Andy Atkins, A Rocha’s CEO, assesses another UK ‘first’ on climate change.
On 27 June the UK government became the first to pass legislation committing a country to reduce its climate-changing pollution to effectively nothing or ‘net zero’. The Statutory Instrument amends the 2008 Climate Change Act, increasing the UK’s 2050 carbon-reduction target from 80% to 100%, and extending it to all greenhouse gas emissions, not just carbon dioxide.
It’s a historic moment internationally. If the world is to achieve the 2015 Paris Agreement aim of avoiding climate catastrophe by restricting global heating to no more than 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial average, all major emitting countries should be planning to achieve ‘net zero’ as fast as possible. Britain’s lead is likely to influence others to follow suit.
So, why only two cheers, not three?
The science says it is the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, not the date we achieve net zero which will determine whether we avoid runaway climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has alerted that we have barely a decade to peak global emissions and sharply decline. Yet greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have grown at an unprecedented rate in the last three years. While the UK’s emissions have declined, we’re off track – cutting too slowly – to achieve our mid-term 2032 target.
It is public pressure which has got the UK government to recognise the climate emergency and aim for ‘net zero’. That’s a big success. It must now adopt bold policies consistent with that aspiration. It should start by abandoning utterly irresponsible policies such as increasing fracking and expanding UK airports (and therefore aviation emissions). It should then accelerate its mystifyingly slow schedule for rolling out renewable energy, electric vehicles, Scandinavian-style energy efficiency standards on new homes, mass tree planting etc.
If this happens, it will be five cheers! But to achieve it, we will need a whole new scale and persistence of public pressure. Christians and churches with our ethical and faith motivation, resources and organising power, have a critical contribution to make. The 26 June Mass Lobby of MPs, the biggest ever on climate change, was a good way to start a genuinely history-changing dash to get the UK back on track with its carbon targets, and to achieve ‘net zero’ long before 2050.