By Bill McGuire
Forget the Good, the Bad and the Ugly- it’s the Bad, the Worse and the Criminal, we need to bring down.
I guess we’ve known it all along, but when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions it seems – as far as industrialised nations are concerned at least – that there just aren’t any good guys. Now it’s been confirmed by a new study just published in Nature Communications1, which forecasts what the end-century global average temperature rise would be, based upon the current emissions policies of individual nations. Heading the cast of scoundrels is a clutch of the usual suspects; China, Russia, Canada and Saudi Arabia – along with a bunch of smaller nations – whose policies, if matched globally, would see end-century temperatures climb to more than 5°C above those of pre-industrial times.
Not far behind is another gang of countries, including the United States and Australia, whose national climate targets, if matched worldwide, would see temperatures up 4°C or more by 2100. Before we cast stones, however, we in the UK don’t have much to crow about either. If the rest of the world followed our example, temperatures would still be 2.9°C higher by the century’s end – easily high enough to bring about catastrophic, all-pervasive climate breakdown2. And that’s with most of our manufacturing emissions outsourced to China and elsewhere.
The authors of the study make plain their hope that national emissions pledges, made as part of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, will be tightened in coming years so that the global average temperature rise may still be kept below 1.5°C. The way things are going, however, it would be fair to say that such a target remains pie-in-the-sky. For a start, there is no binding enforcement mechanism to ensure that pledges are kept. More importantly, they are simply not enough. Even if all signatories stuck to their emissions targets, the global average temperature rise would still be 3°C by 2100. If self-reinforcing feedback effects start to kick in seriously – as is highly likely – this could be a calamitous 4°C or even 5°C.
When set in the context of last week’s World Energy Outlook report, which predicts that global carbon emissions will still be heading skywards in 2040, the overall picture looks dire. Fiddling while Rome burns doesn’t even begin to describe the snail’s pace changes that are taking place across the energy and emissions reduction landscapes. We have to act big and act now. Rapid transitions that can change minds and change policies, virtually overnight, have happened before. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US economy was re-jigged in just six months from its peacetime ambitions to a full-on wartime footing. If it happened then, it can happen now. We are, after all, in a war situation. A war that will end either with anthropogenic climate breakdown brought to heel or with our world and our society shattered. The focus of our government, and those of all nations, has to change NOW. Forget Brexit; forget GDP; forget growth for growth’s sake. The mindset has to be turned around so that success is measured by how much and by how quickly we slash greenhouse gas emissions – pure and simple. Net zero emissions by 2025 is the goal.
It’s a huge call, but history teaches that if we want it badly enough, it can be done.
Let’s go for it.
1du Pont, Y. R. & Meinshausen, M 2018 Warming assessment of the bottom-up Paris Agreement emissions pledges. Nature Communications 9. Article number 4810.
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