Climate Change, English

What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk

Aug 23 2018

by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop

A new report entitled: “What Lies Beneath: The understatement of existential climate risk” authored by David Spratt and myself, has just been released via the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne, Australia.

Available at:

This publication updates and expands work we first published last year, collating what scientists, decision-makers and other stakeholders have been saying, often behind closed doors, about the culture of failure and scientific reticence in which climate policy-making has become embedded. It is a story that must be understood if we are to have any hope of addressing the existential climate risk which humanity now faces.

The report analyses why:

  • Human-induced climate change is an existential risk to human civilisation: an adverse outcome that will either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential, unless dramatic action is taken. The bulk of climate research tends to underplay these risks, exhibiting a preference for conservative projections and scholarly reticence.
  • IPCC reports also tend toward reticence and caution, erring on the side of “least drama”, and downplaying the more extreme and more damaging outcomes. This is dangerously misleading with the acceleration of climate impacts globally.
  • It is a particular concern with potential climatic “tipping points”, the passing of critical thresholds, which result in step changes in the climate system. Under-reporting on these issues is contributing to a “failure of imagination” in our response to climate change.

In the foreword, Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and to Pope Francis, calls the report a “critical overview by well-informed intellectuals who sit outside the climate-science community”, highlighting crucial insights which may lurk at the fringes of conventional policy analysis but which have a new resonance when “the issue is the very survival of our civilisation, where conventional means of analysis may become useless”. He says: “climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences”.

The purpose of the report is to highlight that the crucial moment is now, to understand why that is so, and to encourage a fundamental reframing of our approach to climate action.

We hope you will find it useful. Regards,

Ian Dunlop -Advisory Group Chair – Breakthrough – National Centre for Climate Restoration – Member, the Club of Rome






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