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Climate emergency: what’s the plan?

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By Christopher Appleby
Mar 31, 2020

Ecotricity and Friends of the Earth bring to you... Climate emergency: what’s the plan?

Parliament has declared a climate emergency because when it comes to stopping climate breakdown – we're in the last-chance saloon.

We need to put the brakes on climate breakdown as soon as possible. That means urgently cutting greenhouse gas emissions until we’re only producing as many as the earth can naturally absorb.

Extreme weather events and sea-level rises are already devastating people’s lives and, without urgent intervention, the planet is in danger of hurtling towards irreversible ecological collapse.

We've identified 6 areas the UK government should focus on immediately. But first, let’s define what we actually mean by a climate emergency.

What is a climate emergency?

For those islanders who have already lost their homes to sea level rise – like the low-lying Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea – the idea of a climate emergency is not new.

The impacts on many of the planet’s poorest people are a good enough reason alone to call the current situation an "emergency".

But, technically, we're in a climate emergency because it's our last chance to stop runaway climate change. Alarm bells are ringing and it isn't a drill.

We're in danger of going past points of no return: tipping points that will accelerate global warming and cause an irreversible collapse of natural systems that we depend on as well as causing significant harm to millions of people, now and in the future.

So, what are these climate tipping points?

Loss of coral reefs

Coral reefs are under immense pressure, from over-fishing, nutrient pollution, ocean acidification and, of course, climate breakdown.

The world’s top climate scientists – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – estimate that a 1.5oC rise in global temperatures would cause coral reefs to decline by a further 70–90%.

The loss of coral reefs is predicted by researchers to harm tens of millions of people. Coral reefs not only provide a direct food supply to both humans and other animals but they are also a nursery for around a quarter of the ocean’s fish. In addition, they provide flood protection for low lying communities and ecosystems.

Without much more rapid and radical action on climate change we can probably kiss coral reefs and the services they provide goodbye.

Irreversible melting of ice sheets

The IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5°C stated that:

“Marine ice sheet instability in Antarctica and/or irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheet could result in multi-metre rise in sea level over hundreds to thousands of years. These instabilities could be triggered at around 1.5°C to 2°C of global warming.”

We can’t be sure how much sea-level rise this would lead to – the understanding of how meltwater exacerbates the loss of ice is still developing but it isn’t likely to reach more than a metre by 2100. Although even this amount of rise in sea-levels will cause huge hardship and costs, it is estimated that over the next centuries sea-levels could rise  by 10 meters or more with devastating effects.

The impact of all this freshwater pouring into the oceans will significantly weaken ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream – and cause further disruptions to global weather.

Losing these ice sheets would be a calamitous injustice for future generations.

Loss of the Amazon

Destroying 40% of the Amazon, through logging, burning and climate change would be enough to tip it from a forest into savanna and grassland.

If it were just climate change, and by some miracle logging was stopped immediately, this loss would occur at a higher temperature rise (around 3°C). But with current rates of logging, along with fires and current levels of global warming all working together, we're set to lose the Amazon a lot earlier.

The Amazon is a truly amazing biodiversity hotspot. But significantly, it’s also a huge carbon store.

Savannas store less than half the carbon of the Amazon forest, so the conversion of the huge forest to savanna would accelerate global warming even further.

Contagious collapses

Then there’s the potential domino effect of crossing these and other tipping points. The Stockholm Resilience Centre, an internationally recognised centre for research on global sustainability, calls this "contagious collapses".

Crossing one tipping point could trigger changes that make crossing the second more likely, and then the third, and so on.

This isn’t certain but it’s plausible and the rational reaction is to cut greenhouses gases as fast as possible.

Climate Action Plan:

What needs to be done

The school strikers, street protests and campaigning groups like Friends of the Earth have turned up the heat on the UK parliament and in turn it has declared a climate emergency. That’s a good start.

Our best chance of avoiding these tipping points is to keep global warming below 1.5°C.

Here are 6 solutions the government should commit to combat climate breakdown:

1. Power

Electricity can't come from dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas anymore - instead of importing dirty energy, the UK should be powered by a home-grown renewables sector.

The government must pull out all the stops (through finance and regulation) to double the speed of renewable energy rollout and achieve 100% clean energy from the wind, sun and sea.

The offshore wind industry is a UK success story with new jobs and plummeting costs. The government has said it wants 40GW of offshore wind power by 2030 and has said it will help onshore wind and solar with guaranteed prices. But they haven’t changed the planning rules that are holding back onshore wind.

We need a lot more renewable energy than the government is currently considering.

2. Transport

Crack down on the most polluting modes of transport  - introduce a frequent flyer levy and phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans within the decade and help motorists switch rapidly to electric vehicles (with electricity powered by renewable sources).

Public transport needs to become the go-to way of getting about across all UK regions - spending more money on cheaper  public transport, such as free buses for the under 30's, improving services out of cities while making it easier for people to cycle and walk wherever possible.

3. Trees and food

The government needs to put funding in place to double tree cover (which removes planet-wrecking emissions from the air around us) and incentivise nature-friendly farming.

Introduce policy to support for sustainable diets and reducing food waste.

4. Buildings and homes

Fund a massive insulation scheme and shift to homes heated mainly by electricity, provided by the UK’s vast renewable energy resources.

5. Consumption

Reduce waste and remove single-use plastics - our current system encourages us to waste food and rely on single-use plastics or short-lived products, a lot of which end up in landfill, incinerators or in our seas and waterways.

Redesign products and reshape how the economy works so that we extract, use and consume much less of the Earth’s natural resources.

6. International justice

Support the poorer, more vulnerable countries dealing with the impacts of industrialisation and climate breakdown - poorer countries (predominantly in the Global South) suffer disproportionately when it comes to the effects of climate breakdown and yet often they have contributed the least to global carbon emissions.

The UK is in the top 10 of the world's worst emitters of all time. And to make matters worse, we're also effectively funding climate breakdown.

Over the last decade, billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on supporting overseas oil and gas projects. Instead of funding such projects, the UK government must pay its fair share to support vulnerable countries dealing with the impacts of climate breakdown.

Together we can beat the climate emergency

Humans are ingenious. We’ve sent people to space, traced the history of our genes and how they affect our appearance and behaviour, and developed medicines that have extended our lives.

Our next big achievement is to stop runaway climate change.

Only 12 months ago the school strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests were not on the radar and their actions have led to parliament announcing a climate emergency.

Now let’s go one step further and make the government adopt our Climate Action Plan.

Ecotricity & Friends of the Earth fighting the climate crisis

From being the world’s first green energy supplier to becoming Britain’s greenest energy company, Ecotricity isn’t just about 100% renewable electricity and green gas, Ecotricity go further than any other UK energy supplier to make sure everything we do goes towards building a greener Britain and fighting the climate emergency.

  • 100% green electricity - the electricity Ecotricity supply comes from 100% renewable energy sources like the wind and the sun

  • Ecotricity uses the money from customers’ bills to build new sources of green energy, maintaining existing green energy sources and researching new technologies. This is called bills-into-mills. We’re the only green energy company with this unique model. For every unit of energy you use, we make sure we put a unit of green energy into the grid

  • Vegan energy – Ecotricity are the only energy company in the UK to be recognised by The Vegan Society for our vegan energy making sure that everything that goes into making its green electricity and gas is free from animal by-products

  • A national network of electric vehicle chargers powered by 100% renewable energy

  • Ecotricity are the only energy company in the world that reports the carbon emissions of it's entire operation. From planning, building and running energy mills, to the operation of it’s offices – everything they do is green and they are planning on becoming totally carbon neutral by 2025.

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