Future leaders in the UK and abroad need help to prepare for the unprecedented “crunch point” they are likely to face because of worsening climate breakdown and the consequences of biodiversity loss, a new IPPR report has warned.
Members of the millennial generation – the cohort likely to reach positions of political power in the 2040s and 2050s – will face a growing challenge from more frequent and severe natural crises and their knock-on consequences.
These are likely to include extreme storms, dangerously high temperatures, famine and conflict, the report says.
Even if the world succeeds in limiting global temperature increases to 1.5C – still the official target of international climate efforts – climate change and biodiversity loss will have increasingly severe impacts on people and societies everywhere.
But if current governments fail to deliver the changes needed to hit that target, as seems increasingly likely, the challenge for those in power after 2040 will be even more daunting, the report says.
Larger and ever more frequent emergencies caused by climate change will become steadily more costly and may distract future leaders from task of tackling the underlying problem.
The result may be a dangerous “crunch point” of “cascading consequences” in which governments are overwhelmed and societies everywhere are destabilised, the report warns.
The global destabilisation brought by the Covid-19 pandemic provides a warning of what could be in store.
Many likely leaders of the UK and the world are now in their early thirties – around half the average age of those who currently lead us.
The IPPR report warns that, even on the most optimistic scenario, future leaders will inherit increasingly severe versions of the problems that current governments already face, including challenges to food security and economic stability, and growing risk of poverty and conflict.
That means they must be prepared to find ways to:
- Overcome huge political barriers to the changes needed to rapidly lower carbon emissions and prevent further destruction of nature
- Remove increasingly large quantities of carbon from the atmosphere and restore already damaged domestic and global ecosystems
- Speed up adaptation to the effects of climate change, so that societies and the physical infrastructures that support them can withstand worsening social and environmental shocks
Laurie Laybourn-Langton, IPPR associate fellow and the report’s author, said: “Every year that current leaders fail to take adequate action on the climate and nature crisis places a greater burden on those who will lead us in the future.
“If you’re younger than 40, the global net zero transition will have to be achieved before you’re due to retire. That’s already a big enough challenge to pass on to younger generations.
But on the current trajectory, emerging leaders in their early thirties could also face a chaotic world of extreme weather, famine, and conflict when they reach positions of political leadership in the 2040s and 2050s.
She added: “More can and must be done to help future leaders prepare for the unprecedented challenge of undertaking the transition to more sustainable societies just when at the impacts of the climate and nature crisis reach fever pitch.
“The response of governments to the Covid-19 pandemic shows how a lack of preparation for crises can cost societies dearly.”
The report highlights the risk that failure to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 1.5C significantly increases the risk that “tipping points” could be triggered – sudden moments of rapid, irreversible chang with unpredictable consequences for everyone on the planet.
It calls for governments to take more urgent action now – on a scale greater than that agreed at the recent COP 26 global conference – to reduce the burden placed on future leaders.
It also calls for emerging future leaders to be supported to develop the skills, understanding and resilience to cope with the burdens they will inherit and the decisions they will face.
Brendan Montague is the editor of The Ecologist.