Leaks from the latest IPCC report from Working Group III, being discussed this week in Berlin suggests it will call for radical emissions reductions globally which will require “large-scale transformations in human societies”. The IPCC will propose a reduction in emissions of 50% (from 2010 levels) by 2030 for developed nations such as the UK.
Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) research from the Centre for Alternative Technology shows how it is possible, and desirable, to reach net zero emissions in the UK by 2030. They will be presenting their work at an event in London (and broadcast online) at 6.30pm, Wed 9th April.
Commenting (ahead of the release of the IPCC report) on why we in the UK might need faster emissions reductions than the IPCC top line figure of 50% by 2030, Alice Hooker-Stroud, Zero Carbon Britain research coordinator says :
“Any greenhouse gas we put into the atmosphere from now on risks people’s lives and happiness as well as ecosystems. It isn’t yet clear how likely these levels of emissions would be to increase temperatures by more than two degrees in the latest model, or how the IPCC have divided the responsibility for cutting emissions between rich and poorer nations. Both of these things are important moral questions relating to climate mitigation which the report will have to make a judgement on.
What is clear is that radical action is necessary. Our judgement is that as a rich nation with a long history of high emissions and therefore particular responsibility for the climate problem, we should be doing everything we possibly can to limit climate change impacts around the globe, remembering that all future emissions carry a risk.”
Zero Carbon Britain is a rigorous energy scenario which demonstrates that achieving net zero emissions in the UK by 2030 is technically possible using only current technology, while maintaining a modern standard of living.
The in-depth research, which included modelling hourly energy production and consumption data over a ten year period, shows that net zero emissions are possible using a combination of reducing energy demand, 100% renewable sources of energy and careful management of land.
The IPCC report shows that implementing these kinds of solutions would have several knock-on benefits for human society and the environment, but that we are currently failing to implement them fast enough. They warn that we are currently on track to overshoot the 2 degrees ‘guardrail’ in global average temperature increase, and would have to consider large-scale carbon-negative technologies if emissions aren’t reduced quickly enough.
Alice argues that it is neither sensible or desirable to rely on uncertain, large-scale, carbon-negative future technologies : “We already have everything we need to act responsibly, and play our part in the global effort to tackle climate change. We shouldn’t be relying on future technologies that may or may not get us out of the problem we all saw coming and knew was avoidable.
“Overshooting the 2 degree ‘guardrail’ would be devastating. I wouldn’t call that a plan at all – its reckless and irresponsible. Smaller scale carbon capture by natural ecosystems could play a role in getting the UK to net zero emissions, but we have to respect that there are limits to these systems. There are so many other options for producing low carbon energy and reducing consumption, and there are benefits from choosing to do so.”
Rapidly reducing emissions can’t rely on any single technology. It requires big cultural changes including potential changes to diets, transport patterns and energy consumption. The Zero Carbon Britain scenario includes reducing the amount of meat and dairy in our diet to allow for more provision of food from UK sources, all biomass for energy to be grown sustainably in the UK, and expansion of natural ecosystems for carbon capture.
Yet most of these actions required to reduce emissions were highlighted as having multiple benefits in the IPCC Working Group II summary report released last week: “Examples of actions [to mitigate climate change] with co-benefits include (i) improved energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources, leading to reduced emissions of health-damaging climate-altering air pollutants; (ii) reduced energy and water consumption in urban areas through greening cities and recycling water; (iii) sustainable agriculture and forestry; and (iv) protection of ecosystems for carbon storage and other ecosystem services.”
Alice concludes on the scale of the transformation necessary: “Large changes will be necessary to act on climate change, but the solutions are here. We can make these changes now, or have changes imposed upon us from a changed climate for generations to come: its our choice.”