The borough of Greenwich, south east London, plans to cut car traffic by 45% by 2030 – but even that will produce less than half the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that climate scientists say are needed.
Better still would be to set carbon budgets – limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted during specific time periods – and use them as a framework for transport and other policies.
Such budgets can concentrate minds on policies to improve people’s lives, while contributing to tackling climate change at the same time. Better, cheaper public transport and support for non-car ways of travelling, e.g. bikes and walking, all help.
Transport is the second-biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Greenwich; heat, electricity and cooking fuel for homes and other buildings is the first.
In 2019, Greenwich was one of many local authorities that declared a “climate emergency” in response to school pupils’ strikes demanding action on climate, and Extinction Rebellion’s direct action campaign. Even the UK parliament claimed to recognise this emergency.
The UK government is planning a gigantic new road project – a six-lane, 22-kilometre motorway with a tunnel under the river Thames near Gravesend, Kent – while, laughably, claiming to be acting on climate change.
The Lower Thames Crossing would be the UK’s largest road project since the M25 motorway ring around London was completed in 1986. Cost: an estimated £8.2 billion.
It is the largest project envisaged in part 2 of the government’s Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) that covers the period 2020-25.
And it would blast another hole in attempts to meet the UK’s own inadequate greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, let alone meaningful targets set by climate scientists.
The Thames Crossing Action Group, which coordinates local opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing monstrosity, is asking people to write in to a consultation about the project (see below). Of course more direct forms of action may be needed, too.
The Silvertown tunnel project, which has faced opposition in east and south east London, is further ahead than the Lower Thames Crossing. Contracts have been signed with developers, and within weeks the tunnel boring machine could get going.
The Lower Thames Crossing is one more reason to stop the Silvertown tunnel. If one alien abomination is created, the other even bigger monster could follow.
The UK government claims, extravagantly, that it is aiming for “net zero”. But the devil is in the detail. Here, PETER SOMERVILLE goes through the government’s Net Zero Strategy with a fine-toothed comb – and shows how its promises are exaggerated and its numbers don’t add up. It falls to pieces in your hands
When government ministers published their Ten Point Plan a year ago, they recognised that it did not go far enough to fulfil their international commitment to reducing carbon emissions. One year on, their Net Zero Strategy (NZS) goes a little further, but still falls far short of what is required. The problems inherent in the original plan persist, namely:
A failure to recognise that the world is now experiencing a climate emergency, and therefore that more drastic action is required in the short term (before 2025) to reduce carbon emissions. The reductions up to 2025 are minimal (page 18, Fig 1, or p. 77, Fig 13.Note: all page numbers in this article refer to the Net Zero Strategy, unless stated otherwise.)
A continuing (and increasing) reliance on problematic technologies that do not currently exist at scale, particularly carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS), and direct air carbon capture.
A failure to explain clearly how expected future carbon savings have been calculated, particularly in industry, buildings and transport.
A neglect of issues relating to agriculture, food, land use and energy storage.
An emphasis on constructing new nuclear power plants, with a new (from 2022) Future Nuclear Enabling Fund of £120 million, but – as the UK FIRES commentary on the government’s plan shows – with no net increase in nuclear power capacity likely until after 2030. In the meantime, construction work adds significantly to carbon emissions.
An emphasis on GDP growth, despite the strong correlation between such growth and increasing carbon emissions.
A lack of clarity about how specific policies could achieve intended emission reductions, e.g. on hydrogen.
A failure to curb the expansion of aviation to 2030 and beyond (an expansion that is encouraged rather than hindered by the latest spending review’s decision to cut air passenger duty).
A failure to take account of other government programmes that increase rather than reduce emissions, e.g. increased spending on roads (£27 billion) and defence (£24 billion) up to 2024.
The government has already committed to invest £25.5 billion for a Green Industrial Revolution (£12 billion under the Ten Point Plan, £9.7 billion for 18 deals at the Global Investment Summit in October 2021, and £5.8 billion on other sustainable projects since the Ten Point Plan). Together with £40 billion for the new UK Infrastructure Bank (p. 206), and leveraging £90 billion of private investment, this funding is expected to support 440,000 jobs in 2030 (pp. 16, 17 and 49).
The NZS describes three future scenarios, but arguably only Scenario 1 (high electrification) is really worth considering.
□ Even Scenario 1 has serious limitations. For example, as with the other scenarios, it takes no direct account of uncertainty about future technology costs and availability (p. 316). So much for the precautionary principle, one might argue.
Here’s a talk by Simon Pirani – “net zero” is a fraud: science, technology and politics – given at an on-line session earlier this month, hosted by the COP View group. That’s the first 20 minutes of the video; then comes a talk by Jonathan Fuller on media coverage of climate issues.
In the run-up to the United Nations climate change conference (COP26) in the UK in November — the 26th session of the talks that were launched in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 — the governments of the world’s richest countries are making ever-louder claims that they are effectively confronting global warming.
Nothing could be more dangerous than for social, labour and environmental movements to take this rhetoric at face value and assume that political leaders have the situation under control.
There are three huge falsehoods running through these leaders’ narratives: that rich nations are supporting their poorer counterparts; that “net zero” targets will do what is needed; and that technology-focused “green growth” is the way to decarbonize.
First, wealthier countries claim to be supporting poorer nations — which are contributing least to global warming, and suffering most from its effects — to make the transition away from fossil fuels.
But at the G7 summit in June, the rich countries again failed to keep their own promise, made more than a decade ago, to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance for developing countries. Of the $60 billion per year they have actually come up with, more than half is bogus: analysis by Oxfam has shown that it is mostly loans and non-concessional finance, and that the amounts are often overstated.
Compare this degrading treatment of the global south with the mobilisation of many hundreds of billions for the post-pandemic recovery. Of $657 billion (public money alone) pledged by G20 nations to energy-producing or energy-consuming projects, $296 billion supports fossil fuels, nearly a third greater than the amount supporting clean energy ($228 billion).
Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change are magnified by poverty. This year’s floods, wildfires and record temperatures in Europe and north America have been frightful enough. The same phenomena cause far greater devastation outside the global north.
In 2020, “very extensive” flooding caused deaths, significant displacement of populations and further impacts from disease in 16 African countries, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) annual climate report recorded. India, China and parts of Southeast Asia suffered from record-breaking rainfall and flooding, too.
Climate and weather events had “major and diverse impacts on population movements, and on the vulnerability of people on the move,” the WMO reported. Cyclone Amphan displaced 2.5 million people in India and Bangladesh last May. Many could return soon, but 2.8 million homes were damaged, leading to prolonged displacement. Severe storms in Mozambique piled on dangers for tens of thousands of people displaced by the previous year’s floods and who had not been able to return home.
The political leaders’ second fiction is their pledge to attain “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (the U.S., U.K. and Europe) or 2060 (China).
With the COP 26 international climate talks coming up in Glasgow in November, the UK government’s greenwash machine is going into overdrive.
The prime minister has set the tone with a “ten point plan” on climate – denounced as empty rhetoric by researchers (e.g. here and here) – which in turn is linked to the government’s new target, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 78% of 1990 levels by 2035.
That target is linked to the sixth carbon budget for 2033-37, proposed by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) that advises the government.
The CCC has warned that the government is on track to miss the targets for fourth budget (2023-27) and the fifth budget (2028-32), and often made valid proposals for decarbonisation measures. For this it has been praised by Labour politicians, some environmentalist organisations and some climate scientists.
But looking coherent, compared to the government, is a very low bar to jump over. The CCC’s carbon budgets are not a realistic guide to the UK playing its part in tackling climate change – and are used by government ministers and other politicians to obstruct and delay effective action.
The way the CCC budgets are calculated would allow the UK economy to emit at least twice as much greenhouse gas as any amount that could possibly be described as its fair share.
To preface Peter’s arguments, here are a few words about what carbon budgets are, and why they matter.
■ Global carbon budgets are measurements of the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists estimate can be put into the atmosphere, before global warming breaks certain barriers. The budgets are often stated in gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (GtCO2). The barriers are usually stated as global average temperatures, measured in degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.
■ Global carbon budgets are the products of scientific research. There are some good visualisations on the Global Carbon Project web site (go here and scroll down to “The carbon budget for 1.5°” and “Remaining carbon budget to 1.5° and 2°”).
■ In reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the budgets are set out in tables that provide scientists’ best estimates of the remaining carbon budget available, to keep global temperatures to certain levels. The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees, published in 2018, said that, to limit warming since 1850-1900 to 1.5°, the remaining global carbon budget is 840 GtCO2, for a 33% chance of hitting the target; 580 GtCO2 for a 50% chance; and 420 GtCO2 for a 67% chance. The scientists also provided estimates for a range of other temperatures and likelihoods. You can see the key table (Table 2.2 in chapter 2) here.
■ There are uncertainties in climate science. These figures shift, as research teams refine their estimates. In the IPCC sixth assessment report, due out next year, the budgets are likely to be smaller than in previous reports.
■ Carbon budgets deal with CO2 emissions, that account for about three-quarters of the global warming effect. Scientists have developed budgets for other greenhouse gases, that collectively account for the other one quarter. Methane and nitrous oxide are the most important ones.
■ Global carbon budgets are worked out by science, but national carbon budgets are set by politics. They reflect what countries’ politicians decide is (i) a reasonable global budget to aim at, and (ii) their country’s fair share of that budget.
■ The CCC takes as a starting-point scientists’ global budgets that give humanity a 50% chance of hitting the 1.5 degree target (see the Sixth Carbon Budget report, pages 367-371) – which is itself a political decision. But it is not easy to see how it does the sums.
■ Researchers who have done their own sums say that the CCC is allowing the UK a share of the global budget that is disproportionate, and unfair to nations of the global south – in other words, stealing from the global budget.
■ A key research paper by scientists at the Tyndall Centre argued last year that the UK’s carbon budget for the rest of this century should be no more than half the figure the CCC is working with – that is, carbon emissions cuts have to be twice as stringent.
Here PETER SOMERVILLE provides more detail on how a UK carbon budget could be set, and discusses some problems with the Climate Change Committee (CCC) budgets. This is the second of two articles, the first is this overview of the CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget
A global carbon budget is the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that human activities across the world can be allowed to generate, in order to avoid excessive global warming.
Budgets vary, according to the degrees of temperature increase that are judged to be allowable, and according to how sensitive the climate is judged to be in response to carbon emissions: the greater the sensitivity, the smaller the budget has to be.
Unfortunately, we do not know exactly how sensitive the climate is to carbon emissions, so budgets are calculated across the range of possible sensitivities.
On the basis of the median climate sensitivity, the budget to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels was stated as 580 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (580 GtCO2). That means the world has a mere 50:50 chance of staying below 1.5°C.
Arguably, however, a higher level of climate sensitivity is required, to give the world at least a 66% chance of reaching the 1.5°C target. At this level, the carbon budget in 2018 was 420 GtCO2.
All economic and other human activity in the world currently emits approximately 40 GtCO2 per year, so the remaining budget today in 2021 is closer to 300 GtCO2. At this rate the budget would be fully spent before 2029.
The task here is then to calculate what might count as a fair share of this budget to be allocated to the UK.
The first problem is that the global budget is for carbon dioxide only: other greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as methane and nitrous oxide are calculated separately.
Methane has minimal long-term effect on the climate, but it is a powerful greenhouse gas in the short-term, which needs to be reduced to zero as soon as possible in order to minimise its contribution to peak warming (see CCC Sixth Carbon Budget report, page 372). Arguably, therefore, a fair carbon budget for the UK should take account of all GHGs.