Getting to grips with . . .

The potential paths for climate change roadmap

Experts say government intervention will be key in tackling environmental crisis

The next ten years will be “pivotal” in protecting the future of the planet, Boris Johnson has warned following the publication of a UN report that says human activitiy is “unequivocally” causing climate change.

The prime minister described the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) as “sobering reading”, while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the findings were a “code red for humanity”.

The UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, agrees that “the need for action on climate change is urgent”. But in a joint article for The Times, Vallance and the Met Office’s chief scientist, Professor Stephen Belcher, stress that “there is still time to act”.

What happens next?

Experts say that tackling climate change will require a concerted and collaborative effort by governments across the globe. One crucial step will be to curb carbon dioxide emissions, the main contributor of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  

The bid to achieve this goal should include translating “a temperature target into a cumulative carbon target”, tweets Professor Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University.

The IPCC report says that global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5C over the next two decades, but that providing a framework that links carbon emissions to temperature increases could help clarify the level of regulation needed to tackle the problem.

Real-time data, rather than retrospective tracking, should be integral to this “fair and transparent approach”, argue Vallance and Belcher in The Times. The two government experts recommend that “a live dashboard” be set up to track carbon emissions.

“An objective system could directly measure greenhouse gas concentrations and use modelling to infer emissions in near real time,” they write. “Such a measurement system would chart the immediate effectiveness of mitigation policies and allow further targeted action in polluting sectors.” 

The pair also call on national leaders to urgently revise their policies to reach net zero emissions. “Countries should plot mechanisms for scaling up and deploying technologies that already exist, such as wind and solar renewables and electrification of transport,” say Vallance and Belcher.

Commentators have noted that increased government regulation to tackle climate change will be likely to impact daily life.

In an article for The Telegraph, former Labour MP Tom Harris says that “like the pandemic, climate change demands state intervention in all our lives, legal restrictions on what we can and cannot do”.

But many of those changes - or “innovations” - require “minimum personal sacrifice”, writes Harris, and may include “new construction techniques, a step-change in the rollout of electric cars [and] a reset of our wasteful throw-away culture”.

The global perspective

With the UK contributing less than 2% of annual global carbon emissions, achieving net zero by 2050 “is simply not going to happen unless the worst polluters, like China, India and the US, show much bigger reductions”, says The Telegraph editorial board.

But if “cajoling countries that are unwilling to listen” is to prove a “fruitless exercise”, the paper continues, “adapting our lives to cope with inevitable warming is just as important as identifying the cause”.  

Such lessons of adaptation and resilience may be learned from nations already being severely impacted by climate change. In an article for The Guardian, Greenpeace’s head of Pacific, Joseph Moeono-Kolio, points out that these communities “don’t have the luxury of giving up, tired and fatigued as we already are”.

Moeono-Kolio argues that climate talks and agreements should better reflect a geopolitical landscape in which poorer countries are generally contributing less to increasing emissions yet suffering more from the effects.

Pacific leaders have not “backed down” in spite of the “patronising disregard” that “high-emitting, wealthy countries” have previously shown towards the climate crisis, he continues. And “we will continue to pressure the world to lift its ambition, using every diplomatic, financial and legal avenue at our disposal”.

On a more individual level, “holding elected officials accountable” will be key in battling the crisis, writes professor of atmospheric science Michael E. Mann in Time. Climate change can’t be solved “without leadership from our elective representatives”, he says, so “let this latest report be our rallying cry” to demand action. 

Climate change is expected to top the agenda when international leaders meet in Glasgow in November at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as Cop26.

US climate envoy John Kerry tweeted this week that the summit “must be a turning point in this crisis”, while French leader Emmanuel Macron has called for an international agreement that is “up to the urgency of this moment”. 

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