Finding Meaning and Hope After Climate Breakdown Threat

By Jeanne Martin, Senior Campaigns Officer

Last week, the IPCC (a group of UN climate scientists) released a report quantifying the differences between a 1.5C and a 2C world. Its key message? The next 12 years will determine whether or not we can avert the worst consequences of climate change – such as 10cm rise in sea level, putting a further 10 million people at risk of coastal flooding and water contamination by sea water, a total wipe out of coral reefs, the death of low-lying islands and a massive reduction in habitat for a large number of animals. This will cause global climate-related economic losses to soar – which have already increased by 2.5 times in the past 20 years, totalling $2.9 trillion, found the UN.

To bring it closer to home – and if you need to convince your climate-denying uncle or aunt about the necessity to act soon – tell them that our Sunday roasts are also in danger, as UK growers warn of shortages of onions, potatoes and other vegetables after extreme weather decimated crops. This may have a positive side benefit if it leads to a reduction in beef, pork or lamb consumption, say scientists from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food.

If all of this has not depressed you yet – hang in there. Some scientists have blamed the IPCC report for downplaying the full extent of the real threat. They say it doesn’t account for all of the warming that has already occurred and that it downplays the economic costs of severe storms and displacement of people through drought and deadly heat waves. Furthermore, IPCC scenarios often rely on commercially unproven technologies such as BECCS – which are hoped to have a negative carbon footprint.


Listen to ShareAction’s very first podcast here which explains what the UN’s warning means to you, in ways you can understand. We also look at why Big Oil is deaf to the threats.


Yet in a parallel universe, BP, Shell and the rest of the fossil fuel gang met the next day at the Dorchester for the annual Oil & Money Conference (yes that’s its actual name). BP made the headlines for downplaying the financial risks linked to climate change, putting him at odds with the governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, and Shell’s CEO argued that we needed “another Brazil in terms of rainforest” to meet the 1.5°C goal. Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s Chief Scientist, summarises both speeches pretty neatly in a tweet.

Let’s see if judges agree. 38 oil companies have been brought to court by local authorities for their failure to take meaningful climate action -and for deceiving the public for years-. If they lost, these companies are very likely to claim some or all of their costs back on their insurance policies – thus adding another layer of climate-related risk on the insurance industry!

Neil Beresford, partner at law firm Clyde & Co, says in the FT: “Because these cases are presented on the basis that petroleum is a defective product, then there is an argument that this is a general liability matter, for which oil companies have insurance.” He adds: “The insurance industry’s exposure could go up to tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Talking about judges – the Dutch Appeals Court ruled in favour of Urgenda by deciding that the Dutch government had a duty of care to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020. It even dismissed the idea brought forward by the Dutch government that it would rely on negative emissions in the future to reduce its emissions


Not everyone so easily dismissed the IPCC report. Tetra Pak committed to reconsider its climate target in light of the IPCC report, and so did the UK and Scottish governments. (They have got the support of the British public – A new survey showed that 85% of Brits think making the UK carbon neutral should be a priority.) Sadly that same week, the UK government confirmed it would cut electric vehicle grants – a day after the Committee on Climate Change warned the Department for Transport and BEIS that the government current Road to Zero strategy for decarbonising road transport was not in line with its current carbon targets. They also announced a plan to support a major oil refinery in Bahrain – which the government has admitted could lead to “significant adverse environmental impact.”

How have investors and other financial institutions reacted to the IPCC report? The World Bank said it would not support a planned 500-MW coal power plant in Kosovo on the grounds that  cheaper renewable alternatives existed. NN Group divested from tar sands, the GPIF, with its $1.5 trillions in AUM, joined Climate Action 100+ as a supporter, NEST committed to consider physical risks in its climate fund, Blackrock teamed up with Wespath to explore fresh ways to invest in the low-carbon economy, and Carbon Delta and a group of pension funds launched an evaluation tool identifying how much a company’s value if affected by climate change.

Other investors are just betting on us failing to meet the 1.5°C target – because hey, there’s money to be made in everything.

Thanks Jeanne! To find out more about how we’re working with investors to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C, click here

Beau O'SullivanFinding Meaning and Hope After Climate Breakdown Threat