Our climate is at crisis point – the UK must go further and faster than net zero by 2050
When the future of our planet relies on transformational change, a botched Green Homes Grant, a constantly delayed Treasury Net Zero Review, and a Transport Decarbonisation Plan which retains the £27 billion road building scheme, simply don’t cut it.
We shouldn’t need another report to know that our climate and natural world are at crisis point – the evidence is already being screamed from the rooftops. Terrifying wildfires from Greece to California; devastating flooding from Germany to China; and extreme heat in North America. Not to mention the droughts and hurricanes being faced by countries on the front lines of the climate crisis.
The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report brings home what we already know: that human activity is “unequivocally” to blame for the climate emergency and time is running out. It also revealed for the first time that some impacts, like sea level rise, are already locked in. And that the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees of warming will be met by 2040, along with the storms and scorching heat it brings.
Yet there is also hope. Indeed, if the world as a whole achieves net zero by 2050, scientists believe there will be a temporary overshoot but that temperatures will stabilise at 1.5 degrees of heating by the end of the century. This lifeline is still attainable but it is time limited. Any further delays will put it firmly out of reach.
That means that in wealthier countries like the UK, we must go further and faster than net zero by 2050. The UK kick started the industrial revolution fuelled by burning fossil fuels, and as such bears a significant amount of historic responsibility for cumulative emissions in the atmosphere, and the damage which come in their wake.
Ministers need to start acting like this is an emergency, rather than continuing to pour fuel on the fire
Moreover, as hosts of COP26, Boris Johnson’s government must lead from the front to have the best chance of persuading all countries to come forward with targets which are compatible with 1.5 degrees.
Ministers need to start acting like this is an emergency, rather than continuing to pour fuel on the fire. It beggars belief that despite decades of warnings, their plan for oil and gas fails to rule out new licences in the North Sea and that three months ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, they’re planning a new oil field off the Shetland Islands.
The Prime Minister clearly did not get the memo from the International Energy Agency which concluded that there could be no new fossil fuel projects if the world is to reach its climate targets. Perhaps he’ll heed to words of the UN Secretary General instead: “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
The government must also bring forward a real plan to decarbonise every sector of the economy. So far, the approach has been piecemeal, based on a litany of half-baked policies. When the future of our planet relies on transformational change, a botched Green Homes Grant, a constantly delayed Treasury Net Zero Review, and a Transport Decarbonisation Plan which retains the £27 billion road building scheme, simply don’t cut it. Yet we are not short of plans and the government could look to, for example, the Green New Deal as a comprehensive action plan to make life in Britain not just greener, but fairer too.
In Parliament I have championed the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill) which sets out the approach the government should be taking: putting 1.5 degrees in statute, giving citizens a meaningful role in decision making through the establishment of a Citizens Assembly, and crucially tackling the climate and nature crisis together.
As another recent UN report made clear – these crises are interconnected and need to be addressed as such. The CEE Bill was drafted with support from experts in climate and ecology, and currently has the support of over 100 Parliamentarians representing all political parties.
This week’s IPCC report paints a horrific picture of what life could be like if we don’t change our ways. But it also holds out hope for a different future if we do.
The truth is that rising to this emergency doesn’t have to be just about saving off the worst: it could also be about grasping the opportunity to build a better world for all of us, finally transforming an economic system which isn’t only trashing the environment but failing to deliver for millions of people as well. A future where people and nature can thrive, centred on resilient local communities, meaningful work and good jobs, and where inequalities are reduced and opportunities offered to all, is ours for the building. A future where progress is measured by quality of life, security and wellbeing of all, as well as the health of our natural world. That’s the prize: it’s up to all of us to ensure our political leaders grasp it.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.
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