Newsflash: Anderson & Bows – “the threshold of 2 °C is no longer viable”

Professor Kevin Anderson and Doctor Alice Bows are Manchester-based academics working on climate change and what its impacts will be.

They have written many peer-reviewed articles and reports, and given seminars a-plenty. (We recently interviewed Kevin – read the full transcript here).

They have just had a commentary published in the prestigious journal “Nature Climate Change” (currently behind a paywall, sorry). Its title is “A new paradigm for climate change.

They open with robust statements about the fantasy of long-term targets…

Long-term and end-point targets (for example, 80% by 2050) have no scientific basis. What governs future global temperatures and other adverse climate impacts are the emissions from yesterday, today and those released in the next few years. Delaying an agreement on meaningful cuts to emissions increases the risk of exposing many already vulnerable communities to higher temperatures and worsening climate-related impacts. Yet, behind the cosy rhetoric of naively optimistic science and policy, there is little to suggest that existing mitigation proposals will deliver anything but rising emissions over the coming decade or two.

Echoing the “goodbye to the two degrees target” statement made by Bob Watson last week (after Anderson and Bows had completed their article), they write:

…the science demonstrates that the threshold of 2 °C is no longer viable, at least within orthodox political and economic constraints. Against this backdrop, unsubstantiated hope leaves such constraints unquestioned, while at the same time legitimizing a focus on increasingly improbable low-carbon futures and underplaying high-emission scenarios.

They give explanations as to why scientists are not speaking up, but point out that

… work on adapting to climate change suggests that economic growth cannot be reconciled with the breadth and rate of impacts as the temperature rises towards 4 °C and beyond — a serious possibility if global apathy over stringent mitigation persists. Away from the microphone and despite claims of ‘green growth’, few if any scientists working on climate change would disagree with the broad thrust of this candid conclusion. [Emphasis added]. The elephant in the room sits undisturbed while collective acquiescence and cognitive dissonance trample all who dare to ask difficult questions.

Repeating something that Prof Anderson has said in public, but to our knowledge not written before…

At the same time as climate change analyses are being subverted to reconcile them with the orthodoxy of economic growth, neoclassical economics has evidently failed to keep even its own house in order. This failure is not peripheral. It is prolonged, deep-rooted and disregards national boundaries, raising profound issues about the structures, values and framing of contemporary society.

In the final section, entitled “A new paradigm”, they advocate the following –

Leave the market economists to fight among themselves over the right price of carbon — let them relive their groundhog day if they wish. The world is moving on and we need to have the audacity to think diferently and conceive of alternative futures.
Civil society needs scientists to do science free of the constraints of failed economics. It also needs us to guard against playing politics while actively engaging with the processes of developing policy; this is a nuanced but nonetheless crucial distinction.
Ultimately, decisions on how to respond to climate change are the product of many constituencies contributing to the debate. Science is important among these and needs to be communicated clearly, honestly and without fear.

The world is indeed moving on. One of Manchester’s problems is that it has done relatively well out of the “inward investment”. Its political and economic elite, having played its cards in that game very well indeed, see no reason to consider that we will soon be playing with a different deck altogether.
It is therefore up to civil society to do the preparations that outfits like Manchester City Council and the oh-so-silent “Stakeholder Steering Group” will not, cannot do. If you, gentle reader, want to be involved in one of the civil society responses, around “Steady State Manchester”, then come along to the next public meeting, on Wednesday 12th September, from 6pm to 9.30pm (drop-in, you don’t have to be there for the whole thing!), at Madlab, on Edge St.

Marc Hudson


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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