Climate change presents enormous challenges for the world, and for organizations that are accustomed to doing business in an environment on the verge of radical transformation. The United States' decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement has added a new complication. Global Network Perspectives asked experts across the Global Network for Advanced Management about impact of climate change—and the U.S. withdrawal—in their regions.
Over the last 10,000 years we have enjoyed a stable climate on earth. This period of stability—the Holocene—allowed provided for much of what today we consider the hallmarks of humanity: agriculture, cities, governments, writing, trade, art, etc. We know that these systems are already under stress from climate change, globally and here in the northeast of the United States. More severe and more frequent storms will cause billions in damage, the spread of diseases and disease vectors will affect the health of thousands and the mere prospect of refugees, many of whom will be climate refugees, has thrown U.S. politics into turmoil.
The U.S. has significant resilience: capital to build higher seawalls in the face of rising seas, insurance to cover losses from the next superstorm, health care to treat those with previously rare diseases. It may be tempting to argue that the US will therefore fare better than many nations in the face of increasingly severe climate change impacts. But the world is now too connected to disentangle and isolate the economic impacts of climate change and the U.S. can expect the same stresses on food, water and other resources.
More worrying is that we may be pushing climate into a “new normal.” Planetary systems are interconnected and when pushed past a tipping point, can cascade toward collapse. Thawing of arctic tundra under warming conditions leads to release of trapped methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas and leads to more warming. We are observing one climate tipping point in the bleaching of coral reefs around the world. Over a quarter of coral reef ecosystems are gone, not as a result of gradual decline, but from sudden collapse.
Climate change is affecting every single person on the planet, either directly or indirectly. In the face of a pervasive risk, no one can absolve themselves of responsibility. Leaders have a responsibility to create and honor commitments, companies and investors have a responsibility to more climate friendly investments, employees have a responsibility to nudge and push their companies to be agents of change, parents have a responsibility to educate their children and individuals have a responsibility to be aware and take action.
Awareness is growing. Capital is flowing to companies and projects that will help mitigate carbon and help society adapt. Leaders are almost universally committed. The exception of course is President Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord. This is an unfortunate speed bump to progress. Progress will continue despite this action, but delays are at best damaging to property and human life, and potentially catastrophic if the planet reaches a tipping point before we can stop the increase in greenhouse gases.