Climate damage is happening 'quicker than we thought'
The effects of climate change are occurring "much quicker" than science predicted, but politicians have sent the public a signal that it is "not important" by failing to take action to reduce emissions.
University College London's professor of climate science Chris Rapley said "global collective action" was required, but warned that vested interests could scupper progress.
Speaking in advance of an event organised by the Environmental Protection Agency on 'communicating climate science', the former director of the British Antarctic Survey and UK Science Museum said the actions required posed a threat to the free market.
"They are a threat to neoliberal, free market economics because it requires regulation, government intervention and global co-ordination, and this flies in the face of what the free market zealots believe is the right way to run society," he said.
"It's no surprise there's a very strong correlation between people who are free market zealots and those who don't accept climate change is a problem. To accept it's a problem has implications for their philosophy of economics, which is very threatening to them."
He said while the Paris climate deal was a "diplomatic triumph", commitments to reduce emissions were "not enough" to keep average temperature increases to no more than 2C.
"I think the planet is telling its own story," he said. "Even at 0.9C (rise) we're seeing things happening which are having implications now. I've been involved for 30 years, and what we're seeing happen is what we predicted would happen, with one or two surprises. But it's happening more quickly than we thought, particularly in the polar regions."
He said the US military had assessed climate change as a threat to national security, and pointed to Syria as an example of how climate change had far reaching consequences.
Some 1.5 million people were displaced following a series of droughts, joining 2.5 million others displaced by the Iraq War. Many fled to Europe, and this fear of immigration was a factor in the Brexit vote.
"So you see that climate change is implicated. It didn't cause it, it's an amplifying factor which is having consequences. We have a real issue here.
"The scale and urgency of the action needed simply isn't recognised," Prof Rapley said.