- Written by Chiara Badiali, June 2019, compiled from various sources including Carbon Brief, BBC, Guardian, Times, Axios, Rolling Stone and more. 

INTRODUCTORY CONTEXT

Climate change has shot up the public agenda – as has biodiversity loss – and public discourse is shifting so quickly it can feel overwhelming to try and keep up. Extinction Rebellion and the on-going Fridays for Future school strikes are shifting the discourse – at least in some countries. There’s a crackling new urgency in the air, reflected in the explosion of interest and urgency we are seeing in meetings like What Next Climate Change. Mentions in the media of climate change in April were higher than almost any time before.

But the headline, which barely even made it into the headlines, is that earlier this month (June 2019) we breached 415 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the atmosphere for the first time since there have been humans on Earth.

The last time there was this much carbon in the atmosphere was during the Pliocene 3 million years ago when there were Beech trees near the South Pole.

And emissions are still growing year on year. This May’s average concentration was 3.5 ppm higher than last year… the second highest annual increase in a decade. While climate change may be in the public eye, we have a long way to go, maintaining pressure (and urgency and excitement) to ensure all this energy is translated into action that will finally reverse the trajectory of GHG emissions.

That means: 1) continuing to add our voices to those calling for a legally binding net zero target for the UK, and for systemic policies that will ensure targets mean something in practice; and 2) holding ourselves and our organisations to account in reducing our own impacts and emissions.

IF YOU READ ONE THING, MAKE IT THIS

  • The UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, which is still a mouthful!) – basically, a new equivalent to the UN IPCC / Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports but for biodiversity and ecosystems  - released this report that says we are in a biodiversity crisis that matches the climate crisis (and is exacerbated by it). The report was written by 145 authors from 50 countries, with inputs from a further 310 authors
    “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
    - IPBES Biodiversity report
  • At least a million species are at risk of extinction because of human action. The drivers are – in descending order – 1) changes in land and sea use; 2) direct exploitation of organisms; 3) climate change; 4) pollution; 5) invasive alien species. On average, deterioration of environments has been less severe on lands held by Indigenous People or Local Communities.
  • This loss of biodiversity also risks undermining progress towards the SDGs. We need “transformative change”.

 UK ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY

  • On the 1 May in a debate in the House of Commons, MPs passed a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency. Note the Scottish and Welsh parliaments have already made individual declarations of climate emergencies.
  • On May 2, the Committee on Climate Change - the independent body that gets its mandate from the Climate Change Act and is tasked with providing the government with advice on climate change - published its report on Net Zero, recommending that the UK introduce a new emissions target: net-zero GHGs by 2050 - in order to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement. This is more ambitious than the current target of an 80% reduction by 2050. The report also contains the outlines of a roadmap and cost estimates: the CCC thinks that a more ambitious net zero target won’t cost materially more than achieving current targets.
  • This report came about because after the IPCC - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - published its report for policymakers on how we keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees late last year, the UK government asked the Committee on Climate Change to re-assess the UK’s long term emissions targets under the Climate Change Act and figure out whether they were ambitious enough and in line with what the IPCC says is necessary.
  • It’s worth remembering that the Committee on Climate Change’s assessments still suggest that the UK is on track to miss its future carbon budgets – the ones that are based on a less ambitious target. Current policies aren’t strong enough.
  • 120 UK business leaders including Unilever have written to Theresa May asking her to urgently put in place a legally binding requirement for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Separately, leading climate scientists have done the same.
  • In the meantime, the consequences of government policies that have cut subsidies and made renewable energy investment less attractive are starting to show – investment in renewables in the UK more than halved between 2015 and 2017.
  • It’s not all bad news – in May, the UK went two weeks without coal-fired energy – a new record and the longest since the 1880s. On average, power was provided by gas (40%), nuclear (20%), wind (13%) and other – solar, hydro, etc made up the rest. 
  • From October, new regulations kick in for trustees of pension schemes, requiring them to set out how they take account of financially material considerations including those arising from Environmental, Social, and Governance considerations, including climate change. Note Law Commission advice does not change – where the concerns aren’t ‘financially material’ – e.g. if they are ethical – trustees may only take these into account where there is broad consensus. Trustee responsibility remains in weighing up financial risks and opportunities.

INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE AMBITION: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

  • Updated analysis from the Climate Action Tracker, which rates countries’ climate commitments (based on so-called NDCs / nationally determined contributions to emissions reductions, 2020 pledges, long-term targets and policies) against the Paris Agreement shows that none of the top ten global emitters is meeting its climate goals. India is categorised as 2°C compatible, while the EU is categorised insufficient. China is highly insufficient – while USA and Russia are critically insufficient.
  • Finland has set a target to be carbon neutral by 2035 – without relying on buying carbon credits in other countries. This is probably the most ambitious national target yet – Norway’s is 2030 but doesn’t have the same commitment not to rely on offsetting through reductions in other countries.
  • Chile, who is hosting the next international UN climate talks this December, has announced that in the next 5 years it will close eight coal power stations which account for ca 20% of its power generating capacity, on a trajectory to become carbon neutral by 2050.
  • In Sweden, rail journeys rose 5% last year – and another 8% in the first quarter of this year – while domestic air passengers dropped by 8% January – April. This is driven by a phenomenon being called ‘Flygskam’ – or flight shame – and is a reminder of how quickly things can shift when they do shift.