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16 January 2020

Evening Call: Even the people at Davos are starting to panic about climate change

It’s tempting to imagine that maybe if these people are finally talking about the dangers of climate change, we might actually move to take the steps required to fix this mess. And yet.

By Jonn Elledge

David Attenborough was trending on Twitter this morning. Not for the first time, a nation, or at least the Extremely Online bit of it, held its breath as it confirmed that, no, thankfully, he wasn’t dead.

The planet he was speaking from, however, is definitely looking a bit peaky. The reason Attenborough was trending was that he’d just given a major interview on climate change. It includes the chilling words: “The moment of crisis has come.”

Attenborough gave the interview to launch the BBC’s new year-long series of special programming on climate change, under the heading Our Planet Matters. The page on the BBC news site on which it appears features one of those graphs that convey, in a single image, quite how much trouble we are in, with global temperatures steadily inching ever closer to the 2°C increase widely seen as the point of no return.

And, with a fair chunk of Australia on fire, terrifying reports on climate change are not in short supply. Yesterday, figures from the Met Office showed that the past decade was the hottest ever recorded, while data from Nasa showed that the five years to 2019 were the hottest since records began. “The main contributor to warming over the last 170 years,” the Met Office said, “is human influence on climate from increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” This feels like quite a bold statement from a government weather agency.

Meanwhile, for the first time, climate change has topped a survey of the concerns of the global elite descending on Davos for the World Economic Forum next week. At the same time, consultancy McKinsey, asset manager BlackRock, and credit ratings agency Moody’s – none of them, let’s be honest, the sort of chaps you tend to find on the front line of an Extinction Rebellion protest – have all issued reports warning that climate change could do all sorts of horrible things to the world’s financial markets. (The loss of a few island nations is one thing, but this?)

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It’s tempting to feel hope here – to imagine that maybe, if all these people are finally, finally, talking seriously about the dangers posed by climate change, the planet will actually move to take the steps required to fix this mess before it’s too late.

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But another story in the Guardian makes me suspect otherwise. In 2017, Australia’s coalition government axed funding to the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF). Australia, as you won’t have failed to notice, has now found itself seriously affected by the results of climate change. But last year the coalition government was unexpectedly re-elected – with Scott Morrison, the finance minister who axed NCCARF’s funding, at its head.

“We know how to do it,” Attenborough also told the BBC. “That’s the paradoxical thing, that we’re refusing to take steps that we know have to be taken.” It would be nice to feel that might change. But I don’t.

Good day for…

Mikhail Mishustin, who has just been confirmed as Russia’s new prime minister by the Duma (383 votes in favour, 41 abstentions, no votes against). Alas, a long-standing political tradition in the country means he is unlikely to ascend to the next level and become Russia’s next president, writes Aliide Naylor – for the slightly unexpected reason that he doesn’t have enough hair. More here.

Bad day for…

Scottish Nationalists – because, writes Rory Scothorne, there is currently no clear route to a second referendum on independence. If you want to know why, read on.

Quote of the day

“As I speak, south-east Australia is on fire. Why? Because the temperatures of the Earth are increasing.”

Sir David Attenborough, not mincing his words.

Everybody is talking about…

Rebecca Long-Bailey’s stance on abortion. An interview has come to light in which the Labour leadership candidate backed laws to prevent late-term pregnancies from being terminated on grounds of disability, a stance widely credited to her Catholicism. A spokesperson has stressed that this is a personal view and that Long-Bailey supports a woman’s right to choose.

Everybody should be talking about…

The first in my excellent new podcast miniseries in which, inspired by Rory Stewart, I interview candidates to be London’s mayor while walking around London with them. First up: a trip to Seven Sisters’ Latin American Market with Lib Dem Siobhan Benita. Check it out.


Questions? Comments? Drop me an email.

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