With the papers concentrating on Covid and the American election, there’s a good chance you may have missed some of the recent news about the climate. Most important must be Donald Trump’s last act as President, to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Fortunately, President-elect Biden has pledged to rejoin as soon as he takes office. Biden’s policy is a target to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. He plans for a $1.7tn investment in a green recovery from the Covid crisis, which would reduce US emissions in the next 30 years by about 75 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide or its equivalents. This is great news, but unfortunately, Bidens plans don’t go far enough to keep us safe.
Boris Johnson has also come up with a 10 point plan to tackle the climate crisis. Nearly as soon as it had been published, it turned into a 9 point plan as the pledges to convert our gas boilers to air and ground source heat pumps by 2023 disappeared! The 10 point plan has been widely criticised for being far too little too late.
Green MP Caroline Lucas compared the “paltry” sum of new money ( sources disagree on how much this is, but £4 billion seems a fair consensus) with the £27 billion earmarked for roads and the £36 billion being invested in a green recovery in Germany. Compared to Biden’s $1.7 trillion (£1.3 trillion) it is just 0.3% of the American plan.
Green Party leader Jonathan Bartley commented, “It’s like dialling 999 when your house is on fire, but Boris Johnson turns up hours late with a garden hose.”
What Biden’s and Johnson’s plans have in common is that they are both aiming to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. A 2050 target means the earth is likely to exceed 2 degrees warming, so there is a great danger that global heating will spiral out of control, as numerous feedback loops kick in.
The goals of the Paris Agreement are to limit warming to “well-below 2C above preindustrial levels” and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C. Unless our politician’s economic plans match what the science is telling us is needed to save us from climate breakdown, they are futile.
Recent global news reveals many continued signs of the planet reaching breaking point. Temperatures in the arctic this November have been 6.8oC degrees above the average for 1990. Hurricanes are on the increase. Local climate scientist John Grant tweeted “Just read on the NOAA Hurricane Centre website that #Iota is now a hurricane! It is already a record-breaking storm as it’s the 30th for the Atlantic this year (the largest number ever recorded). Terrifyingly this might NOT be the new normal but the beginning of an ongoing change?”
In the Antarctic, scientists continue to warn of the catastrophic effects we would face if the Thwaites glacier continues to melt. It could lead to a 12-foot increase in sea levels. Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist Jeffrey Severinghaus compares the glacier to a boulder rolling down a hill. It is already being pushed, but soon it could gain its own momentum, and when this happens nothing will be able to stop its fall into the ocean. The scientists say this is not yet inevitable, but it depends on how quickly we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Leading climate scientist Kevin Anderson says that it is the lifestyles of a relatively wealthy few that gave rise to the lion’s share of emissions.
“Globally the wealthiest 10% are responsible for half of all emissions, the wealthiest 20% for 70% of emissions. If regulations forced the top 10% to cut their emissions to the level of the average EU citizen, and the other 90% made no change in their lifestyles, that would still cut total emissions by a third.
Greta Thunberg recently commented on “Frequent-flying “‘super emitters” who represent just 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018.” 11% of the world’s population flew in 2018. Everyone is not equally responsible for causing the climate crisis. “
We need to do far better than Johnson’s or Biden’s plans. Locally an impressive coalition of Green and Trade Union groups called the Green New Deal UK (South Yorkshire hub), are calling on the Sheffield Regional Mayor Dan Jarvis to invest in our colleges. We need to get Further Education colleges across the region gearing up now to teach the skills needed for making our existing housing stock energy-efficient, for the nature restoration work to reduce flooding risks and protect biodiversity, and to install and maintain new energy technologies – be that heat pumps, on-shore solar and wind capacity, or zero-emission buses. Planning for the longer-term future is clearly the right thing to do, but we need to take action now.
Kevin Anderson on Johnson’s 10 point plan
Carbon Brief on Johnson 10 point plan
John Grant on Twitter
Yale Scientists on Thwaites Glacier