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Earth 2.0°C is the new reality: may climate change be an opportunity

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By Diego Balverde

· 5 min read

I vividly remember a train journey to Cornwall, mid-pandemic, en route to the G7 summit. During the trip, I delved into the prologues of various papers addressing the realities of climate change. My companion on this trip was the beloved Rishi Sunak, then serving as the Second Lord of the UK or Minister of the Exchequer.

This moment gained significant context four months later, at the Rome G20 summit. For the first time the social climate, rather than just the environmental one, drove a collective resolve to combat high emissions. The reverberations of the G20 were felt immediately, with Glasgow COP26 convening the very next day, amidst the gradual emergence from the pandemic's grip.

During our journey to Scotland, we stumbled upon alarming information that we couldn’t disclose: the contamination rate was nine times higher than our preventive or mitigative measures.1 Witnessing this, many of my colleagues were overcome with fear and tears in the aftermath of the pandemic, grappling with the unexplained circumstances we found ourselves in. Gradually, specialized media began to unveil a harsh reality, one far more sobering than any superficial facade could conceal.2

Difficult but worth it

Addressing the climate crisis will undoubtedly pose significant challenges and necessitate focused attention and action. It's a persistent issue, underscored by mounting evidence indicating that global warming and climate shifts are occurring at a faster pace than previously anticipated. Already, many highly vulnerable populations and ecosystems are grappling with the dire consequences of climate change. Despite some optimistic signals from the COP28 meeting in Dubai last year, suggesting that nations are capable of meaningful responses to climate change, it's becoming increasingly evident that global temperatures are on track to surpass the 1.5°C (2.7°F) limit set forth in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

The harsh truth

Presently, the Earth has undergone an approximate warming of 1.15°C above the baseline established in the 19th century. It is anticipated that on a global scale, this warming trend will surpass the critical threshold of 1.5°C by the mid-2030s. 

The window of opportunity to avert this trajectory is rapidly narrowing. Significant hurdles loom large, encompassing deficiencies in financing and institutional capabilities. Moreover, socioeconomic factors such as poverty, consumption patterns, and dwindling social trust further exacerbate the challenge.

Green challenges

While the challenges posed by the climate crisis are significant, there exist numerous promising avenues to propel climate solutions forward. It is crucial that we unite in pursuit of what is termed "climate resilient development," a framework that enables us to adapt to escalating climate risks while simultaneously incentivizing opportunities to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

The pursuit of these twin objectives holds the potential to effectively combat climate change while fostering sustainable and equitable economic progress. Equity stands as a cornerstone of this transition process.

Whether it involves industries and their workforce adapting to a green economy or communities grappling with the specter of neighborhood displacement due to flooding or climate-induced gentrification, evidence overwhelmingly suggests that decision-making processes characterized by equity and engagement are pivotal to the success of climate action initiatives.

Fundamental solutions

Two critical areas of climate solutions are integral to our daily lives: enhancing the quality of life in our cities and towns, and preserving the natural world that envelops and sustains them.

We are amidst an era dominated by urban living. Presently, 56% of the world's 8.1 billion people reside in urbanized areas, and nearly all anticipated global population growth in the forthcoming decades will unfold in metropolitan regions.

Simultaneously, these urban centers account for roughly 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions and serve as the primary hubs for economic activities.

By embracing responsible and equitable urban planning, ongoing urban (re)development endeavors can incorporate cutting-edge climate solutions, thereby enhancing the livability of our cities and towns while ensuring a higher quality of life for all residents. To achieve this, it's imperative to safeguard and optimize the invaluable services rendered by nature to human society.

Financial solutions are the only way

Nature-based solutions alone cannot address all of our challenges in adapting to and mitigating climate change. However, the data strongly supports the notion that protecting and enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem function can yield significant benefits in reducing the impact of climate change. These benefits include flood protection, urban cooling, and improved air and water quality.

A critical question arises: can we enact such substantial changes? Examining our recent history provides numerous examples of how we have successfully addressed seemingly insurmountable urban environmental crises through innovation.

In my forthcoming book, "Cities and Environmental Change: From Crisis to Transformation," I delve into these examples. One notable case is the mid-1950s air pollution crisis in the greater Los Angeles region. Within a decade, innovative approaches such as new air pollution science, stakeholder coalitions, and the establishment of governance institutions led to transformative changes being implemented.


On a large scale, the modernization of cities, although far from perfect, brought significant advances in the provision of drinking water, sanitation, electrification, mass public transportation and recreation in many places. However, these developments were uneven and today many cities, particularly in the Global South, are growing without the necessary infrastructure to adequately support the local population.


Historical evidence demonstrates that in order to rapidly scale up these initiatives, we must enhance monitoring and evaluation of such endeavors. Engaging individuals and institutions at all tiers of government is crucial, as is leveraging incentives within the private sector. Additionally, addressing the concerns of those resistant to change is imperative.

Even in the event of the global community falling short of meeting the 1.5°C threshold, we possess alternative resources to bolster our efforts. Many of these resources draw from the rich history and cultural practices of various regions, reflecting how societies have effectively tackled past environmental crises.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.


[1] Climate-resilient financial development is an opportunity to reduce or even eliminate these discrepancies.

[2] The world is already full of success stories of small-scale climate action and other experiments that are making a difference.

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About the author

Dr. Diego Balverde is an Economist at the European Central Bank and has extensive experience in climate finance. He is currently also an Advisory Member of the Council of Foreign Trade at The World Bank. Diego is very active on the international sustainability stage having attended COP27 as a Circular economy for Climate Change specialist and will also be attending the G20 Conference in India as part of the Energy, Sustainability and Climate Task Force. Diego holds a PhD in Foreign trade from Chapman University and an MBA degree from Cambridge Judge Business School.

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