As most BayBuzz readers would already know, the UN recently issued a landmark report on the actual – and intensifying, accelerating and frightening – impacts of climate change.
More than 270 researchers from 67 countries authored the latest IPCC report, which represents the consensus view of thousands of climate researchers from 195 countries.
“With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction – now.”
Many others have summarised the main takeaways of the report (NY Times, Nature, National Geographic and Forbes provide excellent analyses), so I won’t belabour them in this short piece. But in summary …
- Risks of every kind – ecosystem collapse, species loss, human morbidity, social inequity, national (in)security – will be magnified if warming is unchecked. As leading climate scientist Michael Mann put it: “Dangerous climate change is now upon us, and it is simply a matter of how bad we’re willing to let it get.”
- Adaptation is hitting limits – our political and institutional leaders have been applying band-aids instead of tackling root causes and behaviours. Too much ‘adaptation’ and far too little ‘mitigation’.
- ‘Maladaption’ can make things worse – and indeed many short-term ‘fixes’ will have unintended consequences or merely prolong unsustainable practices by vested interests.
- Cities are a challenge – the world’s population is overwhelmingly urban and becoming more so, but on a positive note this leads to opportunity if we design and plan now with foresight.
- The window of opportunity is rapidly closing – the science is irrefutable about the pace and consequences of change.
Secretary-General Guterres remarked: “I’ve seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this … a damning indictment of failed climate leadership”. His comment – we’re on a “frog march to destruction” – perfectly captures the idiocy of the situation.
So how do we respond to that frog march warning with meaningful action in our tiny sandbox here in Hawke’s Bay?
Well, as our lead council addressing the emergency, HBRC has – hold your breath – hired a ‘Climate Ambassador’. And at its recent Environment Committee meeting, Councillors gave her a rousing welcome, urging her to do great things.
Having a Climate Ambassador is probably better than not having one.
But the work plan so far proposed in a yawner. Getting on with some studies that should have been completed years ago.
HBRC declared a ‘climate emergency’ in June 2019. The Climate Ambassador will produce an Action Plan (almost an oxymoron) by July 2023 … 4 years later. That Plan will inform HBRC’s next Long-Term Plan, presumably leading to serious resourcing in 2024 … 5 years into the ‘emergency’.
Talk about a frog march!
Fortunately there is evidence in Hawke’s Bay that other key players are moving with greater urgency – the Port, the Airport, leading businesses like Silver Fern and WineWorks – have significant sustainability programmes underway, which include addressing their climate impacts.
Yes, their plans and claims will need to be monitored and verified. But I expect they will be, whereupon their progress can be leveraged to positively motivate other HB institutions, businesses and mere consumers – like you and me – to change our individual and collective behaviours.
It shouldn’t take years to identify in our small region where the opportunities lie for greatest impact on our carbon footprint.
An ‘ambassador’ carries a torch for their cause. Let’s hope that our ‘Climate Ambassador’ quickly moves beyond the bean counting to marshalling community energy and inspiration.
Maybe that’s an unfair expectation of a mid-level staffer. After all, it’s the Councillors we pay to provide such leadership. But we’re yet to see who on the Regional Council, rhetoric aside, will take on that role.