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Presentation in solidarity with striking students

Climate emergency:
scientific reality,
necessary action
Professor Julia Steinberger
Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds
j.k.steinberger@leeds.ac.uk, @JKSteinberger

Presentation prepared with advice from Dr Payal Parekh and

Sebastien Bertrand
First shown in Geneva high schools, Feb 18 2019 1
Outline – a start
20 minutes of speaking

1. Summary of case for scientific urgency

2. Scope and rapidity of necessary action
3. UK & international climate policy
4. Collective action: bigger than individual

20 minutes of discussion and debate

1. What information do you need? What is missing?

2. What context and practical expertise will expand this action

to translate into important results? (social strategy,
political, media, financial …?)
“The grown-ups have failed us.”

“We have come here to let you know that

change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Greta Thunberg, student striker

Katowice, Pologne COP24 3
Scientific basis for the climate
emergency: SR1.5 report
Special report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) on 1.5 degrees

➔ The Paris Agreement aims

to keep warming below 2
degrees, with 1.5 degrees
as a goal.
➔ But is warming by 2 degrees
already too dangerous?
➔ Concerned governments
demand from the IPCC a
report on the difference
between 1.5 and 2 degrees. 4
The Special Report SR1.5 compares
1.5 et 2 degrees warming
What level of warming above pre-industrial levels are we already at? 1 degree

2°C versus
Impact 1.5°C 2°C

Deadly Heatwaves 14% of 37% of

2.6x worse
At least once every 5 years population population

Arctic free from sea ice in Once every Once every

10x worse
summer 100 years 10 years

Insect species losing 50% of

6% 18% 3x worse
their range

Dying coral reefs 70-90% 99%
1,2,3,4 …Which temperature are we
currently heading for?

4 degrees

Accord de Paris
>3 degrés

2.4 degrees

1.5 degrees

Figure from Bob Kopp based on data from the Global Carbon Budget
Global warming means rolling back the
planetary climate clock, to temperatures
unknown before homo walked the Earth.
50 million years by 2100, on our current trajectory
3 million years by 2030, on our current trajectory.
By 2040 if we immediately & massively reduce emissions.

Homo genus exists

Homo sapiens species exists

Agriculture &

Burke et al 2018, PNAS

Climatic (in)justice
Historical responsibility Geographic impacts

Cumulative emissions between Number of days per year where

1751 and 2016. the temperature (& humidity)
are above the deadly threshold
for the human body.
Mora et al 2017, Nature Climate Change
Importance of peak emissions:
We must reduce immediately, and fast!


October 8, 2018 10
What is necessary to stay below
1.5 or 2 degrees?
Extraction & production side
– Abandon all fossil fuel energy (coal, oil, gas),
– Massively reduce (by 90% or more) livestock
production (cattle, porc, poultry)
– Reduce deforestation, start reforesting
– Change construction materials.

Consumption side
– No more flying, move to public transit, only
electric cars/trucks/buses/trains,
– Plant-based diet (healthy planet diet),
– Reduce and change consumption in other
areas (housing etc). 11
Climate politics: International
context & UK status
Paris Agreement
Voluntary conributions, not legally binding,
• Overall aim of remaining below 2 degrees
warming, staying at 1.5 degrees if possible,
• But even the voluntry contributions of
Paris will bring us well above 2 degrees.

United Kingdom: Ambition & contradition

• Carbon budget is law, with ambitious targets, but
too distant in time (2050).
• Actions are incoherent with objectives (continued
fossil subsidies, renewable feed-in-tarif
eliminated, support for fossil extraction).
How did such a dire situation
come to pass?
➔ Historical tendencies of industrial development,
economic growth at all costs.
➔ Fossil industries dominate our economies,
infrastructures and politics (petrol/diesl, cars)
➔ Decisions favorable to these industries (for example
road & airport expansions) are taken automatically:
“carbon lock-in”
➔ Conclusions?
◆ Scientific information alone is insufficient to
change the economic system
◆ We must mobilize and act together for the
survival of the planet. 13
Necessary Collective
Communication 1. Strike!
2. Refuse to work for
polluting industries &
Divestment sectors
(financial) 3. Halt fossil
Lawsuits infrastructures
Elections, lobbying
Everything else
(arts, culture…)
Collectif Breakfree Suisse
Questions, discussions, debates,
1. What type of information do you need? What is
missing or unclear?
2. What context and practical expertise will expand
this action to translate into important results?
(social strategy, political, media, financial …?)

Extra slides

A safe and just operating space for
humanity: below planetary boundaries and
above social thresholds

We have already
entered into
regimes that the
human species
has never

Figure de Jos Hagelaars
Other national policies

USA: rising despite Trump’s horror,

a dream of climate and social justice
• Green New Deal put forward by the young
activists of the “Sunrise Movement”
• Supported by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez.
• Includes guarantee of green jobs for all.

Swiss policies: a devastating vacuum

• The right-wing parliamentary majority (PLR & UDC)
rejected the proposed CO2 law in December 2018
• While the Climate Alliance, a large group of NGOs,
put forward an ambitious “Climate Masterplan.” 19