United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describes the current climate crisis as “a race we are losing, but it’s a race we can win.” While the climate emergency is an issue that has been common news item, the situation nonetheless continues to escalate as has been evidenced by current events that have once again shed light on the practical implications of climate change.
The impact of climate change
There are a number of tipping points that we have driven the world to, that scientists describe as “disastrous”. A tipping point in this regard refers to a situation whereby a certain temperature threshold is surpassed, resulting potentially in unstoppable changes regarding the climate. A 1.1-degree Celsius rise in global heating will result in the melting of Greenland’s ice cap, which would consequently result in rising sea levels. Additionally, there is the potential for a collapse of a key current in the North Atlantic, which would disrupt rainfall upon which billions of people depend for food. At 1.5 degree Celsius of global heating, vast northern forests would undergo changes, consequently affecting all mountain glaciers. The Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Professor Johan Rockstrom, had this to say about the potential irreversible tipping points: “The world is heading towards 2-3C of global warming … to maintain liveable conditions on Earth and enable stable societies, we must do everything possible to prevent crossing tipping point.” To name a few specific impacts so far:
- Global temperatures are rising with carbon dioxide release due to coal, oil and gas production, and greenhouse gas emissions are at a record high.
- Glaciers in polar and mountain regions are melting at a faster rate than ever. Entire regions of New York, Shanghai and Abu Dhabi, to name a few, are at risk of being underwater within our lifetime if no action is taken.
- Soil degradation is a big factor in current food and water insecurity. 30% of food is lost and wasted as a result of erosion, in which there are 500 million people who live in areas whose homes will be affected by erosion.
- Intense and frequent extreme weather is as a result of the climate – in fact, 90% of intense and frequent weather is due to this. This also means that 2.6 million people are in poverty as a result.
- Without action, 140 million people in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will be involuntarily migrating by 2050 due to conflict as a result of climate change. Climate change heightens competition for resources and causes mass displacement.
Torrential monsoons began in Pakistan in mid-June, and more than 1,250 people have been killed, with 35 million people affected in one or the other, with a tenth of Pakistan now underwater. Flooding has submerged a third of the country’s habitable land, destroying more than a million homes, and has caused a food and housing shortage while increasing the rate of diseases. There has been increased rainfall on wet days, with projections that South Asia will be struck by more rain events as the planet heats. For every one degree the planet heats, the atmosphere can hold 7% more moisture. We have seen the devastation the flood in Pakistan is causing, and without immediate action, they will only become more frequent and more intense. This situation of course is not exclusive to Pakistan.
The UK’s involvement
The UK was the first country to impose a legally-binding climate act – the Climate Change Act of 2008. It pledged to cut emissions as a country by 80% by 2050. Additionally, the Climate Change Committee was established, which produces carbon budgets on-behalf of the government. The UK is a leading contributor to the climate crisis – despite its small size, because the impact of carbon emissions from the Industrial Revolution have proved to be damaging. An Oxfam study in 2020 showed how from 1990 to 2015, the richest one percent of the world’s population were responsible for more than twice as many emissions as the poorest 3.1 billion people.
The new Prime-Minister Liz Truss has appointed Jacob Rees-Mogg to head the department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) which has sparked great concern amongst those who campaign for the protection of the environment. Rees-Mogg is known for having somewhat controversial views on the conservation of the environment. Rees-Mogg has rejected calls for a windfall tax on gas and oil companies, “so that they get every last drop out of the North Sea”. He was quoted as claiming that “Fracking seems like quite an interesting opportunity.” It is not surprising Liz Truss appointed someone with views such as those that Rees-Mogg holds. On 8th September, the new Prime Minister announced the reversal of the ban on fracking. “It is vital we take steps to increase our domestic energy supply… we will end the moratorium on extracting our huge reserves of shale, which could get gas flowing as soon as six months, where there is support for it.” There does not seem to be much local support – only 17% of the population are in support of fracking. Studies have shown the extent of the impact of fracking for shale gas on global methane emissions. Professor Robert Howarth, from Cornell University, explains how methane emissions from shale gas is “globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen, and shale gas is a major player.” In the wake of the cost-of-living crisis, Truss does seem to have been set an impossible mission. However, there is little to no evidence that fracking will do anything to solve the cost-of-living crisis. Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted: “The situation we are facing is a price issue, not a security of supply issue … Additional UK production won’t materially affect the wholesale market price. This includes fracking.” Chris Venables, of the Green Alliance, expresses how “approving new oil and gas licences in the North Sea … wasting millions of taxpayer money on a doomed-from-the-start fracking mission, won’t bring down bills or improve UK energy security”. Additionally, Rees-Mogg expressed in 2014 how he desires his constituents “to have cheap energy more than [he] would like them to have windmills”, despite it being proven that running a gas power station is now 9 times more expensive than wind energy. Dave Timms, from Friends of the Earth, explains how it is “deeply worrying for anyone concerned about the deepening climate emergency, solving the cost-of-living crisis and keeping our fuel bills down for good.”
It is not a new idea that renewable energy is the way forward. However, according to new analysis, shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050 could save the world a minimum of £10trn. Wind, solar energy, and battery storage is far more affordable than anticipated, and far more affordable and sustainable than fossil fuels. It seems that the UK government is merely green washing, as it seems to be more talk than action regarding the climate crisis. In a government primarily concerned about its economy, this may be the incentive it needs to invest in renewable energy before it is too late.
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