Julian Hunt: Stay local to beat global warming

It is not hard to see why pessimism over climate change has been growing. But I believe we are reaching the point when the tide will decisively turn

Share
Related Topics

Since the collapse of the landmark Copenhagen Summit last December, there has appeared to be setback after setback for those who, like me, believe climate change is the most serious problem facing mankind.

Most recently, the US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week decided to withdraw a landmark cap-and-trade bill in recognition of its lack of support in the chamber. This effectively means that there will be no major US federal climate change initiative until at least after the 2012 presidential election.

This follows the confused misrepresentation of climate trends, especially by the Republicans and some British politicians, which appears to have sown further confusion among international publics about global warming complexity; this misunderstanding accounts, in part, for some global warming scepticism and indeed some of the confusion of "Climategate".

Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount that our planet is heating up, including the authoritative State of the Climate Report 2009 released this week by the US National Oceanic and Atmosphere Office (featuring data from the British Met Office). This shows, for the first time, multiple observational records from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and concludes that "global warming is undeniable".

Given this backdrop, it is not hard to see why pessimism has grown this year about the future of international efforts to tackle climate change. However, far from this being the disaster that some assert, I believe that we are rapidly reaching the point when the tide will decisively turn. Why the reasons for such optimism amid so much apparent gloom?

First, there is now a much underappreciated movement towards the adoption of nuclear energy across the world. Despite the lack of recognition in the final Copenhagen communiqué, it is estimated by the International Atomic Agency that some 50 countries will have built nuclear reactors by 2030. This will result in a significant shift in the global energy mix and, while nuclear will continue to have vociferous critics, its virtue in the battle against climate change is as unquestionable as renewables such as wind and solar.

Second, in the absence of both a new global climate change deal to replace Kyoto, and more decisive national action by preponderant countries such as the United States, it is now much clearer than even a few months ago at Copenhagen that the centre of gravity of decision-making on how we respond to climate change must move towards the sub-national level, including to those many US cities which are leading the battle against global warming in North America.

The need for such a paradigm shift from a "top-down" to a "bottom-up" approach is becoming clearer by the day. For instance, over the last decade, while the earth's land and sea surface has been warming overall, trends of weather and climate records reveal larger and more unusual local variations – some unprecedented since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. What these data patterns underline is that, while climate change is a reality, it is impacting regions and indeed sub-regions of the world in very different ways. More openness and clarity is needed about this huge complexity as it accounts, in part, for some global warming scepticism.

It is within this crucial context that sub-national governments across the world, including cities, are putting into practice the fact that adaptation needs to build on existing knowledge and infrastructures in local settings. Forming loose collaborative networks is enabling regional facilitation centres, their experts and decision-makers to learn from one another and also draw upon the resources of existing national and international databases and programmes, such as those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) and the growing number of consortia linking major cities, local governments, and the private sector.

Experience shows that this bottom-up approach works very effectively as it is only generally when sub-national areas, such as cities, learn how they will be specifically affected by climate change that widespread, grassroots political action can be aroused.

I am therefore delighted at the increasing numbers of regional monitoring centres across the world, which are contributing towards local adaptation plans. In China, where provinces require targets for power station construction, regional environmental and climate change centres are now well developed. In the US, reports have highlighted the value of non-official centres, such as a severe storm centre in Oklahoma, which gives independent advice to communities and businesses, while relying on government programmes for much of the data. In Brazil, regional centres are providing data and predictions about agriculture and deforestation, and inform legislation about policy options.

What this activity points to is the need for a broader global network of such centres to support national climate initiatives, and to facilitate international funding and technical cooperation in delivering the right information to the right place at the right time.

Local actions can only be effective if measurements of climate and environment are made regularly and are publicised as well as information about targets, and projections of emissions. Experience shows that full exposure is needed about what is happening, what is planned, and how every individual can be involved (as the Danes show, for instance, by their community investment in wind power).

Taken overall, and despite recent setbacks such as the demise of the US cap-and-trade bill, I am therefore increasingly optimistic that the tide is turning decisively in favour of tackling climate change, but that it will be the cumulative effect of sub-national actions which will prove crucial in determining the speed and effectiveness of responses to climate change. While international and national policy will still have a key role to play, the message is nonetheless clear: "localisation of action and data" must and will increasingly be the priority in tackling the global warming menace.

Lord Hunt is Visiting Professor at Delft University and former director-general of the UK Met Office

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

‘They’ve seen the future – and got it for a song’: the unlikely history of Canary Wharf

Jack Brown
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee