Is wartime mobilisation a suitable policy model for rapid national climate mitigation?

Presentation Date: 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The Royal Society, London, United Kingdom

Presented at the Tyndall Conference on Radical Emissions Reduction at the Royal Society

Climate science suggests that, to have a high probability of limiting global warming to an average temperature increase of 2ºC, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020 and be reduced to close to zero by 2040. However, the current trend is heading towards at least 4ºC by 2100 and little effective action is being taken. This paper commences the process of developing contingency plans for a scenario in which a sudden major global climate impact galvanises governments to implement emergency climate mitigation targets and programs. Climate activists assert that rapid mitigation is feasible, invoking the scale and scope of wartime mobilisation strategies. This paper draws upon historical accounts of social, technological and economic restructurings in several countries during World War 2 in order to investigate potential applications of wartime experience to radical, rigorous and rapid climate mitigation strategies. We focus on the energy sector, the biggest single contributor to global climate change, in developed and rapidly developing countries. We find that, while wartime experience suggests some potential strategies for rapid climate mitigation in the areas of finance and labour, it also has severe limitations, resulting from its lack of democratic processes. Furthermore, since restructuring the existing socio-economic system to mitigate climate change is more complex than fighting a war and since the threat is less obvious, it is unlikely that the public will be unified in support of such executive action.

Take a listen to the presentation here