Call to Action
Humanity faces a severe and unprecedented climate crisis with devastating consequences for people, nature and the economy.
The past eight years have been the hottest so far, fueled by ever-rising greenhouse gas concentrations and accumulated heat. Climate impacts are increasing across the globe as global warming accelerates.
A multi-year drought in the Horn of Africa, unprecedented flooding in South Asia, and severe summer heat and breaking droughts across multiple regions of the northern hemisphere, point out that climate change is hitting humanity hard and global risks are ever increasing. The flooding in Pakistan affected approximately 33 million people with 7.9 million people displaced. In Bangladesh, the worst floods in 20 years have affected some 7.2 million people with 481 000 displacements recorded.
2021 was the warmest year on record for ocean heat content (the latest year assessed), while sea water levels also reached new records high in 2022. Rising temperatures heighten the risk of irreversible loss of marine and coastal ecosystems. Coral reefs are especially vulnerable to climate change. They are projected to lose between 70 and 90% of their former coverage area at 1.5 °C of warming and over 99% at 2 °C .
In fact, all types of ecosystems – terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems – and the services they provide, are affected by climate change. The number of species predicted to become extinct increases dramatically as global temperatures rise – and is 30% higher at 2 °C warming than at 1.5 °C .
Climate change is already impacting every corner of the world. According to the Sixth Assessment IPCC Report – Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (WGII), the extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger and coming sooner than previously estimated, causing severe and widespread disruption in nature and in society, affecting our ability to guarantee food security and nutrition, clean drinking water or even safe shelter to all.
Our world – 1.1 ºC warmer – is not fair, where women, the elderly and children in low-income households as well as minority groups are the ones who will suffer the most with the impacts of climate change. Alarmingly, 3.3 to 3.6 billion people (around 40% of the population) live in countries highly vulnerable to climate impacts, mainly in the Global South, with global hotspots concentrated in Small Island Developing States, the Arctic, South Asia, Central and South America, and much of sub-Saharan Africa.
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. As of 2021, 2.3 billion people faced food insecurity, corresponding to 9.8% of the global population.
The climate crisis has driven the world to a multiple “disastrous” tipping points. Five dangerous tipping points may already have been passed due to the 1.1C of global heating caused by humanity to date. These include: the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap; the collapse of a key current in the north Atlantic; disrupting rain upon which billions of people depend for food; an abrupt melting of carbon-rich permafrost; and changes to vast northern forests and the loss of almost all mountain glaciers.
The 1.5-degree target is no longer enough to guarantee a safe, resilient, and sustainable future for all. In a recent study published in Science  scientists highlighted that keeping the global average temperature rise within 1.5°C since pre-industrial times is critical to preventing climate change’s worst and cascading impacts.
According to the Sixth Assessment IPCC Report – Mitigation of Climate Change (WGIII), without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors and regions, it will be impossible to keep warming below 1.5° C. The world is not on track to reach the Paris Agreement goals and with policies currently in place and without additional action, global temperatures could reach 2.8°C by the end of the century. In 2021 IPCC estimated 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.
The Emissions Gap Report 2022 finds out that to meet the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C and to avoid a global catastrophe the world must cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. Since COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, new and updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) have barely impacted the temperatures we can expect to see by 2100.
A stepwise approach is no longer an option. 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 world must urgently increase efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already here and to those that are to come. As global temperatures rise, adaptive responses become less effective. Societies and ecosystems start hitting limits to adaptation, beyond which further losses and damages can be expected.
This requires ambitious and accelerated action. Both strong mitigation and adaptation are linked and are key to help vulnerable countries and communities cope with impacts of climate change.
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. The war in Ukraine, the global supply shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to an evolving energy and food security crisis, has made this challenge even greater.
Following the commitments made at the Glasgow Climate Pact (COP26) and the recent announced Sharm el-Sheik Implementation Plan (COP27) , 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, to investment in solutions which benefit people and the planet, and to showing there is still hope if we act now. In the run-up to COP28 in 2023, the Prize will be a flagship initiative recognising people or organisations who are making outstanding contributions in combating the climate crisis; contributions which can 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.