We are facing a global climate crisis. Scientists are united on this and we are already witnessing the global socio-spatial consequences. Why then do we lack decisiveness?

During an online Climate Summit in 2021 in The Hague, participants drew up an action agenda for climate adaptation (CAS, 2021). Furthermore a “Groningen Science Declaration” was handed over to world leaders, signed by 3000 scientists from 130 countries (CSA, 2021). The declaration advocated for a ‘revolution’ of our long-term spatial planning, towards a planning which includes climate risks in the design of our cities and infrastructure.
Five of the nine tipping points that ensure the stability of our living system have now been reached. If we do not turn toward a zero-emission economy within this decade, we are heading for what scientists call ‘hot house earth’, with an increase in temperature from 3 to even 6 degrees Celsius in 2100. Phenomena such as the melting of the ice caps, the slowing down of the Gulf Stream and the dying of the coral reefs influence and reinforce each other and lead to irreversible impacts. The spatial effects of climate change also threaten social stability and vary largely between regions. We should view our planet planet therefore not from a territorial perspective, as a set of bounded areas, but as a commons, a collective good. Such a commons consists of a set of physical and social relationships, that we jointly have to take care of, taking into account planetary boundaries and life’s social essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice).
So why don’t we take action? Here various ‘mechanisms of denial’ play a role. We have the tendency to frame climate change in such a way that this leads to interpretive denial (“this will happen beyond my life time”) or implicit denial (“I already do enough”). It is difficult to let the far-reaching impact of climate sink in, if we have not yet experienced this first hand ourselves (yet). Also governments hesitate or refuse to make the necessary choices. The main driver of the climate crisis is our addiction to economic growth driven by fossil energy, with its built-in ‘perverse incentives’ that speed up CO2 and methane emissions. We need nothing less then a system transition to get rid of these incentives.
The following conditions make an acceleration of transitions possible. First, a change in our behaviour in the field of consumption and energy use: reduce flying, eating less or no meat, and the fossil-free heating of houses, for example. To allow a decrease in transition costs, the market introduction of already developed innovations has to be accelerated and upscaled. Examples are the production of energy from seawater, hydrogen as an energy carrier, storage of energy and heat, extraction of heat from the earth and surface water, production of green gas, and houses that are CO2 neutral. Reduction of CO2 emissions is not enough to turn the tide. We also need to remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Third, the building of human skills and apacities can help us to cope with the climate crisis not just in a physical sense, but also mentally and emotionally. This has been referred to as Deep Adaptation (Bendell, 2018) In addition, there is need for a clear political agenda with a large-scale nature restoration program (a plus on the European ‘rewilding’ program) and ambitious goals for emission reduction in sectors such as agriculture, energy and transportation. Governments can stimulate companies to become climate neutral within ten years by implementing subsidies and taxes on polluting activities, green deals, and regulations. The fifth condition is a financial system that stimulates sustainable investments, is based on a redistribution of prosperity and welfare, and pays more attention to wellbeing and sustainability. Lastly, we need to improve the cooperation between different levels of governance and between governments, companies, citizens and knowledge institutions. Committing to climate-friendly action is now necessary and makes sense, because we don’t want to put a heavy burden on our childeren and confront them with the realistic scenario of a unlivable world. In the words of the writer Jonathan Franzen: “As long as you have something to love, you have something to hope for”. This calls for urgent action from citizens, entrepreneurs, scientists and governments to avoid the aforementioned tipping points to exceed. Fortunately, we see the emergence of many citizen and community initives, showing that with that a sustainable way of living is possible. Let’s make sure that this will spread like a positive virus all over the world!

Lummina Horlings
This blog is a translation of an article published in the Dutch journal Agora in 2021


Climate Adaptation Summit (2021) Summit Paper: Delivering an Adaptation
Action Agenda. Available online
Global Centre on Adaptation (2021) Global Scientists Call for Economic
Stimulus to Address Climate Adaptation and COVID. Available online.
Bendell, J. (2018) Deep adaptation: a map for navigating climate tragedy.
Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS). Occasional Papers
Volume 2. Available online


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