Climate Emergency from acceptance to action

Climate Change has hit the headlines a lot more in recent weeks and it is now accepted – in words at least – that we are in a climate emergency. The tricky bit will now be to keep the climate emergency ‘front of mind’ for our decision makers, and all of us. MPs have been quoted as saying they have not given the climate a higher priority because they have not had this mandate from their constituents. Now is the time to put that right.

At a local level in Stirling, Stephen Kerr MP has invited constituents to give their views on what neds to be done on climate change. Stirling Methodist Church’s Green Team has written to him with some challenges (see end of this blog) and he has accepted an invitation to continued discussion. If you are in the Stirling area and would like to add your voice, please get in touch (jon@cameroncape.net) . You can join in anywhere with a letter to your MP or MSP, see here for resources.

The BBC Climate Change film with David Attenborough can be a powerful resource for yourself or to share. There is also a four minute version.

Other snippets:

  1. Sea level rise – estimates have been too conservative says a new “structured expert judgement” report, which warns that 200 million people could lose their homes this century
  2. The Bank of England warns of “a Minsky Moment” and agrees to disclose climate risk on its balance sheet. $20 trillion of assets are at risk of being wiped out by climate change if companies fail to prepare.
  3. Climate Outreach launch a useful new report on “mainstreaming low carbon lifestyles”

Stirling Methodist Church’s Green Team email to Stephen Kerr, Stirling MP

Dear Stephen

Thanks for your letter of 5th April on the subject of climate change and the environment.
Your interest in constituents’ views on this issue is welcomed.

We have discussed and set out below responses to the questions which you have posed.

  1. How important is the issue of Climate Change?

Along with other and inter-related  ‘planetary boundary’ issues – see 5 below – Climate Change must be the number one political priority locally, nationally and internationally. Thirty two years ago in 1987, the Brundtland Commission established the concept of sustainable development as  the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Future generations will judge this generation. On present trends we  will be found to have failed both our young people and future generations. As David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, across the generations, have acknowledged, human civilisation along with  many fellow species now face an existential threat. There is no Planet B.

  1. How important is improving the local environment?

Climate change and related planetary boundaries are foundational issues for our time. They impact on our local environment, for example in relation to flood risk, but as yet far less than they do on local environments in the global south. For south pacific islands this is meaning a threat to the very existence of a local environment.  Extreme weather events, glacial loss and rainfall loss are causing major death and disruption in local environments today in already poor  many areas. For the UK, poor air quality is a key local environmental concern for major cities in particular  and action to address this can be complementary to climate change action.  This is less critical for Stirling. In addition to flood risk, a key local environmental concern for Stirling is the maintenance of discrete communities by maintaining ample  green space between them. Maintenance of natural habitats for example by shifting towards more organic and sustainable farming methods is also a key concern.

  1. What can UK Government do to address Climate Change?

UK Government has been a global leader, for example in establishing legal long term  climate targets in a climate change act and the UK Government’s Clean Growth Strategy can provide a basis to continue in this leadership. However, sadly current evidence suggests that we are not on course to meet the targets which have been set. Earlier this month, BEIS published a report confirming that we ae off target and the gap is widening (See Note at end of this email). {Projections are always subject to uncertainty and some of the projected increase in the emissions gap may be due to enhanced measurement. But the gap is clear and this is before the need to toughen up on targets.
What can UK Government do?
As our MP we ask you to consider the following:

  1. Urge the UK Government to toughen its emissions targets with a new early ‘net zero’ emissions target. The date for such a target can be discussed. Many local authorities have set net zero targets including Oxfordshire whose net zero target is 2030.
  2. Having undertaken (i) urge UK Government to take sufficient action that its net zero target will be met.
  3. Raise the profile of climate change in public awareness. Make it the number one issue in your own political priorities and promote wider public understanding of the climate emergency which we face.
  4. Raise awareness of the strong contributions that action on  food (the need for a shift towards a more  plant based diet as the IPCC recommends to meet both climate, and  health needs) and  transport (motor and air in particular) need to make in our response to climate change – it is not all about energy. This relates both to Government action (e.g. bring forward the end of new non-electric car sales to 2030) and to our responsibilities as citizens
  5. Reinstate the Zero Carbon Homes Plan which George Osborne scrapped in 2015 under pressure from the developer Persimmon Homes (other developers backed the plan). According to a recent study, scrapping the plan has cost the UK more than £2bn in wasted energy (https://www.theconstructionindex.co.uk/news/view/cost-of-scrapping-zero-carbon-homes-revealed ) as well as contributing to the emission shortfall and wasting an economic opportunity for UK industry to be ‘ahead of the pack’ globally.  The 2019 Budget announcement of no gas heating  in new homes by 2025 is welcomed but not sufficient.
  6. Reinstate policy support for onshore wind, solar and other renewables, end fossil fuel subsidies encourage fossil fuel divestment and provide a level playing field for low carbon technologies. The latter has been called for by the trade association Energy UK in its April 2019 report the Future of Energy, see https://www.solarpowerportal.co.uk/news/level_low_carbon_playing_field_critical_to_energy_future_energy_uk_says

As the report emphasises, many steps can be taken which require no Government spending.
Energy represents the British energy sector as a whole. We would also urge you to consider the recommendations of the trade associations representing the renewables sector.

  1. Urge UK Government to echo the work of Scottish Government in thinking through and acting on the issues of Just Transition (local equity in the UK) and Climate Justice (global equity). More broadly, we would ask you to urge UK Government to take a lead in international discussions to set a  new context for international trade negotiations which acknowledges  that the UK and other counties which industrialised early have reaped economic benefit from levels of carbon emission over several centuries which are not possible responsibly for nations industrialising now and that, in calling for such nations to restrict emissions, climate justice requires acknowledgement of historical emissions. This is not a trivial point, it is a key to unlocking future agreement on effective levels of action and the absence of  adequate acknowledgement of this context has been key to the difficulties faced in past COP negotiations.
  2. Actively seek a cross-party consensus in the UK on the above actions. There is great value in policy competition across the political parties on the UK’s response to climate change and we do not expect or wish to see all parties adopting the same policy. However, the best chance of us emerging from this climate emergency successfully is if across the UK and across the world there is common cause and a commonly agreed ‘floor’ level of action on which there is political consensus. We would hope that something along the lines of the seven points above could provide the basis for such a consensus ‘floor’ level of action which reflects the urgency of our climate challenge.
  1. What can UK Government do to improve the quality of our local environment?

As set out in 2 above action to address climate change  and other planetary boundaries also impact positively on local environments.  Action on sustainable use of plastic is key amongst these actions (strongly relating to biodiversity as well as the local environment. Air quality action must relate to gas combustion in buildings as well as to transport and biomass. Action to avoid over development is also key.

  1. Other comments on the environment

Climate change as a challenge which is intertwined with other key challenges. These have been brought together in analysis of the planetary boundaries which  we as a civilisation breach at our peril. The nine key boundaries are analysed in the work of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, see https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html
We ask you to urge UK Government to acknowledge planetary boundaries and their interconnection as key challenges to inform all aspects of public policy.

We’d welcome your thoughts on these points and be happy to engage in further dialogue

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