The publication today of the latest IPCC report on the projected impacts of a warming world is the latest in a long line of wake-up calls. Last November's report on the physical science of climate change made clear that we are currently following the scenario with the highest risk - and we need to make a break with business as usual if we are to avoid the worst impacts. So what would it look like if we took climate change seriously and acted to keep global warming below 2C?
Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre – the UK’s leading climate policy research unit involving the collaboration of eight different universities – says that if we followed the science through and honoured the commitments we’ve made internationally, the EU would need to double its projected emissions cuts by 2030 – from 40 per cent to 80 per cent. This would mean revising the targets in the UK’s Climate Change Act and starting to make at least 10 per cent annual cuts in our greenhouse gas emissions immediately.
“The window for action is extremely tight. We need to radically reduce our energy consumption from now out to 2025 and at the same time very rapidly roll out a Marshall Plan for a low carbon energy supply. Those two things have to go hand in hand.” Instead of tinkering around with policies that make small changes, we would need bold action in key areas such as buildings and transport, requiring courage on the part of politicians and changes to how we live our lives.
“We’re on the cusp of having to take note of what is evidently happening around us but we’re still very reluctant to leave a political mindset that says we can deliver the changes using a bit of a carbon price, a few adverts trying to incentivise people to do things, and some carbon labelling. We still expect those types of piecemeal, ad-hoc mechanisms to deliver the sort of changes that are necessary and yet we know now in 2014 that they simply won’t work.”
So what do we need to do to make such radical cuts? Last December the Tyndall Centre organised a conference at the Royal Society looking at precisely this question and researchers at the Centre for Alternative Technology have been refining a plan for a “Zero Carbon Britain” by 2030 for some years. It takes time to put low carbon energy infrastructure in place. If we need to start making substantial cuts straightaway we have to cut energy consumption. Two of our biggest sources of emissions are the energy we use at home and the transport we use.
We know how to build new homes – known as “passive houses” – that require very little heating, but our main focus needs to be on the millions of homes already in existence. “We have a low demolition rate,” Anderson explains, “so what’s important is to retrofit these existing properties to very high standards, to make them low energy consumption and also resilient to a changing climate.”
“It will be expensive,” Anderson admits, “but it will eliminate fuel poverty, improve health, provide a huge amount of low and semi-skilled labour, improve our energy security and put a huge amount of money back into the economy.”
About a quarter of our emissions come from transport. “Private cars represent a very high proportion of UK emissions,” continues Anderson. “The average car in the UK will be emitting about 168 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Yet we are selling 322 models at the forecourt that are below 100 g/km. The natural retirement rate of cars will deliver a 30-50 per cent reduction in emissions within ten years if we put a standard of 100 g/km in place. And we can do that using existing cars sold at no price premium.” More efficient cars will mean cleaner air and a healthier population, as will encouraging a shift to public transport, cycling, walking and avoiding unnecessary journeys.
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water in Qaqortoq, Greenland
Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on Earth, has shrunk more than 80 percent to 1,000 square kilometers in the past decade. It shrinks mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water
A boat navigates among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Boats are a crucial mode of transportation in the country that has few roads. As cities like Miami, New York and other vulnerable spots around the world strategize about how to respond to climate change, many Greenlanders simply do what theyve always done: adapt. 'Were used to change, said Greenlander Pilu Neilsen. 'We learn to adapt to whatever comes. If all the glaciers melt, well just get more land
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen after being inaugurated in Longyearbyen, Norway. The 'doomsday' seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters opened deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
A technician preparing to drain a vast underground lake at the Tete Rousse glacier on the Mont Blanc Alpine mountain, to avert a potentially disatrous flood. Some 65,000 cubic metres (2.3 million cubic feet) of water have gathered in a cavity, dangerously raising the pressure beneath the mountain, a favourite spot for holiday makers in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains
Cracked mud is picture at sunrise in the dried shores of Lake Gruyere affected by continuous drought near the western Switzerland village of Avry-devant-Pont. A leading climate scientist warned that Europe should take action over increasing drought and floods, stressing that some climate change trends were clear despite variations in predictions
Cattle graze on grassland that remains dry and brown at the height of the rainy season in south of Bakersfield, California. Its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and dating back as far as 500 years, according to some scientists who study tree rings
An aerial view shows tents of flood-displaced people surrounded by water in southern Sehwan town. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres met with people displaced by last year's devastating floods. Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept through the country in 2010 and affected some 20 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land
An aerial view of flooding in North Wagga Wagga. Climate change is amplifying risks from drought, floods, storm and rising seas, threatening all countries but small island states, poor nations and arid regions in particular, UN experts warned
Damages caused by a landslide on the Pan-American highway near La Moramulca, 55 Km south of Tegucigalpa. International highways have been washed out, villages isolated and thousands of families have lost homes and crops in a region that the United Nations has classified as one of the most affected by climate change
A resident sprays water on a peatland fire in Pekanbaru district in Riau province on Indonesia's Sumatra island. Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands, is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters because of rampant deforestation. US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday issued a clarion call for nations to do to more to combat climate change, calling it 'the world's largest weapon of mass destruction'
An excavator clearing a peatland forest area for a palm oil plantations in Trumon subdistrict, Aceh province, on Indonesia's Sumatra island. As Southeast Asia's largest economy grows rapidly, swathes of biodiverse forests across the archipelago of 17,000 islands have been cleared to make way for paper and palm oil plantations, as well as for mining and agriculture. The destruction has ravaged biodiversity, placing animals such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers in danger of extinction, while also leading to the release of vast amounts of climate change-causing carbon dioxide
Stagnant rain water with tannery waste make the Hazaribagh area in Old Dhaka as well as Buriganga River the most polluted. Each year during the seven-month long dry season between October and April the Buriganga River becomes totally stagnant with its upstream region drying up and becoming polluted from toxic waste from city industries
Waste water from Dhaka city drained to the River Buriganga contributes to its pollutions. On the World Water Day observed in 2007 under the theme Coping with Water Scarcity, under the leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, DrikNEWS explores some of the images of the river. UN-Water has identified coping with water scarcity as part of the strategic issues and priorities requiring joint UN action. The theme highlights the significance of cooperation and importance of an integrated approach to water resource management of water at international, national and local levels
Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. China's Environment Ministry said it will send inspection teams to provinces and cities most seriously affected by smog to ensure rules on fighting air pollution are being enforced
As with cars, there are big efficiency gains waiting to be had in our electrical appliances. “An A++ fridge uses 85 per cent less energy than an A rated fridge. So why are we selling A rated fridges? Why are we selling Bs, Cs and Ds? We should not be using a labelling scheme we should simply be using a minimum efficiency standard. And we can do this for all the major appliances.”
Energy efficiency is subject to the “rebound effect” meaning you can end up using some of the money you save on energy on other goods that use energy. To deal with this problem, Anderson says we will need to seriously consider policies that curb energy demand overall.
Cutting the carbon will impact on rich and poor differently. While super-insulating old homes will help the millions of people who are in fuel poverty, it’s the wealthier amongst us who have the biggest scope for reducing our carbon footprints and who will need to make the biggest adjustments suggests Anderson. “People like myself would fly much less, we would be driving smaller, less powerful cars, and driving less distance. Some of us would see that as a reduction in our quality of life, but a lot of things we really value in our lives – time with our friends and our families, living a good life – are not innately high-carbon consuming activities.”