For months now, concerns about the long-term effects of climate change have been over-shadowed by the more immediate threat to human life posed by the Coronavirus. But Boris Johnson’s announcement of intent to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 68% by the end of the current decade has put the issue firmly back at the top of the agenda.
So national pride has been given a welcome boost. More importantly, the PM’s announcement has succeeded in galvanizing other nations into making equally binding commitments.
However, the sad truth is what we do in the UK is of little consequence so long as the US and China – the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases – continue to pump vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. As it is, incoming President Joe Biden has promised to reverse his predecessor’s decision to withdraw from the ‘Paris Agreement’ and to aim for a net zero position by 2050. China has committed to similar status by 2060, leaving other huge industrial nations, like South Korea and Japan, with little option but to fall into line. This is brilliant news because it is a clear sign that momentum for change is once again gathering pace.
Lest we forget, the aim is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century; some scientists are even hoping for a 1.5 degrees Celsius reduction. This underlines the long-term nature of a project from which most of us will not be around to benefit to the full.
However, some of the benefits should materialise much earlier. Adair Turner, co-chairman of the Energy Transitions Commission, recently said: “The more specific you are about your targets, the more certain industry can be about the future, and the higher its investment in local innovation, manufacturing and supply.”
Proof that this is so has already been provided by distinguished British scientist, Dr Debbie Trebilco, who is setting out to achieve carbon neutrality of the North Yorkshire valley ahead of even the latest national targets. By adopting renewable energies – she has already launched a community hydro-electric generator – she is hoping to create 17,000 new jobs across the Yorkshire and Humber region. Now that’s a tangible benefit we can all appreciate with immediate effect.
As the good Dr Trebilco has already said: “There is no vaccine for climate change.” We must get on with it ourselves.