Why progress on climate change has been so poor: Summary
Climate change has been known about for decades, and there have been international agreements to reduce CO2 emissions for decades, but global emissions have continued to rise, and in high emission countries, the fall has been too slow.
The climate emergency has now become desperate for many people.
We need to consider what decisions should have been taken, what the process should have been, and what has gone wrong.
The evidence is that
The conclusion is that the decision making process needs to be improved.
- Use of fossil fuels could have been phased out by (a) avoiding increased use and (b) the development of low energ and sustainable energy alternatives.
- The decisions made have not been in line with the scientific consensus.
- Decision making has been systematically poor.
- All sections of society are failing.
- It is a system failure in decision making rather than a failure of individuals.
- Lack of knowledge, cognitive biases, flawed reasoning, denial, adversarial discussion, fallacies and malpractice dominate opinions and decision making.
The response to climate change has been very poor
- the greenhouse effect has been known about for over a century
- there have been international agreements to limit climate change for decades - see document 113
- but total global emissions are still rising - see document 67
- in the most polluting countries, emissions are hardly falling
- global warming has now reached 1.1°C - see document 51
- the scientific consensus is that the rise must be kept below 1.5°C - see document 152
- for many people, the situation has become desperate - see document 63
- time is running out - see document 54.
Decision making has not followed the scienceWhy is the climate situation so bad?
It is because, collectively, humanity has made extremely poor climate decisions
It has been known for decades that mankind must reduce fossil fuel use, but
- companies are still exploring for fossil fuels
- governments are still
- making decisions that will increase fossil fuel use e.g. building roads and airports
- not making decisions that are needed to reduce fossil fuel use e.g. promoting home insulation
- to limit global warming to 1.5° with global equity via the Paris and subsequent agreements
- to respect human rights via the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
See document 36.
All sections of society are failingThere has been poor decision making due to the incompetence and malpractice of people in positions of power (in national and local government, and elsewhere), but no groups are blameless, e.g.
- governments have
- not told the truth about the severity and urgency of the climate crisis, which has now become an emergency
- not acted on the promises they made
- deliberately failed to act or taken wrong actions e.g. continuing to build roads and expand airports
- been deliberately deceitful in counting emissions e.g. in ignoring imports, miscounting burning biomass
- deliberately ignored the Paris Agreement regarding global equity - that high-polluting countries will have a faster decline in emissions - see document 122
- pretended that their actions are adequate, e.g. the UK government portrays its Net Zero strategy as world leading, but the CO2 emissions would be three times the UK's share of the residual carbon budget
- scientists and other experts have not spoken up
- the media and campaigning groups have
- failed to adequtely scrutinise governments
- failed to publicise maladministration
- companies have lobbied against cuts in emissions
- campaigning and protest groups have failed to agree on a consistent message
- citizens have been too willing to believe governments
All groups are failing. It is hard to say who is most culpable because the failures are so interlinked.
See document 37.
It is a system failure in decision making rather than a failure of individualsThe failures are not a small number of isolated failures but interlinked systematic failures in the way decisions are made.
For example, there is little consensus between campaigning groups, or attempt at consensus concerning actions needed, resulting in inconsistencies, mutual contradictions, and lack of effectiveness.
The failures are similar to the failures in other areas, e.g. covid-19, air quality, overpopulation, and food security.
See document 38.
Lack of knowledge, cognitive biases, flawed reasoning, denial, adversarial discussion and fallacies dominate opinions and decision makingWhy is decision making so poor? It is because of the way that key policy decisions are made.
- There is a lack of discussion of many of the key questions.
- Lack of knowledge continues to be a problem, especially concerning the urgency
- Biases in forming opinions and making decisions (cognitive biases) have a large influence, e.g. overconfidence and herd mentality (groupthink)
- Flaws in reasoning are common in discussions e.g. the straw person fallacy and ad hominem attacks
- Denial of the implications (implicatory denial) is nearly universal
- Many discussions are marred by having an adversarial instead of a cooperatively rational format, the latter being the norm in scientific and medical discussions.
The failures can be exacerbated by
- deliberate deceit being committed, going unchallenged, and thriving
- divisions and distrust
- people not considering the possibility that they themselves may be wrong and instead jumping to the conclusion that anyone with a different view is wrong and can be ignored
See document 39.
Decision making needs to be improvedMethods have been developed in science to overcome personal biases in order to reach correct answers - see document 40.
The methods used in science have created the problems that we now face e.g. in enabling mankind to exploit the earth's resources on a vast scale, and they now need to be used to solve the problems. This needs to be done throughout society.
There is a need for a critical mass of campaigners to start this process, to start the ball rolling, and invite others to join the enterprise - and to work with campaigners in areas other than climate change where there are the same problems in decision making.
Some progress in telling the truth has so far been made by
- the youth climate activists
- Scientists for Global Responsibility via their Climate Oath
- Extinction Rebellion
First published: 28 Dec 2021
Last updated: 10 Sep 2023