If your company has set goals—even ambitious goals—for greenhouse gas emission cuts in the next decade and you are satisfied with those goals, it is time to reevaluate. That is the message from a very important UN report released last week from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In a nutshell, the report said we are all not doing enough to keep temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures have already risen to 1.1°C above those levels, a consequence of more than a century of burning fossil fuels, as well as unequal and unsustainable energy and land use.
Said the IPCC press release: “In 2018, IPCC highlighted the unprecedented scale of the challenge required to keep warming to 1.5°C. Five years later, that challenge has become even greater due to a continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are insufficient to tackle climate change.”
“Keeping warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels requires deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors,” the release adds. “Emissions should be decreasing by now and will need to be cut by almost half by 2030, if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C.” Yes, we are already in 2023.
Because of the damage we have already done, more frequent and more intense extreme weather events have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world. I saw the aftermath of Hurricane Ian this past year here in Florida and it looked like an atomic bomb combined with a tsunami destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, including the area’s tourism business.
‘In Every Region, People are Dying from Extreme Heat’
“Every increment of warming results in rapidly escalating hazards,” says IPCC. “More intense heatwaves, heavier rainfall and other weather extremes further increase risks for human health and ecosystems. In every region, people are dying from extreme heat. Climate-driven food and water insecurity is expected to increase with increased warming. When the risks combine with other adverse events, such as pandemics or conflicts, they become even more difficult to manage.”
“Almost half of the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change. In the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions,” one of the report’s authors said.
The IPCC report came after an Associated Press (AP) report earlier this month that the world emitted the most carbon dioxide in any year in 2022. Emissions totaled 36.8 gigatons, an increase of 0.9 percent year over year. The AP cited increased air travel as one of the key causes of growth.
“Any emissions growth—even 1 percent—is a failure,” said Rob Jackson, a Professor of Earth System Science at Stanford University and chairman of the Global Carbon Project, in the AP report. “We can’t afford growth. We can’t afford stasis. It’s cuts or chaos for the planet. Any year with higher coal emissions is a bad year for our health and for the Earth.”
A Reason for Hope
Was there hope expressed in the IPCC report? Yes. Says the organization, “For example: access to clean energy and technologies improves health, especially for women and children; low-carbon electrification, walking, cycling, and public transport enhance air quality, improve health, employment opportunities and deliver equity. The economic benefits for people’s health from air quality improvements alone would be roughly the same, or possibly even larger than the costs of reducing or avoiding emissions.”
Adds one of the report’s authors, “Accelerated climate action will only come about if there is a many-fold increase in finance. Insufficient and misaligned finance is holding back progress.”
“If technology, know-how and suitable policy measures are shared, and adequate finance is made available now, every community can reduce or avoid carbon-intensive consumption,” IPCC says. “At the same time, with significant investment in adaptation, we can avert rising risks, especially for vulnerable groups and regions.”
“Changes in the food sector, electricity, transport, industry, buildings and land-use can reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” IPCC concludes. “At the same time, they can make it easier for people to lead low-carbon lifestyles, which will also improve health and wellbeing. A better understanding of the consequences of overconsumption can help people make more informed choices.”
We Already Know Most of the Answers
Like all business sectors, the hotel industry faces some difficult decisions, but we have much of the knowledge and technology before us to get the job done. We know how to build smarter buildings, we know which technologies drastically reduce energy consumption, we know how to invest in low-carbon supply chains. We know how to stop food waste from going to the landfill. The real questions are: Are we willing to make the long-term health of the planet a priority over short-term profitability? Are we willing to press the pause button on growth until we have perfected a net-zero, or even net positive approach to doing business? Are we willing to support efforts to reduce air travel until that travel industry niche finds a much cleaner and less greenhouse gas-intensive way to fly its airplanes?
Keeping global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is not going to be easy given the problem’s complex global nature. What do you do when a company like China approves the equivalent of two coal-powered plants a week? It happened last year, says CNN.
Combine responsibility for our current predicament with clean technology, green design, innovation, patience, a strong hand, and compassion for current and future generations and we will truly find hope.
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