The terrifying truth about the two degrees climate target
by Ian Sinclair
26 May 2015
Earlier this month the International Energy Agency released its annual flagship energy technology report, explaining “clean energy progress is falling well short of the levels needed to limit the global increase in temperature to no more than 2 degrees C.” The inadequacy of the world’s response to climate change was further confirmed by a study led by Lord Nicholas Stern, which also noted the commitments made by nations to cut carbon emissions by 2030 fall about half short of the reductions needed to restrict warming to a two degrees celsius increase on pre-industrial levels.
As many readers will know, two degrees celsius is the global temperature increase world leaders in the West agree we cannot exceed if we wish to stop dangerous climate change.
Contrast this with statements recent made by the top climate scientist Professor James Hansen. “It’s crazy to think that 2 degrees celsius is a safe limit”, Hansen told ABC Radio in Australia, noting it was “prescription for disaster” which would lock in several metres of sea level rise by 2050. “The consequences are almost unthinkable”, Hansen explained. “It would mean that all coastal cities would become dysfunctional.”
The inescapable, terrifying conclusion is this: the climate target that Western governments have agreed on is not even close to being achieved. And even worse – the agreed target that we are failing to reach is not in itself strong enough to stop dangerous climate change.
Other recent dispatches from the environmental frontline are equally disturbing. “A team of scientists, in a ground-breaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them”, the New York Times noted in January 2015. Similarly, last year the generally conservative UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems”.
So what has been the British media’s response to the growing climate crisis that threatens humanity and the planet?
Research conducted by Vicky Dando from the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies has found there was a five-fold decrease in press reporting of climate change between 2007 and 2012. Richard Thomas, from Cardiff Business School, has completed (soon to be published) research that shows a similar reduction. Comparing the 10pm weekday flagship news bulletins on ITV and BBC in 2007 and 2014, Thomas has found environmental issues had almost disappeared from our screens by 2014. In 2007 the percentage of news time devoted to environmental issues was 2.5% on ITV and 1.6% on the BBC. By 2014 this had dropped to just 0.3% on the BBC and 0.2% on ITV.
“In 2007, the Madeleine McCann story, on its own, commanded as much attention as the total number of environmental stories broadcast that year”, notes Professor Justin Lewis from the Cardiff School of Journalism, summarising Thomas’s research. “Remarkably, seven years on – well after the Madeleine McCann story has faded from the news agenda – this comparison holds up. By 2014 there were still as many broadcast news stories about Madeleine McCann as there were on the range of environmental issues.”
Has there ever been a more shocking example of how the media has failed the British public and their future children, grandchildren and great grandchildren? When will our supposedly stroppy and independent fourth estate wake up and realise it’s not just Rome burning but the whole planet?
Depressingly, the media blackout has been mirrored in the General Election campaign. “The future of all nations is irrevocably and immediately threatened”, explained Peter Wadhams, a Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Cambridge, in a letter to The Independent in April 2015. “Yet we see little or no discussion of this by any of the main political parties during this general election campaign.” Other than a brief mention by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, climate change was completely absent from the televised leader debates.
In 2013 Professor Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said that to avoid an increased in temperature above 2oC the world would require a “revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony.”
A good place to start this revolutionary change would be our corporate-owned, advertising-dependent, growth-obsessed, power-friendly media.