2020 is expected to be one of the hottest years on record.8 In 2019, Australia caught fire. Indonesia is planning to move its capital city from Jakarta, which is being swallowed by the sea.9 In the 2010s, climate change was topical, in the 2020s climate emergency – 2019 ‘word of the year’ – will be headline news. As heat records are shattered around the globe, scientists raise concerns around negative feedback loops creating exponential temperature increases.10
Evidence to prove human damage to the environment is mounting. There have been 17 of the hottest years on record in the last 18 years.11 Antarctic ice loss has tripled over the last decade.12 The acidity of our seas has increased by around 30% since the Industrial Revolution.13 The threat of climate change, previously seen as predominantly perilous to animals and coral reefs, is now knocking at the door of the world’s wealthiest nations. Traditionally warm areas, such as Australia and the Middle East, may become uninhabitable in parts.14 Europe is beginning to sweat.15
In Global Trends 2020, climate emergency is the strongest common value among people across the world – and in this case, we can say with certainty that changing values are translating into changing actions. The formation of the international activist group Extinction Rebellion in 2018 demonstrates the strength of feeling. Moreover, there is now political weight behind the idea of change, at both a global and local level. There is demand for drastic action at a local level that would have been previously unthinkable. Portugal aims for a 55% reduction in carbon emission by 2030, Finland plans to ban burning coal by 2029, and the United Kingdom intends to be net carbon neutral by 2050.16
The threat of climate change, however, is felt unevenly. Cities at sea level, such as Lagos and Mumbai, are on red alert. In contrast, other countries are unwilling to change course. The United States blocked a nonbinding measure to encourage countries to boost greenhouse gas reduction targets at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit.17 Australia, despite facing wildfires and soaring temperatures, did not even attend the summit; coal mining contributes about 8.5% to its GDP.18 The inaction of the Australian Government while their largest city, Sydney, faces the most toxic air on earth – more than 12 times hazardous levels – demonstrates the tension between economic interests and climate politics.19
There have been 17 of the hottest years on record in the last 18 years
There is a correlation between climate change denial and other nationalist views in many countries. Balancing the scales between the economic interests of the nation state and our planet’s health is not, for many, simple. This conflict is played out on a personal level too. Land management will have a huge impact on mitigation, which involves all of us rethinking our water use and diet choices, in addition to our energy use.
Resource depletion – be it water, soil fertility or rare earths – is another key element of this provoking new technical and economic challenge, and political tensions, as we have shown elsewhere. Brands will need to take a proactive stance. Eco-friendly options may no longer be a ‘nice-to-have’. We may no longer be able to force our environment to adapt to us; instead, humanity will need to adapt to a changing environment.