Creating a zero-emission society in the UK has become a major cause and it will receive further serious promotion next week when the government’s climate change committee publishes its report on how, and when, Britain can achieve this status and play a proper part in the battle against global warming. The crucial question is: when? Just how quickly can we eliminate our carbon emissions? Extinction Rebellion protesters are clear. They want the UK to be decarbonised by 2025. Many experts disagree, however. They argue that such an imminent target is completely impractical. “Yes, you could decarbonise Britain by 2025 but the cost of implementing such vast changes at that speed would be massive and hugely unpopular,” says Lord Turner, former chairman of the climate change committee. Most expect the climate change committee will plump for 2050 as Britain’s ideal decarbonisation date. “2050 is do-able and desirable and would have an insignificant overall cost to the economy,” states Turner, who is now chairman of the Energy Transitions Commission. According to this scenario, developed nations, including Britain, would aim to achieve zero-emissions status by 2050 and then use the decarbonising technologies they have developed to achieve this goal – hydrogen plants, carbon dioxide storage vaults and advanced renewable generators – to help developing nations halt their greenhouse gas emissions by 2060. About 90% of British people have gas boilers in their homes, most having been fitted relatively recently – over the past 20 to 30 years or so. “And we have really come to love them,” he states. “You get hot water and heating at a flick of a switch, after all. And that is a problem, he argues. “Dislodging that incumbent technology in a way that is socially acceptable is going to be really hard. Indeed it is probably the toughest challenge we face in decarbonising Britain because you are talking about homes where people are used to making their own decisions.” Nevertheless, scientists are adamant that even if choose 2050 for our decarbonisation date, we need to act now. This urgency of the task is emphasized by Joeri Rogelj at Imperial College London. “If the world limits emissions of carbon dioxide to no more than 420 billion tonnes this century, we will have a two in three chance of keeping global warming down to around 1.5C. “However, if we go above to 580 billion tonnes then our chances will be reduced to 50-50. The problem is that in 2017 alone, a total of 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was emitted in a single year. By that calculation, we clearly do not have a lot of time to waste.”
Observer 21st April 2019 read more »
The stakes have never been higher – a radical movement such as Extinction Rebellion can act as a catalyst for political debate and change. For decades, we have faced an incontrovertible truth: that human lifestyles are risking the future habitability of our planet. For decades, political leaders have invoked rousing rhetoric in the face of this challenge while failing to act to avert catastrophe. Climate change is an existential risk to the future and the window available to prevent disastrous overheating is closing rapidly. Only now, almost 30 years after the International Panel on Climate Change published its first report setting out the scientific evidence, is there any sense that something may be shifting in popular and political perceptions. Extinction Rebellion protesters have brought parts of central London to a standstill, their action coming in the wake of the school climate strikes, when more than 1.4 million young people took part globally. For his part, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned the financial sector last week that it must take the threat seriously, framing the argument in terms that it understands best: that in a heated world there is a real risk to profit margins. Since 2015 the British government has performed a series of dizzying U-turns on climate change policy, sacrificing commitments such as zero-carbon homes and investment in carbon capture storage on the altar of austerity. Now Brexit is distracting us even more from the impending crisis. As a result, the UK is on course to decisively miss its own legally binding emissions targets for 2027 and 2032. While a radical movement such as Extinction Rebellion can act as a much-needed catalyst to get people talking about climate change, the case for action will in the end need to be made in a much broader way that appeals to voters from across the political spectrum. There’s much to learn from the campaign for equal marriage in the US, which successfully won round conservative voters by framing the argument not primarily in the language of rights, but in values of love, commitment and family. This remains the missing link in avoiding catastrophic climate change. How to make people see that this is the most existential threat humankind has ever faced, yet without making them feel fatalistic about their lack of ability to influence events. If we fail to crack this conundrum, the future of our planet hangs in the balance.
Observer 21st April 2019 read more »