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Sins of emission

12 October 2018

TO CALL someone “otherworldly” is to suggest a lack of connec­tion with worldly affairs. It is normally said with affection. After Monday, such an attitude should be disallowed. In the campaigning slogan, there is no Planet B. Disregard for the world that God created is more Manichaean than Christian in origin. When this is combined with high consumption, as among many Trump-supporting Evangelicals in the United States, theological error is compounded by hypocrisy. By contrast, the people who are most religious lead the simplest lives, with the smallest global footprint, because they love the world around them.

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published on Monday, is calculatingly upbeat, concentrating on how it should be possible to keep global warming down to 1.5° Celsius instead of the threatened 2° or worse. When the good news still means 122 million more people pushed into extreme poverty, the undermining of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, the additional deaths of 38,000 people annually from heat stress, 48,000 from diarrhoea, 60,000 from malaria, and 95,000 from childhood undernutrition (these projections about a 1.5°C increase are all from the IPCC report), it is terrifying to contemplate what the bad news will be if global warming continues unchecked. As it is, the area of greatest scientific uncertainty is the rate of change: cutting emissions by 45 per cent within 11 years may not be enough.

The response of national governments to the IPCC’s report has been cautious so far. Fortunately, it is not all up to them. In the past few years, the economics have shifted. The succession of extreme weather events means that business now acknowledges that global warming will cost much more than measures to combat it. This should be taken together with the fact that onshore wind farms are now the cheapest energy facilities to build; that the favourable economics of electrification are transforming transport; and that employment is boosted by these new technologies. Were we not working against such a tight deadline, the Government would be able merely to support such measures, not promote them.

Because of the timing, however, the Government should step up, change its subsidy structure to favour renewable energy, cut energy use, rethink transport, support new technology, abandon fracking, and look at a host of other measures, such as carbon capture. It should do all this because it is essential, regardless of the vagaries of public opinion. On the other hand, it will act more quickly, and more willingly, if it is given encouragement by the electorate.

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