Five Key Ideas to Keep in Mind When Fighting Climate Change

Pollution in the Indian Capital Skyrockets

Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg

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Over my five years of reporting on climate change, I’ve interviewed hundreds of experts across a wide variety of subjects from technology to policy and government to think tanks, conservation groups, and environmental watchdogs. And yet no matter the discipline, many of them tend to repeat the same small list of ideas for how to tackle climate change. There are still debates of course, but years of research and evidence point to a convergence on a few central tenets.

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This week, rather than write about the Mauritian fuel spill, the details of BP’s climate plan, or the European heatwave, I wanted to share that list as a way to start some interesting conversations—and maybe even lead to future newsletters. The five key principles are:

Adaptation without mitigation is futile

As the impacts of climate change become more severe, the urgent problems of managing and adapting may supersede the harder work of cutting emissions. But without cutting emissions, the climate problem will keep getting worse. That’s why any adaptation carried out now must be accompanied by efforts to mitigate warming in the long term. If it isn’t, we’ll have to increase our reliance on negative-emissions technologies, which are likely to be much more expensive and haven’t yet reached meaningful scale. 

If you don’t measure, you won’t act

It’s an old management mantra, but defenders of the climate have put it to use with some notable successes.

Consider how oil companies first resisted disclosing and then taking responsibility for emissions produced when customers burned their products, known as Scope 3 emissions. Those make up more than 80% of their total emissions, and without cutting them, there’s no way an oil company can keep its social license to operate. Now, because shareholders and activists insisted on counting those emissions, European oil companies have started laying out net-zero emissions plans that include some Scope 3. There’s still a long way for them to go, and many still don’t include all emissions sources in their disclosed numbers. But it’s also worth noting that by now, Exxon Mobil is the only supermajor that doesn’t declare its Scope 3 emissions.

Playing the blame game slows down progress

Ann C. Toledo

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