Climate crisis: Pressure mounts on government to set out ambitious environmental plans ahead of UN summit in December

‘Without rapid decarbonisation the impact of climate change on our health will be catastrophic’, health bodies warn

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 28 October 2020 07:33
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Boris Johnson and David Attenborough attend an event to launch the UN Climate Change conference, COP26, in central London on 4 February, 2020
Boris Johnson and David Attenborough attend an event to launch the UN Climate Change conference, COP26, in central London on 4 February, 2020

Despite Boris Johnson’s repeated claims the UK will respond to the coronavirus crisis by “building back better”, the government is coming under increasing pressure to set out ambitious new climate plans.

A series of letters from across the political and social spectrum signed by various groups of health professionals, campaigners, MPs, and academics, are all calling on the government to take action to fight the climate crisis ahead of the UK-UN climate summit on 12 December.

The summit will mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris agreement, and comes amid increasing evidence the world is not on course to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

One of the letters, addressed to the prime minister, comes from the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, which represents health bodies in the UK, including the BMA, the Lancet, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Nursing, and the Royal Society of Medicine, and calls for an ambitious emissions reduction strategy consistent with both the Paris agreement and the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.

“Without rapid decarbonisation the impact of climate change on our health will be catastrophic,” the letter says.

“As a national coalition of health professionals we have a duty to protect and promote public health and wellbeing.”

The Health Alliance is urging the government to set out the UK’s “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), which outline a country’s ambitions for reducing emissions, taking into account its domestic circumstances and capabilities.

The letter adds: “We call for the UK’s NDC to be announced as soon as possible in order to catalyse increased ambition from other countries and maintain momentum.”

It comes after more than 40 Conservative MPs and peers also wrote to the government demanding a “much more ambitious” plan that is in line with the UK's commitment to cut its emissions to net-zero overall by 2050.

Addressed to Alok Sharma, the secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the letter urges the government to “engage the public on climate change”, “commit the necessary diplomatic resources and senior ministerial time to make Cop26 a success”, and to “be as ambitious as possible going into this vital summit in terms of our domestic ambitions”.

And another letter from the Elders, a group which includes six former presidents and prime ministers of countries around the world, calls for the UK to put forward a “bold and world-leading climate target for 2030 and encourage all other nations to make similar commitments”.

After Brexit, the UK, which was previously covered by the European Union's plans under the Paris agreement, must produce its own nationally determined contribution.

Ministers have said they will produce new plans ahead of the UN Cop26 climate summit, which is now being held in Glasgow in November 2021 after being delayed from this year by the pandemic.

Countries were due to put forward more ambitious plans up to 2030 by the end of this year, as current contributions will not curb temperature rises to 1.5C or “well below” 2C, goals which were agreed in the Paris deal.

They have been invited to submit more ambitious plans at the virtual summit on 12 December this year.

“The climate emergency is fully upon us, and we have no time to waste,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement.

“The answer to our existential crisis is swift, decisive, scaled up action and solidarity among nations.”

Additional reporting by PA.

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