March 18th, 2021

What is more urgent than “urgency”?

By Charlotte Hornung


Science is pretty clear on the facts. We need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 if we want to keep our planet within its ‘planetary boundaries’.

In 2009, a group of scientists led by Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, identified these ‘planetary boundaries’ as 15 natural or biophysical processes and systems that regulate the stability of the entire planet, allowing human life to function within a stable climate. If we move beyond these boundaries, we enter a danger zone, meeting a series of tipping points which can trigger irreversible changes.

The facts, too, are pretty clear, as Professor Rockström explained in a powerful interview for the podcast Outrage and Optimism, that we encourage you to listen to.


We’ve crossed three tipping points already

Only a decade later, we are dangerously close to nine of these tipping points. It’s very likely, in fact, that we have crossed three of them already. The first of these is the melting of the Arctic summer sea ice. This will lead to heat waves, droughts and forest fires in the northern hemisphere, affect the whole Gulf Stream system – and, in a vicious cycle, accelerate the melting of the western Arctic ice shelf by raising the temperature of the water surface.

The second tipping point we’ve crossed is a number of western Antarctic glaciers irreversibly sliding into the ocean, the likely effect of which will be to raise sea level by between one and two metres. And the third tipping point is the destruction of tropical coral reef systems across the world. Coral reefs – the ‘rainforests of the sea’ – are among the most productive and diverse ecosystems on earth, and about 25% of all known marine species rely on them for food, shelter and breeding.


We are losing the resilience of the planet

These are sobering considerations. It appears that we are approaching the remaining tipping points faster than we had predicted (6 out of the remaining 12 tipping points are now in danger), and that we risk entering a period of self-reinforced warming: as the ice melts, the planet absorbs even more heat; as forests die, their ability to absorb carbon goes with them.

If this sounds bleak, then consider this. We are now into the second year of a global pandemic, the first twelve months of which saw economic activity across the world decline by 4.4%, a rate not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And yet despite this slowdown in economic activity, global carbon dioxide emissions fell by only 6.4% in 2020. If that sounds like a significant dip, it is – it’s the equivalent of nearly twice the annual emissions of Japan – but not when you consider that we need to cut our emissions by 7.6% each year for the next decade if we are to meet the 1.5°C Paris target.

If we can’t achieve that reduction even with a global pandemic, what hope is there of ever achieving our target?

After such a litany of despair, it feels unrealistic to sound a note of optimism, but there are positives to set against these negatives. Many governments have already raised their climate targets and many scalable solutions exist that can fundamentally change our economic activities and the way in which we live, travel and consume.

Setting off the fire alarm is a perfect way to alert us to the urgent danger we face; but a fire alarm is of no use if it doesn’t trigger a response that brings the fire brigade and the hoses to put out the fire.

If we have already crossed three tipping points, our task is now to regenerate the resilience in those remaining ecosystems that still have some elasticity. For now, we still have time.

For Active Philanthropy, acting with urgency and impact remains our number one focus

Active Philanthropy is following climate developments and their impacts at close hand. Not only have we witnessed the ice literally melting below our feet in Greenland, but we have also teamed up with scientists, think-tanks, decision makers, philanthropists and funders across the world to confront these challenges and find solutions that future generations can build on.

Our team at Active is currently developing two innovative projects to help individuals and foundations make a difference:

1. Co-funding platform

We have a new online platform in the making, through which you can start to engage in climate philanthropy directly. The platform offers a selection of high-impact projects from the portfolios of established climate foundations, along with tailored information to give you a head start on climate giving. It will allow you to engage with climate change without losing time on extensive research and due diligence, safe in the confidence that your giving has impact.

2. Online learning curriculum


We are developing a tailored micro-online learning course on climate change and philanthropy for foundations and individual funders. It will provide you with easy-to-grasp and solution-oriented information from the nuts and bolts of climate science to concrete tools to enable you to join the fight against climate change.

We will be sharing more about both of these projects with you in the coming months!

If you are interested in any of these projects, contact the Climate Solutions Hub team or team Learning Journey for further advice and information.