"We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation who can do something about it," Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State, USA recently observed. Powerful words. The question is, though, whether we truly understand what this means.
We as a generation can no longer say that we don’t know.
Vincent van Assem Senior Advisor Sustainable Banking
Global climate change is creeping up on us, and hardly making itself felt. Not on a daily basis at least. Was that downpour yesterday more violent than the one we had last year? Was this spring warmer, sunnier, wetter than fifteen years ago? And if so, who’s noticing?
Reacting to climate change
We aren’t really feeling the change happening. We’re like the proverbial frog in a pan of cold water that’s very slowly being brought to the boil. If somebody had put the frog in boiling water, it would have instinctively jumped straight out. But if the water is cold at first, the frog will just stay in the pan as the temperature slowly rises - and eventually be boiled to death. But the essential difference between our generation and this frog is that the frog has no information. It doesn’t know about the heat source under the pan. We, on the other hand, are informed almost every day about the current situation, the potential consequences of climate change and the risks of global warming gaining momentum. That said, some of the information that comes to us is very abstract.
Last week, scientists from the University of Edinburgh drew attention to one of these abstract scenarios. They’ve discovered that the ability of plankton to absorb carbon dioxide declines as the temperature rises. And because CO2 is a major contributor to global warming, this becomes a self-reinforcing process: oceans absorb less and less CO2, causing temperatures to rise further and further.
There is other evidence, too, of self-reinforcing processes that could have far-reaching consequences. For instance, rising temperatures in Russia’s Arctic tundra are gradually melting age-old permafrost, and thereby releasing tonnes of methane - a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
Then again, sometimes the consequences of global warming are very hard to ignore. In recent weeks, India has been sweltering under sky-high temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees Celsius. The Indians who could afford to turned their air conditioners up, but the (fossil-fuelled) power stations were often unable to deal with the peaks in demand. The result: power cuts, damage to the economy, social unrest and the loss of dozens of lives.
What can we do?
Perhaps the news flow about the consequences of global warming has not grabbed everybody’s attention yet. Or maybe it’s hard for us to connect the dots between the various bits and pieces of information. But we as a generation can no longer say that we don’t know. ABN AMRO is determined to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. We buy renewable energy and work to reduce our energy consumption. In addition, in our “Sustainable Sector Policy for Energy” we’ve expanded the criteria for financing of projects and clients with ones that encourage various methods of reducing carbon emissions. And we’re looking for ways to do more to slow down global warming. After all, as Jay Inslee said, “we are the last generation who can do something about it.”
What are you already doing about climate change? And what do you expect from us as a bank?