Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Climate Change...Be The Change...


The report earlier this week from the IPCC provides yet another reminder of the threats in the not too distant future from the effects of global warming. I have been following this story closely since my interest was alerted in the mid 1980s so for me, and I am sure many others, it is an issue close to my heart.

The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC was approved by the IPCC on Saturday in Incheon, Republic of Korea. It will be a key scientific input into the Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland in December, when governments review the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.
"With more than 6,000 scientific references cited and the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide, this important report testifies to the breadth and policy relevance of the IPCC," said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.

The report is a follow-up to the Paris Agreement of 2015 where the global community agreed on action to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 ºC. This latest report calls for a lower target of 1.5 ºC.

The report says that limiting warming to the lower target will require an industrial transition unprecedented in scale - but that it is possible, if the political will is there - and that the wider opportunities and benefits are huge. It will require large-scale changes from out governments as well as individuals. We will need to invest around $2.4trillion each year - around 2.5% of global GDP for at least the coming two decades.

The report is asking for the global community to agree on 5 major steps:

  1. A reduction in CO2 levels by 45% by 2030
  2. Renewables to provide 85% of global electricity by 2050
  3. Coal to be phased out completely
  4. An area the size of Australia for energy crops
  5. Global net zero emissions by 2050


Basically the report suggests if we fail to achieve these targets we are screwed.


Consequences

Since the mid 1800s the world has warmed by around 1 ºC and unless there are some drastic changes, we are heading for 1.5 ºC increase by 2050. This may not sound like much but at the end of the last ice age, the UK was covered in around 2,000 ft of glacier and the average temperature was only 6 to 8 degrees cooler than today.

Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner.
Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.
Global warming = more extreme weather...droughts, storms, hurricanes, wildfires. Glaciers and polar ice caps will continue to melt which results in a rise in global sea levels which will be a threat to islands and coastal communities.
Severe droughts and/or flooding over large areas will result in a mass migration of people in affected areas which will increase political and economic stability.
In short, global warming and climate change could have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for millions, possibly billions of people depending on the degree and speed of warming.
 


What Can We Do?

Of course we have known about the probable effects of climate change for at least 30 years. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the UN and the World Meteorological Organisation, bringing together the world’s leading climate scientists to assess knowledge of climate change and provide scientific advice to policymakers.

In 2006 the UK government published the Stern Report on Climate Change, led by the former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern, showing for the first time that the catastrophic economic impacts of climate change far outstrip the relatively modest costs of reducing emissions.

I first became aware of the problem in the mid 1980s having read 'Seeing Green' by Jonathan Porritt who was then director of Friends of the Earth. I have tried to do my bit over the years and reduce my carbon footprint. Nothing dramatic but changes to lifestyle...basic insulation around the house, cut back on meat, avoid flights/cruises abroad and take holidays in the UK (that's why I do not need a passport), an extra layer of clothing rather than turn up the heating and planting a tree or two. During my stay in Devon we held an annual tree week event and over a period of 6 years collectively planted around 10,000 trees on Dartmoor in conjunction with the Moor Trees Charity. 

We probably do not have much influence on what our government does or does not do, on the phasing out of fossil fuel power stations and the introduction of all the infrastructure to support the switch to electric transport. President Trump may pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and there's not much we can do to change his mind. However, we can all choose what we eat, how we move around, where we take holidays and weekend breaks and generally how we live our lives. It's easy to think what one person chooses to do or not do will not make any difference but the way we act will influence the people around us and will have a knock-on effect. Small lifestyle changes taken by millions of individuals will have a significant impact on the big picture.

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.
For starters, a cow on average release between 70 and 120 kg of methane each year. Methane is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide (CO2). But the negative effect on the climate of methane is 23 times higher than the effect of CO2. Therefore the release of about 100 kg methane per year for each cow is equivalent to about 2,300 kg CO2 per year.

Secondly land use - without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and use 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture.

Another area of concern highlighted in the report is aviation which is growing at a rapid pace due to 'cheap' flights. It currently accounts for up to 5% of all global warming emissions. Air travel has a much greater impact per passenger mile travelled compared to road or rail. Studies show that high altitude emissions which also include water vapour as well as CO2, nitrous oxides and sooty particulates from the burning of kerosene. Aviation is the fastest growing area of all contributors to global warming. Most air travellers are blissfully unaware of how their flying behaviour contributes to global warming.

Aviation, along with shipping, was given special status and excluded from the Kyoto and Paris climate change agreements. Also, under the Chicago Convention, countries are not permitted to levy fuel duties or VAT on international flights. Not that our political parties are looking to restrict cheap flights!


Hopefully our governments will take these issues more seriously but judging by the progress of the Green Party over recent years I am not holding my breath.
In the absence of governments and business grasping the nettle, it will fall to individuals to instigate some changes.

So, a few suggestions:

  • think about reducing consumption of meat or going veggie
  • look into the option of electric cars or even car share
  • walk or cycle short distances (2 miles or less)
  • think about food miles and choose local produce
  • think about second-hand clothes from charity shops rather than new
  • think about UK holidays to avoid air travel/cruises
  • put on an extra layer of clothing rather than turn up heating
  • look out for opportunities to plant a tree in your community
  • support an environmental organisation


People talk about saving the planet...to be honest, the planet really doesn't care whether we 'save' it or not because it will carry on regardless. What matters is whether we can continue with a relatively benign environment much as we have become used to over the past 10,000 years, or whether we stubbornly stick out collective heads in the sand and create a very hostile planet for out children and grandchildren.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world." In other words, although life changes are inevitable, we can also initiate personal change so we can rise to the challenges that we all face. It is empowering and means we take some responsibility for the changes we want to see happen without relying on other people to make the changes. It's about bringing your beliefs and lifestyle into closer alignment.

Our politicians spend much of their time sqabbling over Brexit but our climate scientists remind us all that the existential threat of the hour is global warming. The window to make the changes required becomes smaller with each passing year.

Further Research


Are you worried by climate change? What do you think our government needs to do now? What changes have you made (or intend to make) in your personal lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint? Maybe you think the scientists have got it wrong and it's all unnecessary scaremongering? Leave a comment below.