must look beyond the profit motive; corporations, governments, and civil society must co-operate; and innovators must first imagine and then deliver a sharp break with business-as-usual.

"To understand and respond to the threat of climate change we need to imagine the risks of inaction, the range of responses available to us and their implications," Looney argued. "This is what the scale and severity of Covid-19 is forcing us to do today as the worst impacts cross the boundary from imagination into reality. People talk about 'the art of the possible', the current crisis is redefining 'possible' day by day. We should reflect on that next time someone says that tackling climate change is too difficult, or too costly." Amen to that.

And yet, while the many parallels between the climate and coronavirus crises are informative and worthy of comment, why does the attempt to draw analogies make me a little uneasy?

The truth is that while there are plenty of similarities between the two crises there are differences too. The most obvious and most pertinent is that to most people they feel very different. Climate change is an intensification of threats and risks we already understand; a global pandemic, at least for those lucky enough to live in the relatively comfortable West, feels alien and visceral. Moreover, climate change is a slow burn (although not that slow) long term threat playing out over decades. Coronavirus is like a disaster film running on fast forward, each day bringing worse news. Millions may die from climate impacts, but there is no way of keeping a terrifying running tally that will lead news bulletins around the world.

These distinctions are important, because at a time when climate sceptic lobbyists and commentators are ignoring the fact that their entire value system is imploding before their eyes and are instead looking for any and all means to exploit the pandemic to further their polluting goals, the suggestion that we should 'forget the climate emergency, because this is what a real emergency looks like' could prove to be a dangerously compelling narrative.

The comparisons between the coronavirus and the climate crises make a lot of sense, but at their root they are guilty of a category error.

The coronavirus pandemic is an impact, an event - a tragic and world-changing event to be sure, not to mention a crisis that could yet unleash even more terrifying second order impacts as nationalist governments seize the opportunity to crack down on civil liberties and ratchet up bellicose rhetoric. But ultimately coronavirus is a disaster with an ascribed beginning and eventual end.

In contrast, climate change is, to quote the US writer and futurist Alex Steffen, "not an issue, it's an era".

Climate change is the context within which everything happens. It is the backdrop for the 21st century. It is a risk multiplier; a nexus for multiple threat vectors, some of which we haven't even realised yet.

If we are to draw parallels between the climate crisis and the pandemic then the correct analogy is not between carbon emissions and the coronavirus, but between climate breakdown and the wildlife trade. Or, if you want to go broader still, climate breakdown and our dysfunctional systems for meat production.

The wildlife trade was the risk multiplier that - precisely as numerous experts warned it would - eventually gave us a novel virus that has killed thousands and counting, grinding the global economy to a shuddering halt in the process. It is surely worth noting that other catastrophic impacts could flow from our reckless meat production processes, including but not limited to further viral outbreaks, antibiotic resistance, and deforestation and over-fishing driving ecosystem collapse.

All of which leads to a terrifying question, if climate change is the wildlife trade in our analogy, what then is the climate-related equivalent of the coronavirus pandemic?

The answer is to be found in all those second order climate impacts that IPCC reports hint at but never quite spell out because they fall outside the bounds of strict scientific inquiry.

For starters, businesses and policymakers mulling the damage being wrought by coronavirus and asking what other low probability, high impact risks they should be considering, would be advised to reflect on what happens when climate impacts intensify and start to occur concurrently.

What happens if sea levels rise and five mega-storms make US landfall in the same year? Would the insurance industry collapse? What happens if entire cities become uninsurable and millions of property assets are left unsellable? Could the global financial system operate under such duress?

What happens if the monsoons fail and Himalayan water supplies shared by three nuclear powers become unreliable? Would they co-operate to manage a suddenly scarce resource or would historic antipathies come to the fore?

What happens if harvests fail completely and repeatedly across North Africa, the Gulf, and Latin America sparking a level of migration towards Europe and North America completely unprecedented in human history? Would the international community collectively manage the humanitarian crisis or would the recent uptick in beggar thy neighbour nationalism come to define the age, with the loss of millions of lives a direct consequence?

What happens if rising global temperatures and the continued loss of natural habitats expand disease vectors and increase the incidence of novel viruses, turning pandemics into a three or four times a century occurrence? What then?

None of these apocalyptic scenarios are inevitable. There are good reasons to think we can yet minimise climate impacts and drastically enhance global resilience. Even on our current emissions trajectories these terrifying prospects remain worst case scenarios. But they are also all plausible outcomes that become more likely with each increment of temperature increase. And, as we are all discovering, worst case scenarios can and do come to pass.

There are lots of useful lessons to be learnt from the coronavirus crisis as the world shapes its response to the longer term threat presented by climate change. But chief among them is the need to recognise that the climate crisis is a fundamentally different beast, and it is long past time that the horrors it could unleash were taken seriously.The climate crisis is not really like the coronavirus crisis in several critical ways. And as such perhaps climate should not be reflexively referred to as a 'crisis' or an 'emergency'. Because fundamentally it's much worse than that.

A version of this article originally appeared in the BusinessGreen Overnight Briefing email, which is available to all BusinessGreen subscribers.

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