Mitigating Global Warming is Not Our Only Problem: Are We “Sleepwalking” Towards a Global Polycrisis?

  • William White, Former Deputy Governor, Bank of Canada

Industrial concept - Silhouette of Natural gas processing plant

About this Report

The natural environment is only one of a number of interdependent systems in jeopardy as the world attempts to implement a coordinated response to the daunting problem of climate change. The difficult choices that will be required of all of us could easily trigger crises in economic, political and other systems the world over, and those could in turn impact our ability and willingness to take the necessary steps to mitigate the worst consequences of a warming climate.

Starting with a contemplation of various impediments to progress on climate change, we come to understand the interconnectedness of various systems and how shocks to one can have ripple effects on the others. For example if efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels leads to negative economic consequences, this could trigger political fault lines that could undermine climate action.

This paper sets out to identify deficits in our understanding of the steps needed to win the climate fight, and our ability and willingness to take those steps when the time comes. The exercise reveals the very real threat of a “polycrisis”, or multiple interconnected system failures, and illustrates the need for a cross-disciplinary approach to what is much more than just a climate problem.