Call to Action
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a Portuguese institution, established in perpetuity, with the statutory goal of undertaking charitable, artistic, educational and scientific activities. Committed to all humankind, its mission is to support sustainable development by actively promoting the well-being and quality of life of vulnerable groups in the population, and in balance with environmental protection and economic prosperity.
Humanity today faces a severe and unprecedented climate crisis with devastating consequences for people, nature and the economy. This was the statement with which we launched the call to action in the first year of the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity, at the beginning of 2020.
Two years have passed and both the climate impacts already occurred as well as scientific projections lead us to a not very encouraging reality, placing the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity at the top of the challenges for this and the next generations, with serious consequences that go beyond the environmental level, such as chronic and infectious diseases, water and food shortages, migration, destruction of infrastructures, loss of livelihoods and abrupt breaks in several economic activities.
The past seven years have been the hottest so far and extreme weather events often reach new records in number and intensity across the globe, such as extreme droughts, fires, heat waves, floods or storms.
2021 was the warmest year on record for ocean heat content, while sea water levels also reached new records as well as the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This was also the year with the hottest summer in the Northern Hemisphere, with temperatures reaching 50ºC in Canada. More than 50 hurricanes, cyclones and extratropical storms were recorded worldwide, deadly flooding in Nigeria, Ghana, India, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and China, extreme heat waves in Siberia, Pakistan, northern India, parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, and catastrophic forest fires in the western United States of America, in the Mediterranean and in Israel. The 10 deadliest natural disasters of 2021 caused the death of more than 4000 people in different regions of the world, including Germany, Belgium, China, USA, Philippines, India, Indonesia and Nepal.
Also in 2021, IPCC published the first contribution to the AR6 (Sixth Assessment Report – The Physical Science Basis) with the most worrying warning of all previous reports, estimating a 50% probability of failing the Paris Agreement and reiterating that without drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, there could be a 2.7ºC temperature increase over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for humanity. Many of these changes will be irreversible over centuries to millennia, especially the ongoing changes in the ocean.
More recently, we were able to access even more dramatic conclusions from the IPCC report – Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – released on 28 February 2022, highlighting that climate change is already impacting every corner of the world, and much more severe impacts are in store than previously expected as well as those that will occur in the short term, and that risks will escalate with smaller temperature increases, suggesting that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees may not be enough and that beyond that the impacts will be irreversible. A high proportion of species is vulnerable to climate change, it is highly confident that between 3% and 14% of animals and plants will face high risks of extinction, even limiting the global average temperature increase to 1.5ºC. The report also states that currently 3.3 billion-3.6 billion people (around 40% of the population) live in countries highly vulnerable to climate impacts, with global hotspots concentrated in Small Island Developing States, the Arctic, South Asia, Central and South America, and much of sub-Saharan Africa. This underlines the relevance of adaptation measures targeting the most vulnerable communities, while emphasizing the lack of funds for climate adaptation currently available, as well as the urgency of addressing losses and damages that have already occurred.
Faced with the uncertainty regarding the future of Humanity, it is important to highlight some of the forecasts for the scenarios outlined.
- According to the World Bank, up to 143 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia could be forced to leave their homes by 2050 due to rising sea levels, water shortages or crop loss. It is also estimated that the climate crisis could push an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty worldwide by 2030.
- According to the World Health Organization, between 2030 and 2050 climate change is expected to cause up to 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. Countries with weak health infrastructures, mostly in developing countries, will be the least able to respond to these threats. In high vulnerable countries, mortality due to droughts, storms and floods in 2010-2020 was actually 15 times higher than in countries with very low vulnerability.
Current unsustainable development patterns are increasing exposure of ecosystems and people to climate hazards. Without drastic change, humanity will be exposed to unimaginable consequences, particularly those who are most vulnerable. The magnitude and rate of climate change and associated risks depend strongly on near-term mitigation and adaptation actions, and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages escalate with every increment of global warming.
The climate we will be exposed to in the future depends on the decisions we take now. Evidence of observed impacts, projected risks, trends in vulnerability, and adaptation limits, demonstrate that worldwide climate resilient development action are more urgent than previously thought. The response to the climate emergency includes the need for immediate, structural and systemic change across different aspects of society, calling for action by governments, investors and businesses, non-governmental organisations, foundations, civil society, educational bodies, scientific and other institutions, media and by developing partnerships with traditionally marginalized groups, local communities and ethnic minorities towards a carbon-neutral growth model that safeguards social justice.
We must therefore adopt integrated responses that contribute to a robust and inclusive transition, tackle the challenges of the 21st century, uphold the principles proposed in the UN 2030 Agenda and that put the sustainability of the planet and human societies first.
Following the commitments announced at the last Climate Summit (COP26), it is now crucial to keep alive the sense of climate emergency, accelerate the implementation of concrete actions and measures capable of contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, increase the resilience and adaptation of natural ecosystems and people to climate impacts, support communities with losses and damages that have already occurred, as well as protect and restore biodiversity and natural ecosystems, including forests and the ocean.
The transition to a climate-neutral society is both urgent and a unique opportunity to build a future based on a symbiosis between society and the environment underpinned by a sustainable economic system that creates prosperity and well-being.
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation aims to contribute to this transition. Committed to all humankind, the Foundation’s mission is to support sustainable development by actively promoting the well-being and quality of life of vulnerable groups in the population, while maintaining a balance between protecting the environment and economic prosperity.
The Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity underscores the Foundation’s commitment to urgent climate action, standing in 2022 with a key initiative in the run-up to COP27, by recognising people or organisations with high-impact contributions and actions in combating the climate crisis, capable of contributing to mitigate the negative effects of climate change on people, the environment and the economy, and promote a society that is more resilient and better prepared for future global change, while protecting the most vulnerable.