“Humanity is on thin ice, and that ice is melting fast.
As today's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) details, humans are responsible for virtually all global heating over the last 200 years. The rate of temperature rise in the last half century is the highest in 2000 years. Concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest in at least 2 million years.. The climate time bomb is ticking…..”
That's António Guterrez, General Secretary of the United Nations at the launch of the latest report from the IPCC.
Hello, I'm Anthony Day and welcome to this edition of the SFR. This new report will be the main story today so I'm going to hold over micro mobility and 15 minute communities until I can spend enough time on them to do them justice. But today we’ll take a trip to a swimming pool, a cathedral and a secret vault in the Arctic.
This latest report, AR6 as it's called, underlines the urgency of the climate situation, but claims that it's not too late to stay within an increase of 1.5°C. It's still talking about a target of net zero 2050, even though many people are saying that will be far, far too late, as I did in the last episode. It is talking about urgent government action to set out strategies for the intermediate stages. Targets are needed for 2030 and 2040, because if we are to have any hope of achieving net zero 2050, the rate of emissions must fall very rapidly and very soon.
There's a sad sense of déjà vu. NASA scientist, James Hansen warned the United States Congress of the dangers of climate change in 1988. Economist Lord Stern warned the British government in 2006. Only last year, António Guterrez himself expressed frustration at COP27: "We are on the highway to Hell, with our foot firmly on the accelerator.” All the time emissions have been growing and temperatures rising.
AR6 Summary for Policymakers
The summary for policymakers is more specific. Here are some of the statements it makes:.
Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming, with global surface temperature reaching 1.1°C above 1850–1900 in 2011–2020. Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, with unequal historical and ongoing contributions arising from unsustainable energy use, land use and land-use change, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production across regions, between and within countries, and among individuals.
Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred. Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. This has led to widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people. Vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected.
…and there are many more.
I'm a bit concerned that at the bottom of each page, it says “do not cite, quote or distribute.” Not sure why they’ve made it available on a public website, then.
Quite apart from AR6, a new report is out this month from The Global Commission on the Economics of Water. It’s called Turning the Tide - A Call to Collective Action, and in it they say,
“We can no longer ignore the world’s crisis of water.
“We will fail on climate change if we do not solve water. We will also fail on all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“No person, place, economy or ecosystem will be spared.
“A sustainable and just water future can be achieved.
“It requires a sea change in how we value, manage and use water. That begins with treating water as what it is: our most precious global collective good, essential to protecting all ecosystems and all life. And recognising that we confront a water crisis that is now systemic.”
Water has been a very controversial issue in the UK for some weeks now. It has been revealed that the Environment Agency, the industry watch dog, has been starved of resources and is doing little to control the sewage pouring into the nation's rivers. Unlike almost any country in the world, the British government decided to privatise water and sewage some 40 years ago. It has become clear that instead of investing in sufficient capacity to treat the nation’s sewage, most water companies have been abusing their rights to discharge sewage into rivers in times of flood, by discharging it as routine. They have spent more on shareholder dividends than on investment in infrastructure and have treated such penalties as they receive for uncontrolled pollution as an acceptable cost of doing business.
If you are in the UK I strongly recommend that you watch Paul Whitehouse, Our Troubled Rivers, on BBC iPlayer. Best not to watch it while you’re eating.
Deaths in Australia
In Australia, we have just seen reports of massive fish mortality in a river in New South Wales. Millions of fish, along tens of kilometres of the river have died. The immediate cause is suffocation, because hot weather has deoxygenated the water. However, the local first nation people are not convinced that that is the only cause and samples are being analysed to see whether pollution was involved.
Both these stories reveal that, in many places, we are very far from taking proper care of our water resources.
Going back to AR6, this document sets out not just to warn of the cataclysmic consequences of the climate crisis, but also to suggest actions which can still hold global warming, they believe, to 1.5°C. The press release is headed “Urgent climate action can secure a liveable future for all.”
“Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all.”
“In this decade, accelerated action to adapt to climate change is essential to close the gap between existing adaptation and what is needed. Meanwhile, keeping warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels requires deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors. Emissions should be decreasing by now and will need to be cut by almost half by 2030, if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C.
“There is sufficient global capital to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions if existing barriers are reduced. Increasing finance to climate investments is important to achieve global climate goals. Governments, through public funding and clear signals to investors, are key in reducing these barriers. Investors, central banks and financial regulators can also play their part.
“If technology, know-how and suitable policy measures are shared, and adequate finance is made available now, every community can reduce or avoid carbon-intensive consumption. At the same time, with significant investment in adaptation, we can avert rising risks, especially for vulnerable groups and regions.”
The language in the report itself is much more strident.
The IPCC report calls for clearer government strategies, commitments and investment. This week there is an announcement from SSE (Scottish & Southern Energy) who plan to build a pump storage facility in Scotland. This will provide a reserve of energy which can produce 150 megawatts at 60 seconds notice, allowing the grid managers to balance supply and demand. There be an initial investment of £100 million but the project will take up to 8 years to build at a total cost of £1.5 billion.
“It is critically important the UK government urgently confirms its intention on exactly how they will help facilitate the deployment of such projects,” said SSE’s finance director.
Where do we go from here?
Inflation Reduction Act
So where do we go from here? Last year, Joe Biden was praised for his Inflation Reduction Act, which provided investment into clean energy and for tackling the climate crisis. But while the IPCC says that emissions will need to be cut by almost half by 2030, last week the president approved the Willow Project: an $8bn expansion of oil and gas developments in Alaska.
More oil, gas and coal
In the UK the government continues to issue licences for exploration for new oil and gas reserves. At the end of last year, it approved the opening of a new coal mine. Last week, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented his budget, he not only froze fuel duty for the 13th year in succession, he retained the emergency 5p cut introduced during the pandemic. He is effectively subsidising the wealthy to drive large, inefficient cars for greater and greater distances. And we all know, emissions from traffic are a significant proportion of the continuing pollution of the atmosphere.
Last month oil giant BP posted record profits. At the same time, it announced that it was pulling back on its climate change goals. It cut its emissions pledge and plans a greater production of oil and gas over the next seven years compared with previous targets.
Business as usual for ever
In the face of these inexorable commitments to business as usual, can we still hope that the messages from the IPCC will lead to sufficient change to meet the challenges?
By the end of COP28, I call on all G 20 leaders to have committed to new ambitious economy-wide, nationally determined contributions encompassing all greenhouse gases and indicating their absolute emission cap targets for 2035 and 2040. The transition must cover the entire economy. Partial measures won't cut it. I look forward to welcoming first movers on the acceleration agenda at the climate emissions summit in September in New York.
Once again I thank the Intergovernmental panel for showing the fact-based, science-grounded way out of the climate mess. We have never been better equipped to solve the climate challenge but we must move into WARP speed climate action now.
We don't have a moment to lose.
There’s a link to the full speech and to the presentation slide deck on the Sustainable Futures Report website.
There’s brighter news in the press as well this week. A swimming pool in Devon has found a way of cutting its heating bills. A local entrepreneur is using the waste heat from a data server to heat the water. It's an idea which could be scaled up and spread to swimming pools across the country, or indeed across the world. Data centres are notorious for their power consumption and for the waste heat which they release.
Just over a year ago, I presented an episode on York Minster, one of the great cathedrals of Europe. I spoke to the Director of Works and Precinct, Alex McCallion, about how the minster was approaching sustainability. He told me that amongst other initiatives, they were planning to put solar panels on the roof. This week it's reported that the local council has given the planning permission so the project can go ahead. The original episode is still available via the Sustainable Futures Report website.
Global Seed Vault
Far away in the Arctic, in a place called Svalbard there is a steel door set into the rocky, icy hillside. This is, in fact, the entrance to the Global Seed Vault. It contains hundreds of thousands of seeds from different plants from all over the world and the idea is that if there's ever a natural disaster, which drives a species to extinction there will always be seeds in Svalbard to allow those plants to be grown again. It's partly because the cold conditions are ideal for storing seeds for many years that this vault is located in the Arctic. I'm sure it's also for security reasons as well, because it's such a difficult place to get to. However, you can now make a visit, a virtual visit. There's a link on the website which takes you into the depths of the mountain to see this unique installation. Give it a try. Either find a link on the Sustainable Futures Report website or just Google SVALBARD.
And that's it for this week. Next week I have an interview with a specialist who will talk to us about the liabilities of organisations and company directors for the way they protect diet biodiversity. As Jenni Ramos, our interviewee says, climate change is just about managing emissions, whereas biodiversity is about safeguarding a whole myriad of issues. I hope you find it interesting.
As you know the SFR is a nonprofit project. I get no sponsorship, subsidy or advertising, which allows me to be totally independent. I'm always open to ideas and my apologies to those who have given me ideas and I haven't yet got round to working on them. Be sure you're not forgotten.
As I was explaining, independence does have its costs, so if you are able to contribute in a very small way, say a fiver a month towards the hosting, recording and transcription costs, you will be more than welcome, and you will be joining a band of very loyal patrons. The details as ever, are at patroon.com/SFR.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
There will be another next week.
Global Commission on the Economics of Water
The Commission is convened by the Government of the Netherlands and facilitated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It was launched in May 2022 with a two-year mandate.
Paul Whitehouse - Our Troubled Rivers
Fish dying in Australia
Inflation Reduction Act
BP scales back climate goals
Data centres heat pools
Solar Panels for York Minster
Svalbard Seed Vault