Do you remember the good old days when we had “12 years to save the planet”?
Now it seems, there’s a growing consensus that the next 18 months will be critical in dealing with the global heating crisis, among other environmental challenges.
Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that to keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5C this century, emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be cut by 45% by 2030.
But today, observers recognise that the decisive, political steps to enable the cuts in carbon to take place will have to happen before the end of next year.
The idea that 2020 is a firm deadline was eloquently addressed by one of the world’s top climate scientists, speaking back in 2017.
The jet stream drags tropical continental air from Africa over to Europe
“The climate math is brutally clear: While the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and now director emeritus of the Potsdam Climate Institute.
The sense that the end of next year is the last chance saloon for climate change is becoming clearer all the time.
“I am firmly of the view that the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival,” said Prince Charles, speaking at a reception for Commonwealth foreign ministers recently.
So why are the next 18 months so important?
The Prince was looking ahead to a series of critical UN meetings that are due to take place between now and the end of 2020.
Ever since a global climate agreement was signed in Paris in December 2015, negotiators have been consumed with arguing about the rulebook for the pact.
But under the terms of the deal, countries have also promised to improve their carbon-cutting plans by the end of next year.
One of the understated headlines in last year’s IPCC report was that global emissions of carbon dioxide must peak by 2020 to keep the planet below 1.5C.
Current plans are nowhere near strong enough to keep temperatures below the so-called safe limit. Right now, we are heading towards 3C of heating by 2100 not 1.5.
As countries usually scope out their plans over five and 10 year timeframes, if the 45% carbon cut target by 2030 is to be met then the plans really need to be on the table by the end of 2020.