The Russian war in Ukraine is pivotal to the future of combating climate change, according to The New York Times’ International Climate Correspondent Somini Sengupta.
“Will this conflict slow down climate action or will it accelerate climate action?” Sengupta said. “That is an open question. That is, I think, the most important question.”
Sengupta moderated a panel of Boston College professors at a lecture on Wednesday titled “BC@UNCOP Series: On the Road to Sharm El-Sheikh.” The Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society hosted the event as part of the lead up to BC sending a delegation of students and faculty to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November.
During her lecture, Sengupta cited gradual increases in global temperatures as reason for concern about the state of the environment.
“The average global temperature right now is about 1.1 degrees Celsius higher today than it was 150 years ago at the beginning of the industrial era,” she said.
According to Sengupta, keeping the global temperature from rising another 1.5 degrees Celsius is essential to preventing additional, irreversible damages. This would require cutting total global greenhouse gas emissions by around 45 percent before the year 2030, she said.
“There’s a pretty good chance that the world can keep the average temperature rise within 1.5 degrees, and if that can be done then we have a pretty good chance of averting some of the worst impacts,” she said.
Sengupta then turned to a panel of BC faculty experts on climate change and the environment. Members of the panel included Lacee Satcher, Hanqin Tian, Sandra Waddock, and David Wirth.
Tian, the Schiller Institute’s professor of global sustainability, said staying within the 1.5 degree threshold is possible but will prove challenging.
“It needs immediate action,” Tian said. “It’s challenging, but it’s possible.”
Satcher, a professor of sociology and environmental studies, said reflecting on past environmental policies is critical to shaping future decisions.
”In terms of policy, one of the ways that the social sciences are contributing now and will continue to contribute is thinking about the effectiveness of past policies, in terms of outcomes on human beings at the global level, but also at a more local level—at the state level and the nation-state level,” she said.
Wirth, a BC Law professor, explained economic policies that could encourage the use of green energy.
“We have a series of subsidies and incentives that are designed to shift the economy in the direction of green energy—in the direction of installation of electric vehicle charging stations and a whole variety of small interventions that collectively will transform society,” he said.
Waddock, the Galligan Chair of Strategy in the Carroll School of Management, said that broad economic changes are key to mitigating the climate crisis.
“Most companies are not going to make the shifts that are necessary to achieve the temperate climate targets until and unless the system around them changes,” she said. “The system around them isn’t going to change until we change the way we understand economics.”
Sengupta said while the United States has made progress in addressing the climate crisis—most significantly through the Inflation Reduction Act—it is not enough to offset its fossil fuel production.
“There’s been movement,” she said. “According to scientists, [it’s] nowhere near the scale and the pace of movement that’s needed to avert the worst impacts.”
Sengupta concluded by explaining that some effects of climate change are already irreversible, but society should not be discouraged and should continue to combat climate change.
“It is not too late to change course right away, to prevent things from getting exponentially worse in our lifetimes,” she said.