“I must warn you against prophecies of inevitable catastrophe. I see no convincing evidence that environmental problems cannot be solved. I am certain that we can find solutions by coordinating international action. That yes, is very, very urgent”.
Stockholm was a luminous city on June 5, 1972, when Olof Palme breathed encouragement and urged the international community from the first Conference on the Human Environment. Fifty years have passed. The world has come a long way, environmental problems too. The validity of those words could suggest that there is nothing to celebrate, but it would be a wrong idea.
From that summit emerged the United Nations Program for the Environment and the lighthouse concept of the sustainable development: equitable growth that preserves natural capital for future generations. Stockholm began the arduous and slow battle to agree on solutions global for ecosystem problems global. Agreements were reached on marine pollution, protection of species and spaces, acid rain… Over time, international cooperation made it possible to close the holes in the ozone layer. We equip ourselves with institutions from which to progress on several fronts —Biodiversity, Desertification, Climate Change Conventions—. Decades of investment in technological innovation have allowed us to reduce the cost of renewable energies by 80%, which today offer the cheapest, most efficient and safest source to generate electricity. It is worth remembering these historical milestones: they are pillars bequeathed by those who preceded us and remind us of what we are capable of achieving.
However, we continue to abuse the carrying capacity of the planet, so the growth limits from 1972 are narrower today. The World Economic Forum has just met in Davos after publishing a Global Risks Report forceful with respect to the reality that we must face. The three most critical threats to the world and people’s well-being are: climate action failure, weather extremes, and biodiversity loss. In the top ten Other global risks include social erosion, subsistence crises, infectious diseases and geoeconomic conflicts: all of them directly or indirectly related to the triple environmental crisis. This voice of alarm adds to the scientific alerts and should make us react. These are not unavoidable risks: there is an urgent need to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and build resilience to avoid the worst scenarios.
The energy transition is our generational challenge and a major challenge for countries, companies and societies dependent on fossil fuels. Its outcome depends on our ability to anticipate and respond to social and distributional impacts. Its viability makes it necessary to model and sequence the reforms in an intelligent and inclusive manner. Climate inaction implies losses of up to 18% of global GDP. Reorienting the way we produce and consume creates opportunities for industry, innovation, employment, equity and the improvement of the health of the planet and people. The jump is not only technological. We will need new knowledge and skills, as well as consensus and social momentum. Institutions must facilitate change, but only an active and well-informed citizenry can sustain the precise cruising speed. This decade is decisive to restore the balance between human well-being and the planet. That’s where the only possible future passes. Let’s take momentum.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
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