Climate change is the biggest public health, economic, human rights and environmental challenge of our time.

  • The latest report from the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) concluded that climate change was already having effects in real time – melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, heat waves, heavy rains and mega-disasters with threat to global food stocks and human security on their way.

‘The warning signs about climate change and extreme weather events have been accumulating over time. But this report struck out on relatively new ground by drawing a clear line connecting climate change to food scarcity, and conflict’.

  • Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has described climate change as ‘by far the greatest economic challenge of the 21st century’.
  • In 2009, a UCL-Lancet Commission described climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century.”
  • Climate change is already responsible for an estimated 400,000 deaths annually
  • Annual flood damage costs are in the region of £1.1bn. These costs could rise to as much as £27bn by 2080.
  • “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC.

At the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen, nearly every nation in the world pledged to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial era temperatures, beyond which humanity risks ‘dangerous interference with the climate system’.

The IPCC has calculated we have a ‘carbon budget’ of 565 gigatons of carbon (GtC) that can be emitted before tipping over this 2°C guardrail. On a business-as-usual trajectory we will exhaust our remaining carbon budget by the year 2040 and likely commit us to a 4°C+ rise by the end of the century.

‘The 4°C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production… unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity… most importantly, a 4°C world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs. The lack of action on climate change not only risks putting prosperity out of reach of millions of people in the developing world, it threatens to roll back decades of sustainable development.’

The case for action on climate change is compelling, yet progress has been slow and international negotiations are floundering.

The fossil fuel industry already has 2,795 gigatons of carbon in its existing reserves. Five times more than it would be safe to burn, and it is still out looking for more.

It’s become increasingly clear that if we want to do something about climate change, we have to do something about the fossil fuel industry and its power. Bill McKibben lays this out in his seminal Rolling Stone article ‘Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math’.

That’s what the divestment movement is about.