A psychosocial perspective on IPCC special report on 1.5°C

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 20.20.21.pngThis is the talk I gave as part of Averting climate disruption: what now? a panel event at Edinburgh University, 10th Oct 2018, on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on the impacts of 1.5°C global warming .

We know from the Scottish Household Survey 2017 that most (61%) folk in Scotland view climate change as an immediate and urgent problem, as opposed to a problem for the future or not really a problem at all, and (77%) that it will impact Scotland. But if you look out the window life seems pretty normal, it’s hard to take in that globally we are in a situation of ecological crisis. Ecological crisis is when the environment of a species or a population changes in a way that destabilises its continued survival. This event is titled ‘averting climate disruption’ but actually that’s a huge understatement because what we are facing isn’t just disruption its catastrophe.

I worked until the end of last year as a science officer in the technical support unit of the IPCC working group II (impacts, vulnerability and adaptation) and part of my role was to provide technical and scientific support to the Special Report on 1.5 degrees. I reviewed the internal, first order and second order drafts, so have some first hand knowledge of the process as well as some of the scientific debates around it.

But what I am going to focus on talking about now are some implications of the report. So if we are to take the report seriously, what does that mean?

One headline statement states:

“Pathways to limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”

We have to go to the main body of the report to get the details of the transformational change associated with these pathways:

  • low energy demand
  • decarbonisation of energy supply particularly electricity
  • electrification of energy end use (gas central heating has no future)
  • deep reductions in agricultural emissions
  • low demand for land
  • low demand for GHG intensive consumption goods
  • ecosystem restoration, reforestation & other CO2 removal
  • sustainable intensification of land use practices
  • less resource-intensive diets

This is not about simply swapping one set of technologies with another, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, this is profound transformation in how we live – major reductions in our consumption of energy, materials, food, dietary change to plant based diet (stop eating beef and pork), and reduce food waste.

The report acknowledges this will create conflicts in land use between:

  • human settlements (development
  • food production
  • livestock feed
  • fibre
  • bioenergy
  • carbon storage
  • biodiversity & other ecosystem services (i.e. space for other living beings)

Time for Scotland’s grouse moor and deer estates and golf courses to get repurposed!

The report identifies the following enabling conditions:

  • strengthened multi-level governance
  • institutional capacity
  • policy instruments
  • technological innovation
  • transfer & mobilization of finance
  • changes in human behavior & lifestyles

Now the key question is, is there the political and societal will to do what needs to be done? How likely is it that the necessary transitions will happen at the scale and speed required?

In my view, not very likely.

We can see in the graph below that the pledges governments made as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement are not sufficient for staying below 2 degrees. Actually they add up to 2.5 to 3 degrees (that’s the red/pink line on the graph). But not only are the pledges insufficient, they depend upon negative emissions technologies that either do not yet exist or that have not been deployed at scale, so it’s all pretty speculative. And then on top of all of that, there is the issue that governments, including our own, are not actually aligning their policies to fit these pledges (that’s the blue line). None of it is adding up. There is huge dissonance between what the science is telling us and what we are doing about it.

UK government subsidies to fossil fuel companies have increased since the Paris Agreement and its support for renewables has been cut back. Globally, powerful vested interests are actively working against action to limit climate change. This is denialism – conscious and intentional campaigns of disinformation and sabotage. It’s not just the US administration, Brazil and Australia are also tending in that direction.

The main problem is that mitigation requires global cooperation. Its not going work if only some countries do it and the rest blow the global carbon budget into the stratosphere. And instead of increasing cooperation we see some countries becoming more isolationist, pursuing self-protection goals. Oil rich countries such as Saudi Arabia fight hard against mitigation because that involves reducing investment in and consumption of fossil fuels.

Indeed the report identifies 3 key impediments

  • lack of global cooperation
  • lack of governance of the energy & land transformation
  • growing resource-intensive consumption

There is also the risk of maladaptation. Governments taking actions that make things worse:

  • increase GHG emissions
  • increase inequality
  • undermine health (human & ecosystems)

One route to deal with inadequate responses by governments and corporations is taking legal action, and it’s very interesting to see the ruling of the Dutch court yesterday. However, in England people have been given jail sentences of up to 16 months for protesting against fracking. We should be very alarmed about this.

So that’s political will. But is there societal will for transformational change?

According to the SHS most people in Scotland (75%) say they understand what actions they should be taking. We don’t know if they are doing it or not but in light of this report we have to now ask, what actions exactly do they think they should take? If its changing the lightbulbs then no that’s not going to do it.

Transformational change is needed but it doesn’t have to be framed in terms of sacrifice, about giving up all these lovely material comforts we have got used to. We would need to massively reduce consumption but there is opportunity to rethink what a good life is, what flourishing looks like, and create a positive vision of the kind of society we want to live in – one that values living in harmonious relationship with the natural world as more important than buying lots of stuff we don’t really need.

But there is no getting away from the fact that the next few decades are going to be deeply traumatic for many people in the world. Two key impacts are missing in the report: one is mass migration and second is the impact of climate change on mental health and the huge demands this will place on already pressured health services, which we in the UK are nowhere near prepared for.

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Averting climate disruption: what now? Panel event Wed 10 Oct 5-7.30pm Edinburgh

Transition Edinburgh and Edinburgh University are hosting an event to discuss the findings and implications of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change Special Report on 1.5 degrees (SR1.5) warming and other recent research. I will be presenting on the psychosocial implications of this and other recent reports.

NEW VENUE TO ACCOMODATE HIGH INTEREST: Informatics Forum, 11 Crichton St Edinburgh EH8 9LE


Draft Programme
5.00pm   Registration and meeting friends in the Atrium
5.30pm   Welcome by Dr Simon Shackley, Programme Director, MSc in Carbon Management
5.40pm   How much carbon can we emit to meet the Paris Agreement target? Dr Katarzyna (Kasia) Tokarska
6.00pm   A psychosocial perspective on the SR1.5 Summary for Policy Makers, Dr Nadine Andrews
6.20pm   Responses from students on the MSc in Carbon Management and the 2050 group
6.35pm   Reflections in small groups on the findings shared
6.45pm   Open house with contributions from the audience
7.15pm   What do these findings mean for students and staff at the University, institutions and Scotland?
7.30pm   Close.

Participants are invited to check out the following reports as background:
IPCC Special Report 1.5 – Summary for Policy Makers due for release by IPCC on 8 October

Reducing emissions in Scotland: 2018 Progress Report to Parliament – UK CCC, 24 Sept 2018

Scottish Household Survey Topic Report: Climate Change 2017 – Scottish Government, Sept 2018

Changing behaviour in a changing climate – Changeworks for Citizens Advice Scotland, Aug 2018

Quantifying the implications of Paris Agreement: What role for Scotland? – Tyndall Centre, Aug 2018

Raising Ambition – Zero carbon scenarios from across the globe – Zero Carbon Britain at CAT, 2018

Climate & Rapid Behaviour Change: What do we know so far? – Rapid Transition Alliance, Oct 2018

Yawning at the catastrophe: the psychology of climate change – University of Cambridge, Sept 2018

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NZ Psychological Society conf 2018 – presentation

Very pleased to be invited to present (by Zoom) my research at the Climate Psychology Forum yesterday, with co-speakers Janet Swim and Susan Clayton. This session was part of thePsychology for a Sustainable Future symposium at the New Zealand Psychological Society annual conference 2018.

I gave a brief whizz round my phd research, the methodology and some of the key findings. The presentation can be downloaded here Andrews_NZ PsySoc conf 2018_pres


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Embarrassed about love: a short analysis of Michael Gove’s ‘Green Brexit’ speech

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Here’s the presentation I gave at the Nature Connections 2018 conference at Derby University on 20th June. I ended the talk with a minute silence “for the Swifts, and the seabirds of Shetland, and the insects and all the other … Continue reading

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Embarrassed about love: presentation at Nature Connections 2018 conference

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Really looking forward to the Nature Connections 2018 conference at the University of Derby, on 20th June. This is an annual interdisciplinary conference, now in its 4th year, that attracts an inspiring mix of researchers, policy makers, practitioners and environmentalists. … Continue reading

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Article out: How Cognitive Frames about Nature May Affect Felt Sense of Nature Connectedness

A paper based on my PhD research has just been published online by Ecopsychology Journal How Cognitive Frames about Nature May Affect Felt Sense of Nature Connectedness Abstract Nature connectedness tends to be understood as a relatively stable trait, studied using … Continue reading

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Article out: Psychosocial factors influencing the experience of sustainability professionals

A paper based on my PhD research has just been published by Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal: Psychosocial factors influencing the experience of sustainability professionals. A limited number of free copies are available to download (this goes to blank page when … Continue reading

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