Wicked problem examples: Global climate change

Record-breaking temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels: there are dozens of clear indicators that show that the Earth is warming fast, and that heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere by human activity are changing our climate. This poses a significant threat to human life and to the planetary systems we depend on for the continuation of life on Earth. Limiting a rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius and averting an environmental catastrophe will require an enormous, coordinated global effort in economic production and consumption.

Why is this a Wicked Problem?

  • Unique
    Humanity has never faced such a critical and existential threat to its existence, where each one of us is implicated in causing the problem.
  • Difficult to measure
    No immediate test to see whether a specific solution (e.g. people eating less meat) is having an impact: there is a time delay between actions and consequences, and attribution is near impossible.
  • No 'stopping rule'
    When would we have ‘solved’ climate change? Once we contain ourselves to a 2 degree target? Will that be enough to limit the damage? And will we be able to stay at that level in the long term?
  • 'One-shot operation'
    For example, we decided to trial carbon pricing as a solution, but this could only be done at scale.