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Survival pathways in the face of climate catastrophe

According to a new book called Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity, rising inequality in the next 50 years may lead to increasingly dysfunctional societies, making the cooperation needed to deal with threats such as climate change much more difficult. However, the experts identify five “extraordinary turnarounds” needed to end global poverty and maintain temperatures below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and argue that following these guidelines, humanity has a chance to survive the climatic and economic catastrophes it is currently facing.

“We are standing on a cliff edge,” said book co-author Jørgen Randers, a professor emeritus of Climate Strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School. “In the next 50 years, the current economic system will drive up social tensions and drive down well-being. We can already see how inequality is destabilizing people and the planet.”

“Unless there is truly extraordinary action to redistribute wealth, things will get significantly worse. We are already sowing the seeds for regional collapse. Societies are creating vicious cycles where rising social tensions that are exacerbated by climate breakdown will continue to lead to a decline in trust. This risks an explosive combination of extreme political destabilization and economic stagnation at a time when we must do everything we can to avoid climate catastrophes.”  

The book explores two possible scenarios beginning in the 1980s and ending at the end of the 21st century. In the first one – entitled “Too Little, Too Late” – humanity will continue with the same economic policies from the last four decades. Such a pathway will likely create extreme inequalities, increase social tensions within and between countries, exacerbate political division and lack of trust, and push global temperatures above the 2.5°C threshold.

“In this scenario, the model indicates that regional societal collapse, driven by rising social tensions, food insecurity, and environmental degradation, is more likely than today. Regional and global crises are often not caused by a single event like one crop failure, but cascading failures made worse by climate change, chronically dysfunctional governments, and system failures,” explained co-author Espen Stokes, the director of the Center for Sustainability and Energy at the BI Norwegian Business School.   

However, in a second scenario – called “the Giant Leap” – the scientists argue that it is in fact possible to stabilize global temperatures below the 2°C threshold and the world population below nine billion, as well as to end extreme global poverty by 2050, thus relaxing social tensions and increasing well-being. To achieve this, societies would need to urgently act across five interconnected turnarounds:

  1. Ending global poverty through reforms of the international financial system
  2. Addressing inequality by ensuring that the wealthiest 10 percent take less than 40 percent of national incomes
  3. Achieving full gender equity by 2050 through continuous empowerment of women
  4. Transforming the food system to provide healthy diets 
  5. Transitioning to clean energy in order to reach net zero emissions by mid-century

“Citizens across the globe recognize we need a new paradigm. And we estimate the investment needed for this shift is small, just two-four percent of GDP annually. That’s less than our current annual subsidies to fossil fuel industries. This is easily affordable, and it will create millions of jobs. What is missing is coalitions of politicians willing to make it happen,” concluded co-author Sandrine Dixson-Declève, an expert in Climate Science at the Club of Rome

More details about these initiatives can be found on Earth4All, a website launched as a companion to the book. In addition, the book’s 15 policy recommendations with the greatest potential to accelerate the five turnarounds can be found here.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer   

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