Insights on Climate Change: The importance of knowing, and telling, the truth

14 Dec 2023

Cornerstone Climate

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” William Wilberforce

Extraordinary to think that a room full of lawyers and other professionals listened rapt as Mike Berners-Lee emphasised the importance of telling the truth? Pause for a moment and the reason becomes obvious: far too often the truth about climate change is not told. It is “contextualised” within a narrative that is capable of misleading.

As Estelle Dehon KC said when introducing Mike Berners-Lee to the Cornerstone Climate Insights gathering on 7 December 2023, Mike is a “go to” voice for those who wish to know the truth. So he proved in his presentation, which began by emphasising that the rate of growth of global energy use is key to understanding the challenge of climate change: despite the best efforts of those attending 27 (now 28) Conferences of the Parties (to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), the rate of growth of global fossil fuel emissions has barely changed.

Developing this point, he showed graphically that in 2010, the trajectory set by the rate of growth in GHG emissions in the previous 30 years was thought likely to result in a 1.5% increase in global temperature in 2050.

Undertake the same exercise in 2023 and the equivalent date is 2034.

As he put it “we are accelerating into a poly-crisis”, the climate issues interacting with others on biodiversity, food, plastics and other global environmental challenges.

Mike continued by arguing that the way these various crises will affect one another is relatively unknown, as is their effect on our social system (and therefore the stability of the world order). Getting to the heart of his presentation, he said “there are some values we have to have”. Not only do we need joined-up thinking, but society needs to develop a culture of respect. For people. For the truth. For the environment.

What can any of us do? We can live greener lives ourselves, and we can “push for change” in the wider world, which would have a greater beneficial impact than one person’s journey could ever achieve.  One way of doing this is to consider explicitly whether a business is set up in a way which is aligned with a movement towards sustainability or whether there’s an inherent conflict. Mike made this point in particular in the context of the work he does on ESG (environmental and social governance) with companies. It was fascinating to hear how he works with companies whose business model needs to change significantly in light of the climate science. There were clear take-aways for lawyers and the duty to advise clients, in a clear-eyed way, on the climate risks (and opportunities) facing their businesses.

This was a hugely informative session, with some great insights shared, including from the floor. People were interested in identifying a price for dishonesty in public life; in the role of carbon capture and other technological innovations; and in the importance of securing a just transition, amongst many other matters. Thank you to all those who attended, especially Mike Berners-Lee, and for making it such a success.

Watch the event recording below.