How to stabilise the climate five times faster

Simon Sharpe argues—from experience—that world leaders need to focus on smaller, achievable goals
May 10, 2023
Five Times Faster: Rethinking the Science, Economics and Diplomacy of Climate Change
Simon Sharpe (RRP: £20)
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Since that moment 40 years ago when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed, the countries of the world have reduced carbon emissions per unit of GDP by a miserable 1.5 per cent a year. To keep the climate safe and stable, as Simon Sharpe points out in this book, we need to reach reduction of around 8 per cent a year—or five times faster.

Why have all the subsequent COP meetings failed to bend the emissions curve downwards? Sharpe has been deeply involved in climate policy and diplomacy, and his analysis of the problem is both forensic and lively.

He begins with the timidity of scientists who failed to see it as their job to warn politicians of the real risks. And he continues with the suffocating orthodoxy of the equilibrium economics espoused by people such as William Nordhaus, who argued that it would only be worth avoiding climate change if the cost of action were less than the cost of inaction, a conclusion based on mathematical calculations that were, as Sharpe says, so flawed as to be worthless.

In the end, Sharpe argues that climate diplomacy, which has focused for decades on target-setting in huge global conferences, is putting its energy in the wrong place. Building action out from smaller but firmer foundations—such as sector-specific emissions reductions—might achieve the scale and pace of change we desperately need.

Five Times Faster is not a beach read, but it is packed with the insights gained from years of close involvement in processes that are obscure from the outside. Sharpe concedes that there may be better alternatives to his solutions, some of which he initiated at COP26, but is adamant on one point: we had better stop wasting time on wrong approaches.