Climate change and society

The socio-environmental picture that characterises contemporary societies reveals that the impact of humans on the environment is causing increasingly complex alterations, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

The constant degradation of the environment is affecting in the form of deep interferences in the capacity of ecosystems to support and we are struggling collectively with both current realities and their future implications on global climate change and biodiversity loss (Rockström et al., 2009; SCBD, 2009; Ceballos et al., 2015), shaping the argument that we live in the era of the anthropocene, in which human actions constitute the dominant force of changes in the biosphere (Crutzen, 2002).

Crossing borders would imply entering an area at risk of systemic environmental disruption. Rockström et al. (2009) identify nine planetary boundaries, of which seven are in a position to be identified: climate change, ocean acidification, biogeochemical cycle of nitrogen and phosphorus, freshwater use, land use changes, biodiversity, chemical pollution and concentration of aerosols in the atmosphere.

In this context, the concept of resilience has been strengthened and disseminated, implying the ability of a system to relate to incremental or abrupt change and continue its development. What research has shown is that systems, instead of changing continuously and gradually, generate sudden, unexpected and often irreversible changes.

In this sense, according to Giddens (2010), climate change demands a forceful, continuous, multisectoral action, in which the State must be the great motivator and guarantor, to stimulate and support the most active sectors of society.

Meanwhile, the role of the market as the structuring agent of the modus operandi cannot be ignored in a system that still shows a very slow process of decarbonization, of significant changes in the logic of production and consumption, and of advances in the direction of a green economy.

Due to the fact that the dangers represented by global warming are not palpable, immediate, or visible, progress has been very slow, associated with a global picture that demands great transformations and in which climate changes demand responses and mobilize at the global, sub-regional, national, and sub-national levels.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 to provide comprehensive assessments of the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change, its causes, potential impacts and response strategies.

Since the beginning of its work in 1988, the IPCC has prepared five assessment reports, the last of these in 2014. The IPCC reports seek to express a universal character of climate science, and this may mask the complex relationships between climate science and policy, as this articulation does not necessarily reflect how different countries produce techno-scientific knowledge to define and respond to climate change (Miller and Edwards, 2001; Jasanoff and Martello, 2004).

Within this perspective, we must consider the importance of understanding how different societies and nationalities can produce, legitimize and use different types of knowledge directed at climate policy.

The number of scientists carrying out activities that articulate existing knowledge is still very limited, interpreting it in a broader scenario that identifies new frontiers relevant to society as a whole, to the extent that living systems are integrated totalities and, as part of an ecosystem, are not isolated but interconnected to a broad network of relationships. Andrew Hoffman (2015) shows that different languages are still spoken when the issue is climate change.

Thus, while the complexity of events and the need for dialogue between science, managers and society is highlighted, the prevalence of a cognitive-instrumental rationality is striking, which in general does not take into account the interdisciplinary dimension of the problems that affect and maintain life on our planet, problems that are global in nature and that reveal political, economic, institutional, social and cultural dimensions.

For this, it is necessary to break the compartmentalization of knowledge and the challenge that this represents for the field of training and the production of knowledge.

Perhaps one of the greatest current challenges in broadening the dialogue between science and policy is to strengthen and broaden the field of relevant actors, and to emphasize content and knowledge that is based on sustainable values and practices, indispensable for stimulating interest and involvement with shared responsibility.

The multiplication of environmental problems has imposed on the various scientific disciplines subjects for which they were not previously prepared and before which they are obliged to reformulate their teaching and research parameters. Environmental issues place the human being at the center of scientific concerns and programs.

It breaks with reductionism and opens space to a reality marked by uncertainties, which makes possible the formulation of different approaches that stimulate interdisciplinarity and transversality (Jacobi, 2012). This reveals the importance of understanding the complexity and the need to promote and multiply initiatives that generate collaborative processes in the context of a risk society (Wals, 2007).

In this text we have as a priority to address the factors that cause connectivity deficit between science and politics, on the one hand, and, on the other, those that can promote it.

the challenges of climate change

After intense borderline negotiations, the 21st United Nations Summit on Climate Change (cop21) recently ended in Paris. Held between 30 November and 11 December 2015, it brought together 195 countries, and the results have been considered positive, as a first universal agreement was reached to tackle climate change.

The objective of this agreement is that in this century the increase in global average temperature does not exceed 2ºC (two degrees Celsius) of pre-industrial levels, although the countries commit themselves to carry out the necessary efforts so that the increase does not exceed 1.5ºC and thus catastrophic impacts are avoided. Although the agreement is binding, States have the freedom to implement these objectives in accordance with their national objectives.

With regard to emissions reductions, 187 countries out of 195 that participated in cop21 have delivered their national commitments to combat climate change that will come into effect in 2020. Countries will review their commitments every five years to ensure that the target is met.

It should be noted that no sanctions have been envisaged, and a transparent compliance monitoring mechanism was proposed to try to ensure that everyone does as promised.

In conclusion, the Paris Accord does not contain firm obligations (emission reduction targets or their review or means of implementation, especially financial ones) that would strengthen confidence in the face of the challenge of limiting warming to 1.5°C. The Paris Accord does not contain any firm obligations (emission reduction targets or their review or means of implementation, especially financial ones) that would strengthen confidence in the face of the challenge of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

The question now is how the parties will interpret the targets according to their national needs and preferences.

In this sense, it should be noted that there are great gaps between science and politics, and that initiatives based on the scientific scenarios reviewed by the IPCC – which limit warming to 1.5°C – demand firm decisions.