THE Government is set to ask the UK’s independent advisers on climate change to review the country’s emissions strategy after a stark report this week from UN scientists revealed the scale of the danger from global warming.
The Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry, was reported to have told European Union environment ministers that she would make the request to the Committee on Climate Change on Monday, asking them to review the country’s 2050 emissions targets to ensure that they were in line with keeping the rise in global temperature to 1.5ºC. Currently, average temperature has increased one degree since human activity began emitting large quantities of carbon dioxide at the Industrial Revolution.
This week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) laid out the consequences of breaching this 1.5ºC threshold. The difference between 1.5ºC and 2ºC of warming would mean that twice as many people affected by water scarcity and three times as many by heat stress, besides adding 10cm to global sea-level rise, which would mean ten million more people being forced to leave their homes. It would also be the difference between saving the world’s coral reefs and their almost certain destruction.
Last week, Christian Aid released a report which showed that some of the biggest cities in the world, including London, Houston, and Jakarta — recently hit by a tsunami — are in danger of being flooded if sea levels continue to rise at the current rate.
The IPCC says that achieving the 1.5ºC target would require “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. It would, however, deliver “clear benefits to people and natural eco-systems”, as well as “ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society”.
Responding to the report, a coalition of the world’s least-developed countries, the International Institute for Environment and Development’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, said that the findings showed that previous commitments to limit warming to 2ºC would not be enough to protect millions of their citizens.
REUTERSTwo photos show the difference in ice on the Rhone glacier between 5 July 2008 (left) and 13 September 2018
Gebru Jember Endalew, from Ethiopia, who chairs the LDC, said: “Communities across the world are already experiencing the devastating impacts of 1°C global warming. Each fraction of a degree that global temperatures rise is extremely dangerous.
“Limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C means significantly decreased levels of food insecurity, water shortages, destruction of infrastructure, and displacement from sea-level rise and other impacts. To the lives and livelihoods of billions, that half a degree is everything.”
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, who leads on environment issues for the Church of England, challenged the UK Government to lead the way in decarbonising the economy. “The evidence published by the IPCC shows that the risk level of climate change is now critical,” he said. “Ours is the first generation to know and understand this, and probably the last to be able to do something meaningful towards climate justice.
“Building on the ten-year anniversary of the Climate Change Act, an ambitious UK Government would seek to be a world leader by committing to a target of net zero emissions by 2050.”
Numerous churches have responded to the call to act on climate change: more than 5500 churches of different denominations have switched to 100-per-cent renewable electricity tariffs. But the strength of the warning from the IPCC will put further pressure on the C of E to withdraw its capital from fossil-fuel companies.
A campaigner for the charity Operation Noah, James Buchanan, said: “Fossil-fuel companies have consistently shown their unwillingness to transition away from coal, oil, and gas, and must take a large share of responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in.
“The IPCC report reinforces the case for divestment, and will increase pressure on institutions still invested in fossil-fuel companies. Churches can play a leading role in this shift to a carbon-neutral world by moving their investments out of these companies and into clean energy, as well as raising our voices in local and national debates on the issue.”
PAThe co-chairs of the IPCC at a press conference near Seoul in South Korea on Monday
The fifth mark of mission of the Anglican Communion is to “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”.
France, where the Paris Agreement was struck (News, 18 December 2015), called on the signatories of the accord to redouble their efforts to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. A joint statement from French ministers said: “France has shouldered its responsibilities by setting itself the ambitious target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.”
The director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, Richard Black, said that there was now no excuse not to take action: “The IPCC’s overall conclusions are that it’s just about feasible to keep global warming to 1.5ºC if the majority of governments get their acts together now — and that it’s well worth doing so.
“So now it’s decision time. Will governments see the value of the effort they pledged at the Paris climate summit and enact a transition, which the IPCC concludes can be done, to a net zero economy? Or will they allow the world to become a vastly poorer place?”
Joe Ware is a journalist at Christian Aid. Read this week’s special environmental report in the Church Times, out today. You can also listen to Richard Black on this week’s Podcast: