The Climate Clock

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As an instrument for measuring and recording time, the traditional clock is one of the oldest human inventions. It is a device that supports life activities, orderliness, schedules and helps a great deal in the scientific progressions that keep occurring by the day. Leveraging on these unique features of the traditional clock, the Climate Clock was developed as a graphic demonstration of how much time is left to ensure that the global average temperature does not pass the 1.5°C.

The climate clock responds to the need to increase the consciousness that if the global average temperature passes the threshold of 1.5°C, it would become much more difficult to slow down the devastating effects of climate change. The lack of good reference for when the 1.5°C will actually happen triggered the Climate Clock Initiative as a constant reminder and evaluation instrument for measuring the progress in relation to the 1.5°C threshold.

The climate clock shows two numbers: the first, displayed in red, is what the creators of the clock refer to as a “deadline.” The timer counts down how long it will take for the world to burn through its carbon budget if swift action isn’t taken to keep warming under 1.5°C above.

If the earth’s temperatures increase by 1.5°C, the planet will fall victim to extreme heat waves, fires, droughts and limited water availability, a 2019 NASA report on global climate change warns. In 2015, a legally binding international treaty on climate change known as the Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 parties and entered into force on November 4, 2016. The goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to below 2, preferably to 1.5 degree celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The clock’s second figure, displayed in green, is labeled a “lifeline.” It tracks the percentage of available energy being supplied from renewable sources. The “lifeline” presupposes that increase in renewable energy installations will directly impact on emission reduction and so slow down the global warming effect that leads to climate change.   

The lifeline and deadline on the climate clock is a reminder and encouragement to scale-up actionable initiatives within a specific timeframe, and the time to avert climate disaster is reducing by the second as the clock counts down and to nudge us to take immediate bold actions at speed and scale.

For us in developing countries such as Nigeria, the climate clock tells our climate change story beyond the need to take immediate bold actions. It tells of the devasting climate impact of climate change on our lives and livelihoods. It tells of the elements of climate change-induced poverty such as the drying-up of Lake Chad to 90 per cent of its size in the 1960s; the loss of land to desertification at the rate of about 5 kilometers per year; and the yearly flood in almost all the 36 states of the federation.

Dr. Paul Abolo

The climate clock tells of the devastating impacts of erosion in most parts of the nation, especially in Anambra State and other parts of the southeastern Nigeria. It tells of farmlands lost to flooding and the internally displaced persons. It tells the gruesome story of impacts on gender, children, poor and vulnerable groups.

The climate clock reminds us of the increasing ticking human security challenges in our nation, exacerbated by climate change impacts. It brings us to the rationality that while there are global emphasis on emission rights, in Nigeria, we are dealing with equally devasting issues such as survival rights exacerbated by climate change.  

In addition to reminding us of what actions to take to mitigate rising temperatures, the climate clock should also remind us of adaptation measures to the impact of climate change and the fact that our survival threshold as a nation may likely arrive faster than the climate clock is counting down to zero if expedited focused action is not taken. While the climate clock is an instrument of awareness, sensitization and encouragement to climate action, Nigeria must define the objectives of the clock in the context of reality of the dimensions, immediacy and severity of threat to our survival as a nation due to the direct and indirect impact of climate change.

The Climate Clock presents an opportunity for climate activists, advocates, NGOs, and CSOs to co-author an authentic climate change narrative for our nation. We must at this time, leverage the climate clock to draw strong and immediate attention to our national and subnational governments to see climate action beyond policy document and rhetoric but to explore its benefits in light of poverty eradication and all the attendant issues that would provide both the funding and technology support needed to avert a catastrophe closer than estimated by the climate clock.

Addressing poverty eradication,  section 6 (8) of the Paris Agreement states: “Parties recognize the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches being available to parties to assist in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions, in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, in a coordinated and effective manner, including through, inter alia, mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity-building, as appropriate.” This is where the clock’s second figure, displayed in green, labeled as a “lifeline” becomes relevant to our course as a developing nation.

Furthermore, the Paris Agreement provides for wealth creation under paragraph 115 and stated: “With a concrete roadmap to achieve the goal of jointly providing USD 100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation while significantly increasing adaptation finance from current levels and to further provide appropriate technology and capacity-building support…” In addition, paragraphs 53 and 55 of the agreement provides for developing country parties to receive financial resources for climate change initiatives and provides for resource-based payments for implementation of policy approaches and positive incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and other sources.

Leveraging the climate clock for a national awareness and sensitization campaign on climate action must be seen from a broad lens of engaging action at a more expansive dimension than a ‘show’, or a mere rhetoric of increasing the consciousness of the threshold of 1.5°C. The campaign must be our collective responsibility to craft the essential narrative of the climate clock in the context of the reality and peculiarity of the direct and indirect impact of the climate change challenges in Nigeria.

—Dr Paul Abolo is the president of Ecologistics Integrated Services Limited. He can be reached on

Dr. Paul Abolo
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