Climate urgency fallacies

There is a clear scientific consensus that urgent radical cuts in CO2 emissions are needed to comply with the Paris and other international agreements to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
But most sections of society are acting as if gradual decarbonisation is all that is needed, which can be termed climate urgency denial.
Climate urgency denial can be described in terms of several interlinked fallacies, which are being widely repeated and promoted, even by well-meaning people, including campaigners for climate action.
The most important fallacies are
  • "Gradual decarbonisation is sufficient" - the "gradual decarbonisation" fallacy.
  • "The net zero 2050 timescales are sufficient" - the "Net Zero 2050" fallacy.
  • "Developed countries need to halve CO2 emissions by 2030" - the "global equity" fallacy.
  • "An emission reduction strategy can be judged by its Net Zero date" - the "net zero date" fallacy.
These are all basic points that could have been resolved many years ago.
If people want to comply with their country's climate commitments, they need to identify and eliminate the widespread climate urgency fallacies.

The action being taken to reduce CO2 emissions is inadequate - total global emissions are still rising, and in countries where emissions are falling, the fall is too slow to meet international commitments.

There is a clear scientific consensus that urgent radical cuts in CO2 emissions are needed to comply with the Paris and other international agreements to limit global warming to 1.5°C. But most sections of society are acting as if gradual decarbonisation is all that is needed - what can be termed climate urgency denial - see document 50.

The climate urgency denial can be described in terms of several interlinked fallacies. These climate urgency fallacies appear to have become established over the last few decades, and especially the last few years.

Types of climate urgency fallacy

The most important fallacies are

The "Gradual decarbonisation" fallacy

The fallacy is that all that is needed to tackle climate change is gradual replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy - no significant changes in lifestyles are needed.

Instead, the scientific consensus is that the CO2 budgets for 1.5°C in high emission countries have been dwindling and will run out within a few years (e.g. in 2024 in the UK), and so radical changes are needed in these countries, including annual emission cuts of over 20% - see the chart and also further details in document 33.


The "Net Zero 2050" fallacy

The fallacy is that the Net Zero 2050 timescales of emission cuts of the UK and other governments comply with the Paris and other international agreements.

Instead, the scientific consensus is that the UK Net Zero 2050 strategy would take three times the UK's per capita share of the residual global CO2 budget - see document 109.

The "global equity" fallacy

The fallacy is that developed countries need to halve CO2 emissions by 2030 in line with the halving of global CO2 emissions.

Instead the Paris Agreement specifies that emissions have to be cut faster in developed countries, so that emissions in developing countries can continue to rise for a period - see document 122.

The "net zero date" fallacy

The fallacy is that a strategy can be judged by its Net Zero date, i.e. the date when net emissions are zero.

Instead, the scientific consensus is that it is the total of emissions by the Net Zero date that matters.

Terminology

There are several words with meanings close to fallacy: misinformation, myth, greenwash, delusion, deceit, pretence, lie, etc.

The term "fallacy" is preferred here because


First published: 25 Sep 2022
Last updated: 20 Oct 2022