The climate column

We are in a Don’t Look Up situation. Here’s what the government should do

I’ve developed a practical plan of the steps we need to be taking to tackle the climate emergency – right now, writes Donnachadh McCarthy

Thursday 13 January 2022 17:10 GMT
Whether critics think the hit Netflix film ‘Don’t Look Up’ is artistically good or not is beside the point
Whether critics think the hit Netflix film ‘Don’t Look Up’ is artistically good or not is beside the point (Niko Tavernese/Netflix)

Whether critics think the hit Netflix film Don’t Look Up is artistically good or not is beside the point. What really counts is whether we act on its call for urgent action to prevent the unfolding destruction of civilisation by the climate crisis.

The film lays out the existential consequences of the failure of certain sections of our global news media – and governments – to act on the mortal threat facing humanity.

So, what could our UK government do if they actually acted on the dire scientific analysis presented to them by the pre-Cop26 Chatham House Climate Impacts Report?

Here are some practical ideas:

1. Summon an emergency summit of political leaders and agree to the adoption of a climate government of national unity, with ministerial posts shared amongst the political parties according to their percentage vote share at the last election. We cannot win this existential battle without national unity.

2. The goal would be to hit zero carbon emissions by 2030 – at the latest. An immediate moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects in the UK would be implemented. The Bank of England would make it illegal for UK financial institutions to fund new fossil fuel projects globally, which would help release the billions needed for investment in the renewable transition.

3. The UK would use its Cop presidency to place this moratorium onto the agenda for October’s Cop27, in addition to the adoption of a net zero 2030 global target.

4. Cop27 would also terminate the Energy Charter Treaty. We cannot allow corporations to continue blocking action by punitively suing governments for lost fossil fuel “profits”.

5. The bank would use its quantitative easing powers to help fund the capital investments required for the transition.

6. The defence forces would cancel all new arms procurement for the rest of the decade, with the funds diverted to the green transition – where they are urgently needed to defend the state from the rising existential threat to our shores.

7. The army would provide a significant amount of personnel for national rewilding, native reforestation and peatland restoration programmes on at least 30 per cent of the nation’s land, under the supervision of The Wildlife Trusts, Natural England and the devolved governments.

8. Destructive ocean floor trawling would be outlawed, and a programme to restore the carbon-rich, offshore kelp forests would be undertaken.

9. Holiday flights and ocean cruises would be banned, as they were for Covid 19 – until such time as genuinely zero-carbon flights or shipping are developed. Only absolutely necessary business, academic, diplomatic and cultural flights would be allowed, with exemptions for family deaths and serious illness, and a one-flight-a-year ration for those visiting close family abroad.

10. Meat and animal feed imports would be proscribed and UK produced meat would be rationed to one portion per week.

11. Towns and cities would become car-free, with exemptions for essential workers and people with disabilities where required, and a national cycling network completed by 2030.

12. As in Luxembourg, public transport in urban areas would be made free for all, not just for children and pensioners, as would bus services in rural areas. Funding could come from cancelling the enormously expensive roads programme, HS2 and the plethora of proposed airport expansions.

13. Land freed up from car parking could be devoted to city orchards, urban horticulture and play-spaces for kids.

14. The steel, cement and fertiliser industries would be helped to complete the switch to green hydrogen by 2030.

15. A home insulation programme would be rolled out and be completed by 2030.

16. All gas and oil boilers for space and water heating would also be removed by 2030, replaced by renewably-powered electric heating. During the transition, electricity and gas would be rationed, with poorer households protected from transition costs by a rise in universal credit payments.

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17. An Energy Efficiency Act would make it illegal for companies to waste energy. Council environmental health officers would supervise this.

18. The electricity grid would be 100 per cent decarbonised by 2030, and the enormous funding being allocated for new nuclear and unproven fusion stations would be invested instead in the emerging safer, dependable and cheaper energy storage technologies and a fleet of tidal lagoon power plants. We haven’t got the time to gamble on nuclear and fusion delivering possible carbon reductions in the 2040s. Reductions have to take place now.

19. To ensure that nobody is left behind during the re-engineering of the economy, a National Fair Transition Commission would ensure workers in affected industries are supported whilst they retrain or await assignment to the new industries being developed.

20. A national network of repair shops and community resource libraries would be set up, to reduce the consumption of new goods whose embedded manufacturing emissions are the largest source of household carbon emissions.

21. The most challenging and crucial area identified in Don’t Look Up is the role of certain sections of the corporate media. In my opinion, we all need to think about banning advertising for fossil-fuelled corporations and high carbon goods, just as tobacco adverts were banned when science proved their threat to human health. A national information campaign would ideally be launched, just like during the Second World War.

The Chatham House Report stating that we now only have a 1 per cent chance left of avoiding a disastrous 1.5C rise in temperatures was our equivalent of the scientists in Don’t Look Up, discovering an earth-shattering comet was en route to hit the earth in six months. We really must act now.

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