Sci&Tech Writer Luke Wheeler highlights why this election is crucial for determining future climate change policy and where the parties stand
It has been a bad week for the climate crisis. First, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published its findings that over the course of 2018, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased in line with the trend of the last decade, and that atmospheric levels of Nitrous Oxide and Methane had increased at a rate greater than the decadal average. Then came the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 2019 Emissions Gap Report, giving a damning indictment of the international community’s ambitions on climate change as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise, targets continue to be missed and the measures required to redress this grow increasingly drastic. Last, but by no means least, a comment article in the journal Nature was published stating that ‘we are in a state of planetary emergency’ and that an ‘emergency response’ is required if the initiation of fundamental changes to parts of the Earth are to be stopped. This slew of news comes as the EU is in the midst of discussions on whether or not to declare a climate emergency, as well as the build up to COP25 in Madrid.
If the recent floods across the Midlands and the North and record breaking summer temperatures here in the UK were not evidence enough that something is not quite right, the aforementioned stories may well confirm that suspicion. It is evident that stronger action needs to be taken on the climate crisis, and the international reach of Extinction Rebellion and School Strikes show that the public is increasingly aware of this. The UK is very quick to pat itself on the back when it comes to its climate ambitions, as a nation great changes have been made, but that isn’t to say that problems do not remain and that ambition cannot be greater. A large focus is on renewable energy, and rightly so, but the decarbonisation of heat is a massive problem for the UK as the majority of heat is generated by Natural Gas, and often goes unmentioned in public debates on climate policy. Furthermore, whilst ambition and achievement at home are to be commended, the fact remains that action within the international community is necessary in order to instigate wide-reaching change. This could be achieved through a variety of means: leading by example, providing expertise to other countries or through a commitment to climate diplomacy. Indeed, the UK has an opportunity to make its mark, given that Glasgow is hosting COP26 in 2020.
2020 is a pivotal year for the international community, as countries are expected to present their new national climate action plans in order to reach the temperature limits established by the Paris Agreement. The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – plans to reduce GHG emissions in sufficient amounts by 2030 – that countries originally presented have repeatedly been found to be inadequate in combating the climate crisis, not least by the UN itself. For instance, the Climate Action Tracker projects that continuing with current policies would lead to 3-3.4 °C of warming above pre-industrial levels, and the UN says that with current policies GHG emissions are on course to reach 60 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent, yet if the limit should be 1.5-2 °C of warming emissions should be between 25 and 41 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by then. Subsequently, it is clear that the UK must not only commit itself to more ambitious climate targets over the next ten years, but that other nations need to follow suit too if the worst of the climate crisis is to be avoided. The role that the UK could play in these discussions means that the nation’s current and future political context is of paramount importance.
Hopefully the issues above demonstrate that the current general election could prove to be a turning point for how the UK seeks to address the climate crisis, and that it should perhaps be paid greater attention. Nevertheless, the parties running in Selly Oak do have a range of environmental policies:
- The Conservatives are aiming to remain on the current net-zero by 2050 path, looking to improve energy efficiency in buildings and continuing the ban on fracking unless it is deemed safe
- The Lib Dems are aiming for net-zero by 2045, 80% renewable electricity generation by 2030, a ban on fracking, a halt on airport expansion and increased tax on frequent fires and a reforestation program of 60 million trees per year
- Labour are aiming for net-zero by in the 2030s, generating 90% of electricity and 50% of heat through renewable and low-carbon means, phasing out fossil fuel based cars by 2030, removing the ban on onshore wind and investing in new renewables as well as investment in mitigation measures through spending on flood defences
- The Green Party are aiming for net-zero by 2030, phasing out coal by 2023, banning fracking, ensuring that all new homes are built to zero-carbon standards by 2020, and moving towards an ecologically sustainable farming system. They also say they will remove subsidies to oil and gas industries, as well as applying a Carbon Tax on imported and domestic fossil fuels.
- The Brexit Party aim to make it illegal for waste to be exported to be burnt, buried or dumped at sea. They also state that they will plant millions of trees and promote a global initiative at the UN.
The variety in these policies demonstrate that there is not one direct path towards reaching the UKs climate change targets and commitments, but also that ambition varies across the political spectrum.
The urgency of combatting the climate crisis is evident, and the next decade leading up to 2030 is going to define to what extent nations across the world will be affected by it. Given that the new government may well be in power for the next five years, it is evident that the policy framework it introduces will come at a pivotal moment in tackling the climate crisis.
Subsequently, this really should be considered the climate crisis election, the population at large should scrutinise environmental and energy policy, and the climate crisis should be considered a major factor at the polls. The future of not only the country, but the world as a whole is at stake.