Letter to humanity from 2050


This week looking for interesting readings, we find this piece that has motivated us to publish in our blog, the author Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary of the Convention on Climate Change of the United Nations, Founding Partner of Global Optimism, Co-host of Outrage And Optimism podcast and Co-author of “The Future We Choose”. In this post Christiana, gives an interesting analysis about the situation of climate change and the effects it will have for the year 2050.


The only uncertainty is how long we’ll last’: a worst case scenario for the climate in 2050″

It is 2050. Beyond the emissions reductions registered in 2015, no further efforts were made to control emissions. We are heading for a world that will be more than 3C warmer by 2100

The first thing that hits you is the air. In many places around the world, the air is hot, heavy and, depending on the day, clogged with particulate pollution. Your eyes often water. Your cough never seems to disappear. You think about some countries in Asia, where, out of consideration, sick people used to wear white masks to protect others from airborne infection. Now you often wear a mask to protect yourself from air pollution.

You can no longer simply walk out your front door and breathe fresh air: there might not be any. Instead, before opening doors or windows in the morning, you check your phone to see what the air quality will be.

Fewer people work outdoors and even indoors the air can taste slightly acidic, sometimes making you feel nauseated. The last coal furnaces closed 10 years ago, but that hasn’t made much difference in air quality around the world because you are still breathing dangerous exhaust fumes from millions of cars and buses everywhere. Our world is getting hotter. Over the next two decades, projections tell us that temperatures in some areas of the globe will rise even higher, an irreversible development now utterly beyond our control.

Oceans, forests, plants, trees and soil had for many years absorbed half the carbon dioxide we spewed out. Now there are few forests left, most of them either logged or consumed by wildfire, and the permafrost is belching greenhouse gases into an already overburdened atmosphere.

The increasing heat of the Earth is suffocating us and in five to 10 years, vast swaths of the planet will be increasingly inhospitable to humans. We don’t know how hospitable the arid regions of Australia, South Africa and the western United States will be by 2100. No one knows what the future holds for their children and grandchildren: tipping point after tipping point is being reached, casting doubt on the form of future civilization. Some say that humans will be cast to the winds again, gathering in small tribes, hunkered down and living on whatever patch of land might sustain them.

More moisture in the air and higher sea surface temperatures have caused a surge in extreme hurricanes and tropical storms. Recently, coastal cities in Bangladesh, Mexico, the United States and elsewhere have suffered brutal infrastructure destruction and extreme flooding, killing many thousands and displacing millions. This happens with increasing frequency now. Every day, because of rising water levels, some part of the world must evacuate to higher ground.


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Every day, the news shows images of mothers with babies strapped to their backs, wading through floodwaters and homes ripped apart by vicious currents that resemble mountain rivers. News stories tell of people living in houses with water up to their ankles because they have nowhere else to go, their children coughing and wheezing because of the mould growing in their beds, insurance companies declaring bankruptcy, leaving survivors without resources to rebuild their lives.

Contaminated water supplies, sea salt intrusions and agricultural runoff are the order of the day. Because multiple disasters are often happening simultaneously, it can take weeks or even months for basic food and water relief to reach areas pummelled by extreme floods. Diseases such as malaria, dengue, cholera, respiratory illnesses and malnutrition are rampant.

You try not to think about the 2 billion people who live in the hottest parts of the world, where, for upwards of 45 days per year, temperatures skyrocket to 60C (140F), a point at which the human body cannot be outside for longer than about six hours because it loses the ability to cool itself down. Places such as central India are becoming increasingly challenging to inhabit. Mass migrations to less hot rural areas are beset by a host of refugee problems, civil unrest and bloodshed over diminished water availability.

Food production swings wildly from month to month, season to season, depending on where you live. More people are starving than ever before. Climate zones have shifted, so some new areas have become available for agriculture (Alaska, the Arctic), while others have dried up (Mexico, California). Still others are unstable because of the extreme heat, never mind flooding, wildfire and tornadoes. This makes the food supply in general highly unpredictable. Global trade has slowed as countries seek to hold on to their own resources.

Countries with enough food are resolute about holding on to it. As a result, food riots, coups and civil wars are throwing the world’s most vulnerable from the frying pan into the fire. As developed countries seek to seal their borders from mass migration, they too feel the consequences. Most countries’ armies are now just highly militarised border patrols. Some countries are letting people in, but only under conditions approaching indentured servitude.

Those living within stable countries may be physically safe, yes, but the psychological toll is mounting. With each new tipping point passed, they feel hope slipping away. There is no chance of stopping the runaway warming of our planet and no doubt we are slowly but surely heading towards some kind of collapse. And not just because it’s too hot.

Melting permafrost is also releasing ancient microbes that today’s humans have never been exposed to and, as a result, have no resistance to. Diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks are rampant as these species flourish in the changed climate, spreading to previously safe parts of the planet, increasingly overwhelming us. Worse still, the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance has only intensified as the population has grown denser in inhabitable areas and temperatures continue to rise.

The demise of the human species is being discussed more and more. For many, the only uncertainty is how long we’ll last, how many more generations will see the light of day. Suicides are the most obvious manifestation of the prevailing despair, but there are other indications: a sense of bottomless loss, unbearable guilt and fierce resentment at previous generations who didn’t do what was necessary to ward off this unstoppable calamity.

 

Christiana Figueres

Former Executive Secretary UN Climate Change Convention,

Global Optimism Founding Partner,

Cohost of OutrageAndOptimism podcast &

Coauthor of The Future We Choose

Originally Published at: The Guardian

 

How Civil Society Action Led to Fairer Taxation in Mexico

In October 2019, following a landmark legal case, Mexico’s tax administration was forced to publish information on almost every case of tax rebate and cancellation issued from 2007 to 2015. The publication of this data, which included cases involving many of Mexico’s wealthiest and well-known personalities, sent shockwaves through Mexican society. Outraged citizens flooded social media with images of the ostentatious spending of tax-rebate recipients. The public outcry had swift results: later that month, in a sweeping move, the Mexican parliament passed a bill nullifying all tax rebates and cancellations going forward.

This process was a victory for transparency and accountability—and an example of how civil society can play an effective role in advancing an agenda of equality and inclusion.

The NGO Fundar, the key force behind the campaign to release the tax data, has been a longstanding advocate for increasing citizen access to information on public finances. Fundar was established following the Mexican peso crisis and economic recession of 1994-1995. As Fundar activists recall, at the time it was impossible for the public to tell with any degree of accuracy how much money was being collected and spent by the public sector.

Driven by a demand for greater transparency and participation, Fundar has spent the following decades serving as a bridge between society and the public sector, strengthening public desire for accountability and emphasizing the value of citizen engagement in fiscal oversight. With limited available resources, Fundar had to anticipate what they could do to make a telling difference, and decided to engage in strategic litigation to seek the publication of tax data.


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Fundar’s victory in the legal case came at a fortuitous moment, given the changing political environment in Mexico. The new administration of President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (or AMLO, as he is popularly known) has made the fight against corruption as a political priority. Crucially, the definition of corruption has been expanded to encompass tax evasion, a shift that has been captured and formalized in new anti-corruption legislation. These concrete steps to address widespread corruption complement a broader vision of building popular support for fiscal reforms.

At just 13 percent, Mexico has the lowest tax-revenue-to-GDP ratio among all OECD countries. That figure will have to increase to allow for sustainable implementation of the government’s ambitious social spending agenda. However, the political scope for increasing tax revenues is limited. Upon entering office, Obrador’s government formulated a three-prong program:

  • No new taxes 
  • No new debt
  • “Republican austerity of the state” (reduction of privileges associated with political power)

As a result, the only source of new revenue will come from clamping down on corruption, tax evasion, and individual tax privileges. The public outcry following the publication of the tax exemptions in October has bolstered the government’s case for focusing on this approach.

The disclosure of tax privileges was an NGO-led initiative, but it helped create widespread political support among Mexican citizens for the removal of unfair tax distortions. Fundar’s success shows how NGOs can prove to be valuable allies for governments that are pursuing inclusive, pro-social agendas. Another key lesson from Fundar’s work is the importance of messages that are both clear and vivid. The arresting images of the lavish lifestyles of the rebate recipients was more effective in changing public opinion than any dry text or decontextualized numbers could be.

Like the recent successful campaign to increase the minimum wage in Mexico, the removal of tax exemptions demonstrates the constructive overlap between a reformist government’s agenda and the complementary work of civil society actors. Fundar’s success at leveraging strategic litigation, public outreach, and the changing political environment provides another model for how civil society can play an effective role in winning future reforms—both in Mexico, and beyond.

Paul von Chamier

Research Scientist at NYU CIC

Fiscal policy analyst and project manager

Writing about developmental economics, European politics, and digital transformation

Originally Published at: NYU CIC