Thirty crew members of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise are in prison in Russia, because they took peaceful action against oil drilling in the Arctic, intending to change the grim future we are constructing for ourselves and the planet with our addiction to fossil fuels. Today, the world’s leading authority on the science of climate change released a report that shows the concerns of the Greenpeace activists are completely justified.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has assessed all of the recent climate science and found worrying signs of accelerating impacts, especially in Polar regions:
- In the past decade (2002-2011) the Greenland Ice Sheet melted at a rate six times faster, on average, than the decade before.
- Antarctic melting was five times faster.
- Since 1993 sea-levels have risen twice as fast as in the past century on average.
- Arctic sea-ice extent has also diminished significantly faster than projected.
Our pollution has warmed the atmosphere and oceans, melted glaciers, raised sea levels, changed water cycles and increased some extreme weather events. In addition, our carbon dioxide emissions are turning oceans more acidic at an unprecedented rate, threatening marine life. It is now certain that most of the warming since 1951 was caused by human activities.
But the IPCC didn’t just deliver the bad news. They also looked at potential pathways for the future. The future they describe if we stay on our current path and continue with business as usual looks bleak and hostile. But remember, these are projections, not prophecies. They also set out a way forward that will limit the amount of warming to well below 2°C and lower the scale of sea-level rise, ice melting, ocean acidification and extreme weather events as well as lower the risks of triggering abrupt changes with unknown consequences.
There is better future than the one we are currently facing and it is ours if we want it.
Action at IPCC in Stockholm © Greenpeace / Christian Åslund
We must accept that most fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground and that chasing to the ends of the earth to suck out the last few remaining drops of oil is an expensive and dangerous waste of time. This will come as no surprise to the fossil fuel industry. Coal, oil and gas companies along with heavy energy using industries like car manufacturers have spent decades trying to muddy the waters around the science of climate change rather than address the serious threat it poses. They have funded advertising campaigns, disinformation campaigns and climate science 'deniers' with the intention of creating uncertainty amongst the public and blocking any efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.
We must embrace and accelerate the clean energy transition that is already underway. Renewable energy is currently the fastest growing power source. Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018. But the biggest barrier to even greater expansion is uncertainty around renewable energy policies. This is an area where governments could create strong signals to investors about the future.
Our activists have shown tremendous courage and commitment and put to shame those governments that continue to protect the interests of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of their citizens. Their actions, borne out of personal conviction and a desire to protect our rapidly changing climate is a challenge to governments to show the same level of integrity and put people and the planet first.
Stephanie Tunmore is a climate campaigner at Greenpeace International.