In brief: Unless we keep global temperature rise within 1.5ºC, scientists say global heating risks spiralling out of control - and we are way off track.
We can be proud that the UK led the way with its 2008 Climate Act including a commitment to limit warming to 2ºC. But the science has moved on, and 1.5ºC is now considered the point beyond which the level of risk is unacceptable. Scientists say impacts such as flooding, heatwaves, and species loss will be typically around twice as bad at 2ºC than at 1.5ºC. Read more from WWF. Just as we follow scientific advice on Covid-19, we must trust the science on climate change. Independent science organisations say that UK's net zero target of 2050 is now too late and will see us losing control of rising temperatures. They also say we are worryingly off track even from the 2050 target. References:
In brief: Emissions from international aviation and shipping, and from the manufacture of the products we import are all currently NOT counted. Together, these account for nearly half our entire carbon footprint! (see WWF report)
International aviation and shipping were omitted from the 2008 Climate Act due to complications over which country bears responsibility. But these emissions are becoming ever more significant and it's no good ignoring them. It's not rocket science to share these emissions out between the countries involved.
Equally we can't ignore imports. Many of our companies have outsourced their manufacturing to countries like China. When we order products from abroad, the resulting manufacturing emissions are due to our consumption decisions. It's only fair to account for these emissions in our carbon tally. Recognising the carbon cost of imports will give an advantage to UK companies producing low carbon products in the UK. What's not to like about that? UK's emissions may have fallen 42% since 1990, but a significant portion of this reduction is simply because we make less and less here at home. The emissions are still happening.
Destruction of ecosystems, such as peat bogs and forests, releases enormous volumes of CO2. Conversely, if we work to rebuild these valuable natural environments, they can absorb vast quantities of CO2, safely locking away dangerous emissions. Read more in Nature.
We have witnessed an extraordinary decline in biodiversity and in the ecosystem services essential to life. From pollination & natural flood prevention, to crop nutrition provided by soils, we depend on a healthy biosphere. Humankind is part of the circle of life, not outside of it. Yet for decades, human activity has outstripped safe planetary boundaries, resulting in what scientists now define as the arrival of the sixth mass extinction event. Experts now warn of looming ecological collapse if policymakers fail to take emergency action - see World Wildlife Fund article.
The RSPB's 2019 RSPB State of Nature report on the UK’s biodiversity states:
- 41% of all UK’s species have declined since the 1970s (hedgehogs have declined by 95%)
- 26% of the UK's mammals are at a very real risk of becoming extinct
- A third of the wild bees and hoverfly species have sustained losses, likely due to pesticides, habitat loss and climate change
- 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have been lost in the last century. Read more from Kew Gardens on why wildflower meadows are so important to biodiversity.
The good news is that nature can heal quickly if we just give it the chance. Read about the groundbreaking wilding project at the Knepp estate in Sussex.
The Bill would limit reliance on unproven negative emissions technologies ("NETs" - see below) such as carbon capture in planning to meet our emissions targets. There's no guarantee these technologies will work or be sufficiently scaleable within the timescale required.
The Government's independent Climate Change Committee says that such technologies are speculative and ‘have very low levels of technology readiness, very high costs, and significant barriers to social acceptability’. Current Government plans have the assumption built in that these technologies will work at scale, and yet these plans have not yet been revised and updated.
Would NETs like carbon capture be entirely ruled out?
No. Carbon emissions are likely to remain unavoidable from certain sectors such as cement and steel. These emissions will need offsetting. But given the difficulties, uncertainties, and social acceptability issues surrounding NETs, the Bill would limit their use only for these purposes.
The Bill would not prevent us from going further than net zero, should future NETs permit it, particularly with a view to compensating for the UK's historical carbon debt (having been the first country to industrialise) or in the case of global overshooting of 1.5ºC. However, the CEE Bill would require rigorous scientific evidence that their environmental safety and effectiveness were guaranteed.
An emergency citizens’ assembly (CA) will be convened to help both the UK Government and Parliament create and review the strategy to achieve the bill’s objectives. The CA will empower MPs to take bold decisions and allow people to have a real say in the pathway to a fair and just transition to a zero carbon society and a thriving natural world.
Why is this needed?
Fundamental societal changes are required if we are to tackle the climate and ecological crisis head on. In order to prevent a ‘yellow vest’ effect, it is essential that citizens feel involved in decisions that may significantly change their lifestyles. Citizens’ Assemblies are a tried and tested route to engaging people in the democratic process. CAs empower politicians to arrive at recommendations that will address difficult decisions that will have a profound impact on the direction of the country.
Six parliamentary committees jointly commissioned the Climate Assembly UK (CA UK) in 2020. Strong consensus was reached on a large number of previously contentious issues, demonstrating the power of citizens' assemblies to break deadlock when given the chance to debate evidence from independent experts. But unfortunately, the CA UK had its hands tied in three key areas before even it started work:
- there was no obligation for recommendations to be debated by parliament, and a large number were simply ignored;
- the Government's did not permit the CA UK to question its net zero emissions target of 2050, widely regarded as way too late; and
- the CA UK was not called upon to consider adaptation or biodiversity.
The CEE bill’s integration of an emergency CA means that the assembly members will be tasked to fully contribute to the recommendations for and the review of, the bill’s ‘strategy’ to meet the ‘objectives’, alongside both Government and Parliament. In these most exceptional of times, the engagement of a CA feeding in to emergency policy-making will help give the government the public mandate it needs to implement the necessary fundamental societal changes.
An explainer from the Economist of the benefits of citizens assemblies: