Today sees the much anticipated release of the ‘Fifth Assessment Report’ from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Set up in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme, the IPCC presents the most up to date scientific information to policy makers, and is the international authority on climate change.
A draft report for policy makers was leaked weeks ahead, prompting the usual explosion of bile from the sceptics, and a breath-drawing cautionary tale of inaction for the rest of us.
While the consensus for action remains unchanged, the certainty with which climate change can be attributed to human activity and greenhouse gases in the latest report has risen from 90 to 95%. It prompted Tony Blair to remind us no ‘serious person’ would doubt man made climate change, and the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, to say “doubters don’t have a problem with climate change, they have a problem with science.”
The impacts of man-made warming include warming of the ocean, melting snow and ice, raised global mean sea level, and changing of climate extremes.
The report makes the link between global warming and extreme weather events such as heatwaves with greater certainty, and considers the likely event of exceeding the internationally recognised threshold of 2 degrees for ‘dangerous’ climatic change if more urgent action isn’t taken. Life above 2 degrees involves more droughts, extinctions, floods and rising seas that could swamp coastal regions and entire island nations. The coral reefs will go.
The report considers possible temperature increases of 4.8 degrees by the end of the century, with serious consequences for the world as we know it, and the generation we leave to face it.
The report also states that rapid emissions reductions would keep us within safe limits, and has been accompanied by rallying cries for action from concerned parties from politicians to journalists to NGOs. And that’s where Zero Carbon Britain comes in.
Will IPCC help us rise to the challenge?
The conclusions of the IPCC report are not new or unexpected, and will serve to reaffirm and underline what many of us already understood about the seriousness of climate change and urgent need for action.
We know that sceptics and nay-says will not be deterred or convinced by fact or any degree of certainty. Denying man-made climate change now is equivalent to saying ‘smoking doesn’t cause cancer’. We also know that presenting people with the imminent catastrophe that awaits them has done little to rally public action and sentiment about climate change. Indeed, it seems to have done the opposite.
What is becoming increasingly clear however, is that as a population we are very supportive of renewable energy (a recent survey from the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) found 76 per cent of people are supportive). There is a mounting body of evidence showing the talking about positive solutions is an effective way to engage the public on climate change, and that those who have experienced impacts of climate change already are more willing to change their behaviour.
As more and more people are affected by climate change and unusual weather patterns and events, it’s crucial that we proactively communicate the adaptive and mitigative solutions.
Fortunately, our understanding of the solutions, and examples of them coming to life, are on the increase all around us.
The Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain project demonstrates a technically robust future scenario where we have rapidly reduced our emissions to net zero – in line with the science – using only technology available today.
It shows that by managing our energy use and energy generation we can cut emissions, provide a safe, sustainable energy supply for the UK and create 1.5 million regionally distributed jobs.
By considering land use in our emissions reduction, there are further opportunities to provide healthy, low carbon diets on UK soil, increase key ecosystem indicators, as well as to improve our resilience to weather changes we’re already experiencing, such as heatwaves or increased flooding.
The aim of the Zero Carbon Britain project is to demonstrate that integrated and technically feasible solutions to the climate problem do exist, and inspire and support the action required to get us there.
We hope the IPCC report is a powerful reminder of the challenge we face, prompting us to reach for the solutions available, rather than burying our heads further in the sand. We know we can create the positive future we need, now we need to get on with it.