The UK Prime Minister is apparently considering weakening some of the government’s key commitments in a major policy shift. He is apparently considering a major change, committing to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 but in a “more proportionate way”. This could be no more than the PM flying a kite to test the response, but this feels more than that. It looks like a retreat on the climate agenda, and he may argue that Britain has over-delivered on confronting climate change and that other countries need to do more to pull their weight.
In the last few days The World Weather Attribution group has reported that up to 50% more rain has fallen as a result of climate change caused by our burning of fossil fuels. Extreme weather has become more frequent and intense with longer, hotter heat waves; longer droughts; drying vegetation to fuel wildfires; and more extreme rain leading to extensive flooding.
I wrote here back in July that Michael Gove, the Levelling Up and Housing Secretary, warned against treating the environment as a “religious crusade” calling for a relaxation of some net zero measures. The Independent reported that Rishi Sunak is reconsidering green policies which could see consumers out of pocket amid fears that they could be electorally damaging: “A government spokesman insisted the UK is a “world leader on net zero” but said ministers would “always look to protect consumers from any rising costs”. The G20 also failed to reach a consensus on reducing the burning of fossil fuels.
The Net Zero by 2050 target is being used extensively to justify business as usual. Today’s emissions will be in our atmosphere continuing to warm our planet for many decades. As the IPCC’s sixth assessment concluded, “… climate resilient development prospects are increasingly limited if current greenhouse gas emissions do not rapidly decline, especially if 1.5°C global warming is exceeded in the near-term (high confidence). These prospects are constrained by past development, emissions and climate change…”
As Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, pointed out in March as the sixth assessment was published that ““Global emissions need to be reduced by nearly 43% by 2030 for the world to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Delay is not compatible with reducing the damage done by global warming.
As the current leader of the UK Conservative Party prepares to scale back efforts to reduce the burning of fossil fuels and the consequent greenhouse gas emissions it is a good time to recall what Margaret Thatcher said to United Nations General Assembly (Global Environment) on November 8th 1989:
“It is life itself—human life, the innumerable species of our planet—that we wantonly destroy. It is life itself that we must battle to preserve.
But the problem of global climate change is one that affects us all and action will only be effective if it is taken at the international level.
It is no good squabbling over who is responsible or who should pay. Whole areas of our planet could be subject to drought and starvation if the pattern of rains and monsoons were to change as a result of the destruction of forests and the accumulation of greenhouse gases.
We have to look forward not backward and we shall only succeed in dealing with the problems through a vast international, co-operative effort.
We should always remember that free markets are a means to an end. They would defeat their object if by their output they did more damage to the quality of life through pollution than the well-being they achieve by the production of goods and services.
On the basis then of sound science and sound economics, we need to build a strong framework for international action.
Mr President, the environmental challenge which confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no one can opt out.
We should work through this great organisation and its agencies to secure worldwide agreements on ways to cope with the effects of climate change, the thinning of the Ozone Layer, and the loss of precious species.
We need a realistic programme of action and an equally realistic timetable.
Each country has to contribute, and those countries that are industrialised must contribute more to help those who are not.
The work ahead will be long and exacting. We should embark on it hopeful of success, not fearful of failure.”
Where is today’s leadership? Opting out?