The words “I’m too young to do this. We children shouldn’t have to do this.” and the blog title are from Greta Thunberg. Greta started a school strike in Sweden in August 2018 in protest about international inaction over the climate crisis. This simple action has catapulted her to global prominence. But we all need to be involved in the climate crisis and demand that our politicians and governments make our planet their priority.
We have until 2030 to avoid the worst
Global temperatures are currently 1°C hotter than pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement strengthened the global response to this threat by aiming to keep the global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. We have only 11 years for global heating to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C. Even a further 0.5°C of heating will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to limit the increase to only 1.5°C but these changes are affordable and feasible. Limiting the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C could prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic. This requires halving global emissions of greenhouse gases by 2030 and ending emissions by 2050.
In response to the statutory Committee on Climate Change report released in May, the Climate Change Act 2008 was amended in June and commits the UK government by law to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050. This would require tens of billions of pounds of investment every year which is about 1-2% of our GDP. Not acting would be far more costly. The report from the Committee on Climate Change states that a net-zero target is not credible unless policy is ramped up significantly.
The UK Government has the legislative means and the money to tackle this huge challenge over the next 11 years. But does it have the will for such a huge transformation of how we all live? The House of Commons declared an environment and climate emergency in May. But this does not legally compel the Government to act.
Local Authorities have also been declaring climate emergencies. We know political will can be transformative and such actions encourage and motivate us all. But what are the delivery details of these declarations – and by when? Time is short.
What are our professional institutes doing?
The Society for the Environment is currently updating its 2015 Environment: Priorities for the next Government and the 2019 version will have a large part dealing with climate change. The Landscape Institute declared a climate and biological diversity emergency in July as a commitment to a significant long-term shift in thinking, behaviour and policy. The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management also declared a climate and ecological emergency in July with a commitment to a net zero target by 2030 for the organisation and a focus on using their members to advise on adaptation and resilience to the effects of a hotter world.
CIEEM has today issued its own declaration on the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. The declaration calls for action from its members, governments and society on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through nature-based solutions. The climate emergency and biodiversity crisis are inextricably linked and must be addressed together. In addition to the declaration, CIEEM has also published a briefing on the current evidence and actions. The Institute is forming a working group to formulate specific advice and actions for members and the sector.
In addition, the CIEEM 2019 Scottish conference will focus on climate change and the impacts on Scotland’s wildlife and landscapes. The chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage understands the need for a nature-rich future to deal with the climate emergency.
We need leadership to deal with this global crisis. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the US Congress who introduced the Green New Deal calling for urgent measures to deal with the climate crisis, said recently: “To be a leader is to come first, to set the agenda. But what people don’t realise is that leadership is also enormously difficult. Leadership is a responsibility. Leadership is not fun. Leadership is about doing things before anybody else does them. Leadership is about taking risks. Leadership is about taking decisions when you don’t know 100% what the outcome is going to be.”
Solutions are available to be used now
Critical environmental issues have been dealt with by international bans in the past (e.g. DDT and related pesticides killing birds of prey, toxic tetraethyl lead in petrol, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroying the ozone layer). But the climate crisis is completely different. The CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution comes from burning coal, oil and natural gas. Fossil fuels can only be banned if huge changes are made in every country in the world. This affects everyone.
The improving economics and increasing capacity of solar, wind and tidal power demonstrate the way forward. CO2 removal through forest planting and habitat restoration will be needed. There are new jobs in these new industries with technological research driving down unit costs. The future of the planet lies with these young industries. And not with the nuclear industry with its huge costs, complex consenting, long construction times and the long-term legacy of dealing with irradiated materials.
Are you willing to do more to help prevent catastrophic climate change?
Four suggestions that you can do now because you love nature and care for the Earth:
- Get involved with your local council in declaring a climate emergency. Initial targets should be zero carbon by 2030 in relation to the CO2 emissions from fossil fuels in local authority activities and operations. Zero carbon will bring enhanced air quality, lower energy bills and job opportunities in the growing low-carbon energy sector.
- Ensure that any pension scheme and other financial organisations that you are involved with divest from companies with fossil fuel interests. This is surprisingly difficult to do but such changes are critical. Worldwide, many institutions, cities and organisations have divested in what has become a real challenge to companies involved with fossil fuels.
- Provide sound advice about adaptation for the increasing effects of the rapidly changing climate. Resilient ecological networks are needed where habitats are joined up by green and blue corridors. Extend these across landscapes for species to colonise new areas. We all need contact with natural environments every day for physical and mental health and well-being. John Lawton’s Making Space for Nature has the mantra of ‘More, Bigger, Better, Joined Up’. England is the focus, but the principles apply to different contexts and geographies.
- Create clear narratives to explain to politicians, to the public and to other professionals why the climate crisis is critical to our future. Branding Biodiversity is superb about how to deliver the right messages to policy-makers and to the public.
About the author
John is an experienced ecologist and environmental manager who has worked in both public and private sectors. He is a CIEEM Fellow and was President from 2012-2015. He is a member of the UK Urban Ecology Forum which is linked to the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) promoting socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities.
Blog posts on the CIEEM website are the views and opinions of the author(s) credited. They do not necessarily represent the views or position of CIEEM. The CIEEM blog is intended to be a space in which we publish though-provoking and discussion-stimulating articles.