Climate Change and the Hope Conundrum

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

Here's a link to the first part of a new paper by Morgan Phillips, the UK Co-Director of The Glacier Trust which was founded in 2008 to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the upland communities of Nepal.  Part 2 is here.

The article – Climate Change and the Hope Conundrum  is a review of Wainwright and Mann’s argument in Climate Leviathan (2018) and Phillips draws on this to examine three things:

  1. How climate change might shape world politics in the coming decades.
  2. The UNFCCC process and how to relate to it as the ‘only game in town’.
  3. The long-term legitimacy of current messages of hope put forward by the climate change movement.

This is how the review begins:

"The 2015 UNFCCC Paris Agreement contained this headline aspiration:

Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. (Article 2, para, 1a, UNFCCC (2015) Adoption of the Paris Agreement).

It is a very bold aspiration, perhaps even a fantasy. It would take a series of scientific miracles and/or a huge political upheaval to limit temperature increases to ‘well below 2°C’.  As many campaigners (and indeed the official UNFCCC ‘Adoption of the Paris Agreement’ document itself) have noted, this aspiration does not align with what signatory countries have stated as their intended ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) to the global effort to limit climate change.  Two years on, there is little to suggest the NDCs will align any time soon. The pathway most nations have taken equates to allowing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to continue to rise until 2030 on the assumption that futuristic technologies will facilitate a cliff edge drop off in emissions between 2030 and 2050. ..."

A 'very bold aspiration' indeed – but surely unrealistic for the reasons pointed out, but Phillips goes onto say: "... we must remain realistic as to what is possible so as not to fool ourselves and others into believing that climate change is under control. Or indeed that even a 2 °C increase is tolerable."

I shall come back to this review as it comes from a group working with people who are on the front line of climate change and who are utterly blameless for what is happening.  Meanwhile, I commend it to you.


Wainwright, J. and Mann, G (2018) Climate Leviathan: a political theory of our planetary future, Verso, UK. Available at:

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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