Climate change is not the only risk

All eyes are on Paris. Sympathy for the tragic events wrought by global terrorism, followed by a global outpouring of another sort:  hope. Hope that a deal can be reached to stop our world from catastrophic warming.

Some very high profile figures, including HRH Prince Charles and Barak Obama, have suggested that the rise in terrorism and climate change are linked. It is likely that both have been influenced by work published earlier this year in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. It unequivocally concluded that:

“There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria… anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region, and made the occurrence of a 3-year drought as severe as that of 2007−2010  [two to three]  times more likely than by natural variability alone.”

Although doubts have been expressed about the veracity of this research, there is a certain logic to its conclusions. Climate change causes droughts →water scarcity leads to crop failures →food shortages lead to civil unrest creating the often cited ‘power vacuum’ within which terrorists thrive.

Whether or not you subscribe to this link between climate change and terrorism, I was reminded by a timely email from the Global Footprint Network that climate change can also be viewed as a symptom of a widening ‘resource vacuum’ between our ecological footprint and the ability of our global ecosystems to meet our ever increasing demand for food, water and materials. Climate change is just the tip of a large ecological iceberg which encompasses issues including deforestation, topsoil erosion, water scarcity and biodiversity loss.

The point is well made. When working with organisations committed to improving their environmental performance it is critical to take a broad view – whether developing strategy or measuring performance – to avoid merely shuffling the problem around instead of developing a lasting solution.  Global Footprint Network founder and friend Mathis Wackernagel is fond of using the analogy of a duvet too small to keep you warm at night. If you pull it over your head your expose your feet to the cold. Cover your toes and your head freezes. The danger of fixing one problem is always that you make something else worse.

As a founding member of GFN way back in 2003, their broad view of sustainability continues to appeal. Indeed, such a philosophy remains central to the work of Anthesis where we endeavour to integrate disciplines from across the sustainability sector to ensure that, extending Wackernagel’s analogy, we can provide a bigger and better duvet.

Recent Anthesis developments, such as Risk Horizon™, take such thinking to the next level. Able to use ‘big data’ to scan and analyse more than 30 global sustainability (environmental, social and governance) risks and opportunities, Risk Horizon™ ensures that the danger of burden-shifting is reduced.

Whilst striving for a new climate deal in Paris, it is important that delegates do not forget the wider context in which such an agreement must exist. One might call it a ‘Duvet Deal’.


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