Every new report on climate change from the scientists (the International Panel on Climate Change) reveals that global warning and its consequences are proceeding even further and faster than when they last reported only 3 or 5 years ago. The scientific pre-meeting at Copenhagen this week, before the crucial decision-making world gathering in Denmark in December this year, majored on three new alarming discoveries. One is that even a rise of 2C in global average temperatures compared to pre-industrialisation levels – which is now almost inevitable – will see up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest, which is critical to the Earth’s eco-system, die away within the next century. Second, it has been found that droughts, rising temperatures and deforestation are causing tropical forests (besed on observation of 117 of them across the world) to change from carbon sinks, one of the prime mechanisms for reducing carbon emissions, into carbon emitters. And thirdly, rising temperatures are gradually turning the naturally alkaline oceans more acidic which is then causing the shells of sea creatures to become soft and fragile which in turn is disrupting the food supply chain of the surviving marine diodicersity. All this has big implications.
Amazon dieback is one of the factors, along with the shrinking of the Antarctica and Greenland icesheets, the melting of the Siberian and Arctic permafrost, and the potential future release of the colossal repositories of methane hydrates on the base of the oceans, which can drastically transform the carbon cycle of the planet as the habitat for all living species on Earth. The removal of the capacity of rainforests to absorb, as they do at present, a billion tonnes of carbon a year will significantly and dangerously magnify the glbal annual total of carbon emissions. And the growing risk to the ocean food chain is very serious when already 50% of fish stocks are fully exploited, 20% are over-exploited, and only 2% are recovering.
So what is the moral for the Copenhagen shoot-out in December? It requires world leadership over tackling climate change which frankly is not manifest in any country yet anywhere. Britain makes claim to it, but it has to be earned by action, not just rhetoric. That requires big changes in UK policy.
* If the UK is to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as all the political parties are agreed, evidence will be needed that Britain is indeed actually cutting these emissions by 3% a year. Other countries will certainly be asking how that is compatible with tripling airport capacity throught Britain, increasing flights by 50% at Heathrow through a third runway, and (if it is approved) sanctioning a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent.
* Low carbon and clean energy projects have rightly been singled out by the Prime Minister as main vehicles for economic recovery. But again evidence is needed that they are being put in hand on a far bigger scale than hitherto, not as a minor sideshow to billions on bank bail-outs.
* The EU is committed to 20-20-20 by 2020, namely by that date the triple goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, generating electricity from at least 20% renewable sources, and improving energy efficiency by at least 20%. The UK is a very long way from achieving the latter two targets.
* Industry (say the largest thousand companies) are still not yet required to include in their published annual reports their annual levels of carbon generation, nor are individual families being sensitised to their responsibility for emissions through the introduction of household carbon allowances (which could be a market solution as domestic trading quotas).
* And other countries will not treat the UK seriously as a model leader in tackling climate change if, as currently under the Climate Change Bill, up to 70% of the carbon target can be earned by clean investments abroad through the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism rather than by making the UK first into a clean low-carbon economy as an example to others.