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The 2014 budget shrunk from climate change. To halt a slide into disaster, here are 7 steps we should really be taking

Hitting our own emissions targets would be a start

We’re all familiar with a certain story about a flood, an ark and a lot of animals. The story ends with an agreement between the two leads, Man and God. They make a pact that the world should never be destroyed. The deal is sealed with a rainbow in the sky that was to festoon the firmament after every storm: a recurring reminder that earth should never be flooded again.

Well, not that George Osborne was party to that particular literary feat, but he certainly seems to have forgotten about the deal. And the floods. And the notion that we should try to stop them from happening again. (Weren’t we promised the “greenest government ever”?)

Instead of squaring up to what, last month, our Prime Minister called “one of the most serious threats that this country and this world faces” our 2014 budget has shrunk from the challenge of climate change. The minimum price of carbon has been frozen (a move that will discourage investment in renewable energy), a £7bn support package has been handed to energy intensive industries, and Mr Osborne has declared his heartfelt intention to squeeze “every drop of oil we can” from the North Sea. 

Only this week, The Independent disclosed a leaked UN report, compiled by the worlds leading scientists, warning that by the end of the century, climate change will displace millions, cause famine, exacerbate disease and wipe trillions off the global economy.

The budget is shortsighted. Climate change is more serious than ever. The question we should be asking is what we can do about it.

So, here’s a short list to get us started…

1. Switching to Renewable Energy

The majority of gases that are swaddling the earth to an unnatural sweat are produced by burning Fossil Fuels, such as coal and oil, for energy. If we want to deal with climate change we need to stop doing that. The good news is that there are lots of options and a 2011 study by the IPCC made the case that we can meet 80 per cent of our energy demands by 2050 with technology that already exists. Renewable sources include solar energy, wind energy and bio energy as well as geothermal and hydropower. There are pros and cons to each of these but committing to clean fuel would be a giant step in the right direction.

(N.B. Fracking is not a source of renewable energy.)

2. Investing in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

CCS is unproven so far, but in theory we can use it to create clean coal. The process works by storing carbon dioxide in the ground, rather than emitting it into the atmosphere, as we do at present. The International Energy Agency estimates that CCS can provide 20 per cent of the carbon cuts needed by 2050 to hit current targets and that the cost of tackling climate change without CCS could be 70% higher than with it. Despite a faltering history, the UK’s £1billion carbon capture storage project made some headway last month as £100 million was secured for testing the technology at two existing power plants.


3. Hitting our targets

The 2008 Climate Change Act broke new ground in establishing a legally binding target for emissions reductions in the UK. We are committed to reducing national emissions in the UK by at least 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050.  To keep the country’s progress on track the Act also established a system of five-yearly carbon budgets. Clearly, to make progress on Climate change we need to be hitting these targets. However last year’s report by the The Committee on Climate Change said carbon emissions rose by 3.5 per cent in 2012 and without further effort, the government would fail to meet the targets in its carbon budgets after 2017.

4. Working with the world

Emissions don’t respect borders. The effect of individual nations chugging away at fossil fuels is felt all over the globe. From flooding in Shropshire to famine in Africa climate change is an issue that is affecting everyone. However, The Kyoto Protocol, our major agreement on climate change, is limp and patchy. A 2010 study by the World Bank noted that protocol had only had a slight effect on curbing global emissions growth. While it’s yet to be seen whether a recent agreement between China and America, the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases, to work together on climate change will amount to much, the EU needs to lead the way in the run up to adopting a new International Protocol in Paris, next year.

5. Solve or quit Carbon Trading

The Emissions Trading Scheme is the EU’s flagship climate change policy. It works by capping emissions and then creating a market for those emissions. The idea is that this provides an incentive to reduce emissions while permitting a safe level of carbon use, up to the cap. But, it’s not working. A study by thinktank Sandbag, found that a huge oversupply of carbon pollution permits will cancel out the emission reductions achieved through other policies such as renewable energy. It needs major reform or scrapping.

6. Stop cutting down trees

Trees act as a sponge for Carbon Dioxide. They lock up the very stuff we are trying to get rid of. In the UK trees remove about 4 million tones of carbon from the atmosphere each year. Which means we should plant more trees.  A recent Forestry Commission report has noted that deforestation accounts for around 20% of the worlds Carbon dioxide emissions, more than the whole transport sector. Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering, that the immediate effects of over-logging cause many of the problems that we’re worried about happening due to climate change. Google “The Amazon”.

7.  Education

For us to tackle climate change we need to know about it. Last year Michael Gove stepped back from the brink of scrapping climate change from the National Curriculum and the polls are constantly wavering on how many Britons ‘believe’ in  climate change. Most recently we’re at 47 per cent. The world’s scientists have never been more agreed that climate change should be thought of in the same way as gravity, or photosynthesis. So, tell me more.