Beyond this level of warming, the effects could be catastrophic, affecting millions of people in many parts of the world. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires that anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero emissions by 2050. Such reductions would require“rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport andbuildings), and industrial systems”. On March 15th, the youth will again take to the streets to pressurize leaders into taking action. Protesters make it clear that the incremental improvement and compromise that has been on offer to date is not sufficient, and is unacceptable. The youth are in a unique position to deliver a powerful message since they are the sector of society that will have to live with the worst effects of inaction. Following the example of Greta Thundberg, a young Swedish girl who has initiated a school strike for climate in her country, and delivered charismatic talks to call world leaders for action, the youth are taking the lead. They seize the opportunity to act on their own future to make it sustainable and desirable, and we should support and empower them.
Many parts of the world are already experiencing extreme weather events such as hurricanes, heatwaves, droughts, forest fires or flooding as temperatures have climbed to 1°C above pre-industrial levels. These phenomena are no longer intangible hypothetical predictions by scientists, but have become a reality, with daily internet and media reports bringing new evidence to light. We have learned or been reminded recently that the sixth mass extinction is accelerating with species becoming extinct at a significantly faster rate than in the past. The biomass of insects and bees in particular, has been collapsing very quickly, endangering agriculture productivity, and soon, food security. In a few years, two thirds of the Himalayan ice caps will have melted, dramatically reducing fresh water reserves and supply in China and India. With +50°C and -50°C respectively, Australia and the US beat simultaneously temperatures records leading to many casualties. Air pollution is killing even more people than previously thought. Climatic refugees are on the road. The list is long, the eventuality of a global collapse becomes less and less a grotesque idea. Our economic and political elites are blind, only concerned with their business as usual. Without urgent action and unprecedented change in production and consumption habits, the world is on track for 3°C (or more) temperature increase by the end of the century which will bring with it disastrous consequences.
For too long society has been supportive of a system which has failed to tackle the global climate change challenge. Citizens have relied on government as well as businesses to take the lead in addressing this issue, with little progress achieved so far. In December 2015, the Paris Agreement generated some optimism that world leaders would finally address the climate issue as they committed to cutting carbon dioxide emissions across their jurisdictions. However, according to a report by the UN in November 2018, the majority of G20 countries are not following up on these commitments.While political challenges such as the withdrawal of the USA (the world’s second biggest emitter ofcarbon dioxide) from the Paris agreement is a factor, pro-agreement nations such as Germany and the UK are also falling short. Germany have given up on its 2020 goal to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent based on 1990 levels, focusing instead on its 2030 goal. The continued support by the UK government of oil and gas drilling in the Artic is also not consistent with its international commitments on climate change and protecting the planet. How do we explain such inertia, not to say political hypocrisy? Political decisions are compromises, often influenced (or captured) by powerful specialinterests’ lobbying, in which climate and sustainability are downgraded as second or third orderpriorities.
Businesses have also been touting their green credentials through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs for more than 2 decades. For some companies CSR is no more than a green facade allowing them to continue their quest for economic growth without considering the common good. A recent campaign shows that ExxonMobil had been aware of the dangers of climate change for more than 40 years and yet refused to publicly acknowledge the scientific evidence. In one of the biggest scandals to hit the automobile industry, it was revealed that Volkswagen, a pioneer of “clean” diesel engines, deceived its customers as well as regulatory authorities by fitting a defeat device to cheat on emissions testing. The actions of business and in particular of 100 “carbon majors” have been linkedto the generation of 70% of industrial GHG emissions since 1988. We should not continue to allow these multi-billion dollar giants to have such an important impact on the future of the planet.
The youth strikes for climate action should inspire all sectors of society to act. Individual action, while perhaps not sufficient to bring about all of the changes needed, can be an important catalyst. Consumers make decisions on what products they buy and so which businesses they support as well as which politicians they elect. While it is clear that a coordinated effort between all sectors of society is necessary to realize the changes needed, the influence of individual choices and action should not be underestimated. Moreover, collective actions like the ones from youth can be powerful levers in order to reach a tipping point toward a sustainable future.
As a higher education institute, our responsibility is to work with students on the challenges facing our society and to help them coping with the complexity of these issues. The future is full of uncertainty and they will need to be able to adapt and to invent solutions for a desirable one. Technological and social innovations will be essential to permit and smooth adaptation to the upheavals that are ahead of us. Over the next ten years, we are likely to see dramatic changes in the way that we produce, consume and travel as well as experience unprecedented changes to our climate, economic and social systems. Although we cannot predict what these changes will be, educational institutions must prepare the leaders of tomorrow to manage and cope in this unpredictable context.
“The profound and systemic changes that are ahead of us are probably the most crucial challenges humanity has faced from all-time. In order to take action, we need to acknowledge the urgent, complex and systemic dimensions of these challenges and, at the same time, our own role in this agenda. Higher education institutions can engage a collective learning process with students, academics, practitioners and leaders to enable these changes. On March 15th the students from the Kedge’sCreative Industries Major will organize exhibition and debates in the Bordeaux campus as anexperiment to contribute to this movement.” says Aurélien Décamps, Professor at Kedge Business School and co-founder of Sulitest.org. That day, Breeda Comyns, Julien Hanoteau and other professors of the KEDGE CSR Center of Excellence will dress in green, join colleagues and students from different associations on the Marseille Campus, discuss, debate, show up for picture, and then march together for Climate in the Marseille city center.