As the youngest leader in his nation’s democratic history, French President Emmanuel Macron understands that climate change is the single most important issue facing his generation, and indeed generations to come.
But the time to deal effectively with the climate crisis is desperately short. Scientists around the world are telling us that actions in the next 10 to 20 years will likely determine whether we can prevent runaway, unstoppable climate change impacts, or whether they will overwhelm our efforts to prevent them.
This week, as Macron hosts the One Planet Summit of global leaders, he must issue an urgent call for fast action, framing the climate problem as one of speedy near-term action, not just long-term resolve. The message is one of urgent optimism: that if we act very quickly there is still, barely, enough time to address the climate crisis.
At the moment, however, most world leaders are in denial about how close we are to uncontrollable climate disaster. This includes not just the Trump Administration and Republicans in the US, but even many leaders in government and industry around the world who embrace the science of climate change but fail to understand the stunningly rapid breakdown of climatic norms that is already occurring around the world.
There is already, today, a one in twenty chance that the climate pollution we have already emitted will push us into catastrophic impacts, and perhaps even into existential risks. Just last week, a study in the journal Nature found that the most accurate climate models so far are predicting as much as 5 degrees Celsius this century without urgent action.
We must face the fact that our current efforts under the Paris Agreement are not enough to prevent catastrophic climate impacts.
Fortunately, we have the technologies and policies we need to prevent uncontrollable warming if we deploy them rapidly now, and at scale. A recent report, Well Under 2 Degrees C, by more than 30 leading climate science and policy experts, finds that we can still meet the Paris goal of keeping warming to well under 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but only if the world quickly pursues three cooling approaches:
- Decarbonizing the global energy system by mid-century;
- Drastically reducing emissions of short-lived super climate pollutants like HFCs, methane, and black carbon by 2020; and
- Managing carbon dioxide after it has been emitted, including undertaking atmospheric carbon extraction.
While none of these actions will be easy, all are possible today with concerted global action.
Decarbonizing the global energy system by 2050 through the use of renewable energy, other zero emissions sources, electricity storage advances and improvements in energy efficiency is entirely achievable, and can reduce warming by 0.3°C by 2050 and 2.5°C by 2100.
Drastically reducing emissions of short-lived super climate pollutants beginning now, would avoid warming in 2050 by 0.6°C and by up to 1.2°C by 2100. The short-lived super climate pollutant reductions are essential to limit near-term warming and prevent climate tipping points.
Even so, atmospheric carbon extraction will be needed to address policy lapses, mitigation delays, and non-linear climate changes. If CO2 emissions continue to grow until 2030, a staggering one trillion tons of carbon extraction would be needed, at an estimated cost of many trillions of dollars. Such an effort must also look at wider efforts to manage carbon after it is emitted, including both by reforestation and carbon capture, utilization, and storage.
President Macron is uniquely suited to assume the mantle of world’s leading climate protector.
France has taken the global lead in banning diesel and petroleum power vehicles, with President Macron announcing the elimination of all such vehicles by 2040, with other major countries like the UK and Germany following suit. Macron has advocated a bigger role for markets in limiting greenhouse gas emissions, proposing a carbon market price starting at more than 30 Euros, or six times the current price. And Macron will be announcing a focus on cutting emissions from international shipping, a key sector that according to a statement to be released next week “must take urgent action in consideration of these vital objectives for the future of the planet and of humanity.”
Macron has transcended President Trump’s climate nihilism, launching a website called “Make Our Planet Great Again” urging “all responsible citizens” from around the world to emigrate to France to work on their climate projects. As Macron said when President Trump announced his decisions to leave the Paris agreement, “There is no Plan B, for there is no Planet B.”
But, as critical as these efforts are, Macron’s greatest value will be to use the 2nd Anniversary of the Paris Agreement, and the One Planet Summit this week, to issue a clarion call to all nations, peoples, businesses, religions, scientists, and citizens: Recognize the extreme, imminent danger of climate catastrophe, and act quickly and decisively to prevent it.
If he is able to do that, Macron may truly become among the most important leaders of the 21st Century.
Paul Bledsoe is a professorial lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy and strategic advisor to the Progressive Policy Institute; he was a climate adviser in Bill Clinton’s White House.
Maxime Beaugrand is director of the Paris office of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.
Durwood Zaelke is Founder and President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, and teaches Climate Justice at the University of California, Santa Barbara.