A crisis of nature
Although climate change has been a central topic in the public discourse for some time, Professor Ekins believes that the global population is still unaware of the magnitude of the crisis and its potential consequences.
“Global emissions and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases show an inexorable rise, increasing to levels well outside the climatic range in which humans have prospered. Freak weather events will become more frequent and more severe, making certain geographic regions entirely uninhabitable. Millions of people are going to be on the move, putting unprecedented pressures on the global community. The public will be very surprised when they find their societies and ways of life brought to a dead halt,” he warns.
Ekins adds that amidst concerns over carbon emissions and global warming, another significant environmental emergency is left largely unchecked. “Rates of biodiversity loss are very concerning. The world is now experiencing its sixth major extinction of species, comparable to when the dinosaurs disappeared 63 million years ago. While there have been mass extinctions before, this is the first one that appears to have been engineered by another species: humanity.”
Obstacles to accelerated action
While Ekins emphasises that governments, businesses, and citizens all have a role to play in driving change, he also acknowledges the complexity of trying to reconcile sustainability targets with economic development.
“Governments do not dare to take more drastic action in the form of policy or taxation, because they are afraid citizens will vote them out. Government inaction then leads citizens to believe that the situation is not as serious as scientists say it is. Meanwhile, businesses are trying to navigate a competitive market with investors demanding quarterly figures, so they are waiting for government regulation to level the playing field and enable them to spend more on sustainability,” he explains.
Due to the deadlock involving these three big parties, Ekins points out, progress to date has only been made at a glacial pace.