Best News Ever or Big COP Out?

Best News Ever or Big COP Out?

When COP 21 ended in December last year with international agreement, there was much jubilation. For the first time everyone had agreed that

“...climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions…”

– and moreover, the agreement also emphasised its “...serious concern” and ” the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C...”

These are big agreements, especially the  latter; because if we add up all the promises of all the countries who made them, we arrive at a collective set of actions that will result in something between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees of warming, not 1.5; and everyone has now accepted that ‘s way too much.  So every country was invited to ‘…communicate, by 2020, to the secretariat mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies that will be published to the world.

Now, call me presumptuous and impatient, but that’s four whole years away – and that’s just to have a strategy! What about DOING something NOW!  That kind of kicking the can down the road would not have been countenanced in 1940 (when there was another urgent threat hanging over us) and if it had we’d have been sunk. The scale of the problem is every bit as large and frightening today, and the need for a concerted response is no less imperative. Even if we get those plans in place, let’s not forget that there is already 1 degree registered and another 0.7 degrees built into the system; we are going to have to stop emitting greenhouse gases now – and then remove some of them by 2050 in order to have any chance of 1.5 degrees.  Then we will have to mitigate against the effects of that 1.5 degrees; so for a start it would be a bad idea to build houses on flood plains…

Since the Great Agreement, we’ve had confirmation that last December was the wettest month ever on record, last winter was the warmest ever in England and Wales, where records go back to 1659 and February was the hottest month globally ever recorded. Yes, it really is happening.  But our government continues to drift in the wrong direction: reducing requirements for home energy efficiency, abandoning the fuel price escalator that would encourage people to move to more fuel efficient cars; suggesting the speed limit should be increased to 80mph on motorways; pulling out of carbon capture and storage research; continuing to encourage fracking and, if not killing off the renewables industry, at least giving it a hefty dose of poison.  All the time politicians go on maintaining the stance that we are ‘on target’ – as if (even if it were true) something as utterly fundamental as global warming can be reduced to doing our bit and nothing more.

One is forced to wonder whether the government has again taken its eye off the ball.  That is, if it ever had its eye on the ball at all.  To those whose concern is short-term politics, long-term thinking takes last place.  We will not be able to stop climate change by dredging rivers after a flood, closing our borders to EU citizens, nationalising a steelworks or responding in some other knee-jerk fashion to whatever disaster hits us next. There has to be a real strategy; and we have to stick to it.