Top 10! Gee thanks :) but where are other governmental sustainability reports?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just published its 5th Assessment Report (AR5). We’re now a quarter-century (about 25 years) into regularly summing-up thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies. It’s striking that the language of the report is already partly in the past tense – an affirmation that, yes, we are already experiencing catastrophic changes to our climate.

In this context, I wanted to issue a belated (and humble, given this context) thanks to Elaine Cohen for recognizing our work as one of the Top 10 sustainability reports of 2013 — the Warsaw Integrated Sustainability Report (available here in English with some introduction-and-press-release here, with Polish version and press release here) was, as intended, a simple and easy-to-absorb statistical snapshot of the sustainability profile of a capital city of one of the largest countries in Europe. But really? Given a practically unanimous chorus (10,883 out of 10,885 peer-reviewed scientific articles in 2013) stating that anthropogenic climate change is a serious problem, why aren’t all governments (sub-national and national) cataloging their aggregate impact (as public sector actors and as representatives of political subdivisions)? Why was it newsworthy that a capital city took a foray into publishing its environmental, societal, and economic performance?

A few more observations about the IPCC and the bigger picture

It bears emphasizing (since this is somehow rarely if ever mentioned in the mainstream news media) that the IPCC process is actually inherently conservative rather than alarmist, since reviewers must arrive at the minimum that all participants can agree upon. Even so, we have now (past tense) observed enough radical, costly changes to climate and weather patterns that even using the measured, careful language of scientific prose, AR5 tells us that we – everyone on the planet – should expect to feel the effects of climate change (as if most of us feel we have not already), and that no institution is truly prepared to protect us from crises such as food shortages (and/or price spikes), extreme weather events, and conflict (meaning riots or war) over basic needs, with the worst suffering to be (or being, or already has been) experienced by the world’s poorest.

A final observation to share. I didn’t mean to raise this one, but it just hit me. Back in high school in the early 1990s, we were already reading about climate change. Yes. Just after 1990, our text The Coming Crises already stated matter-of-factly, as if it was obvious already for years (and mind you, this was a high school textbook) that the wars of the 21st Century were going to be over water and other basic needs. It’s not like any of us (to my knowledge) became survivalists as a result, but really, isn’t it amazing that a quarter century later, the destruction of the biosphere’s life support system is still something in the realm of scientific study – rather than of primary concern – like a wartime mobilization – for industry and government leaders?

About Adam Sulkowski

Associate Professor of Law and Sustainability, specializing in research and teaching on sustainable business, corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability reporting, integrated reporting, and corporate and environmental law.
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