Over dinner at Kronborg castle— apparently the inspiration for Elsinore, the setting for Hamlet and scene for a special conference of the Copenhagen Climate Council during the UN Climate Summit—two comments struck me. Both of them related at surface level to global investment in the shift to a low-carbon economy. But both revealing a lack of understanding that climate change is in many ways really about security.
Paul Dickinson CEO of the Carbon Disclosure Project, one of Accenture's partners, asked whether or not the challenge of getting investment flows moving around climate change was "just a marketing problem." What he was likely getting at was: Given the unequivocal science from the International Panel on Climate Change about the impact of limiting global temperature rises to a maximum of 2 degrees by the end of the century; and given the need for emissions to peak by 2015 to achieve that; wouldn't any rational decision-maker throw any amount of money necessary at it as a personal, national, security and humanity issue?
Another audience member—who's name I didn't get—went on to say: "When we come to the Climate Change COPs [UN Summits] each year, we hear how strong the science is. But still I must doubt it at one level, because when I go home and fly back from Copenhagen I go back into my comfort zone and say, 'Look that's way off, the world is OK.' And then I come back to the COP meetings again and the scientists say, 'No, it really is real and it really is today.' So, what would it take to make me believe it and what would I be prepared to do if I really believed it?"
The Stern Report, which was commissioned by the UK government as a study into the economics of climate change, suggests that we will likely need to see an investment of 1% to 2% of GDP now until 2050 to keep to the 2 degree target (assuming of course we make efficient choices and avoid dumb ones that lock us into high-carbon infrastructure and assets that become financially stranded). Now that doesn't seem like a huge price to pay for a global insurance policy, particularly set against the dramatic consequences predicted by the world's leading scientists, should we fail to take action. Failing in that regard could lead to more frequent and sustained extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, and storms.
Nowhere is this more profound than in the impact on human health through water systems. Professor Pachauri, head of the IPCC, told us at the same dinner that by as soon as 2020, changes in temperature in some parts of the world will already mean as many as 800m+ in Asia and 75-200m in Africa will live in areas regularly affected by systematic water scarcity.
All of this spells one thing: Conflict. Conflict driven by necessity. And conflict is a security issue.
So why haven't we framed climate change as a security issue? There is some literature on this. But at a deep psychological level, and at a political level, we haven't. We can't have. Why? Because if this was a personal, national or even humankind security issue, we wouldn't question investing 1% to 2% of GDP to guarantee no more than 2 degrees of warming. We would be prepared to invest anything it takes and do whatever necessary to overcome the many collective-action and game-theory problems inherent in any global deal. To ground this in the reality of our preparedness to invest in different forms of security, think of the enormous amounts of money we pour into protecting ourselves and families directly through home security or indirectly through life insurance, health insurance and all sorts of other ways and means. And of course this is dwarfed by the spending of national defense budgets.
So what does that tell us if we believe the scientists, the politicians and the economists who tell us that climate change is the greatest challenge the world has ever collectively faced and the greatest market failure? It tells us that Paul Dickinson may be right. Deep down we don't really believe it. Or at least we haven't made the connection with our personal, national or human security in a timeframe that forces us to act. Otherwise, the only rational choice would be to guarantee the necessary investment.
For governments around the world thinking about delivering on their commitments at Copenhagen and being able to justify the costs—or at least if they are serious about shifting through the gears in their role as policy-makers; huge organizations in their own right; and investors in public infrastructure—creating that 'missing link' between climate change and security may be a very real marketing and public awareness challenge ahead.
Peter Lacy, based in London, is Managing Director of Accenture Sustainability Services for Europe, Africa, Middle East and Latin America. He is blogging this week on the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen.