2071 - Epilogue

March 08, 2022

Epilogue by: Chris Rapley and Duncan Macmillan

ESSC Chair and University College London Climate Science Professor, Chris Rapley created 2071 in 2015 along with writer Duncan Macmillan and director Katie Mitchell. 

This piece of theatre is a 65 minute spellbinding performance, where science is centre stage.


‘2071’ was written and first performed nearly eight years ago.

Since that time, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere has increased to 415ppm, a level unprecedented in 2 million years. The concentrations of methane and other greenhouse gasses have also increased significantly. The global mean temperature is now 1.2oC above pre-industrial levels. Sea level rise has accelerated to 4.4mm/y. Droughts, floods, wildfires and storms have increased disproportionately. It is estimated that economic losses from weather, climate and water extremes are now running at some $3.6 trillion per year. The number of climate refugees has increased.

The cost of electricity generation by renewables has tumbled. But renewables still account for only ~11% of primary energy production. 90% of all known coal reserves and 60% of all oil and gas reserves need to be left in the ground. We need to Abolish Fossil Fuels.

Despite the supposed ‘diplomatic triumph’ of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at which 195 nations committed to “limiting the global temperature rise to well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5oC”, real world action based on current policies will only limit warming to 2.7oC, with a 50% chance of that figure being exceeded. Only the most optimistic assessments give an outcome under 2oC. 

In its latest reports, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred”, and “Climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss the brief, rapidly closing window to secure a livable future”. The UN Secretary General has declared a “Code Red for Humanity”.

We are running out of time. Achieving the COP21 guardrails may still just be possible within the laws of nature. But it won’t happen without a synchronised and determined transformation of politics, technology, economy and society at a scale and pace unprecedented in human history. We are primed for action yet success is slipping away.

Is there hope? Possibly. Greta Thunburg, the Swedish teenager, has understood the climate challenge and is not afraid to speak her mind. Having shot to fame as a result of her ‘Skolstrejk för Klimatet’, she has followed up with forthright speeches to the powerful, such as to the delegates at COP24 in Katowice: “I will not beg the world’s leaders for change. I will tell them that change is coming whether they like it or not. We have to realise what the older generations have done to us – what a mess they have created – (and) we have to make our voices heard”. Participation in school strikes globally has been in the millions. Greta is an inspiration and example. We all have a voice. We can only hope that world leaders will rise to the occasion. Young people form a powerful constituency. The Future is theirs after all!