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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Jack Kessler

OPINION - Window of opportunity to preserve liveable climate rapidly closing

The Metropolitan Police. The Democratic Unionist Party. Xi Jinping in Moscow. Boris Johnson at the Privileges Committee. UBS acquiring Credit Suisse. Beavers marauding around Ealing. There is always something going on that seems more urgent than climate change. More ‘newsy’. I mean, what’s another UN report or additional tonne of carbon dioxide amongst mammals who thus far can only survive on one planet?

But here we go again. Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say the window of opportunity to preserve a liveable climate is rapidly closing. Essentially, without urgent action to stop emitting greenhouse gasses, it doesn’t really matter how much liquidity your central bank can inject or what Northern Ireland’s second largest party thinks of the ‘Stormont brake’.

The report makes for sobering reading. Burning fossil fuels has already warmed the Earth by 1.1°C. This has resulted in more frequent extreme weather events, as well as increased food and water scarcity for millions of people. Which sort of makes sense when you consider this is the hottest Earth has been for 125,000 years.

The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement set an overarching goal to hold the increase in global average temperature to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” We are nowhere near to achieving that effort.

The good news is there is still, barely, time. And this is not 1990, the year of the first IPCC report – we have the technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt. But we have to use them. Limiting warming to 1.5°C will require greenhouse gas emissions peaking by the end of *next year* before rapidly falling. By 2030, emissions would have to drop by 43 per cent compared with 2019 levels. Instead, they are set to rise. Last year’s was 0.9 per cent according to the International Energy Agency.

Limiting warming to 1.5°C will also require measures to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, potentially allowing us to overshoot the target for a few decades before dragging it back. This however, relies on technologies that have neither been fully tested nor deployed at any sort of scale.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that there is nothing intrinsically special about the number 1.5. The point is, if it is missed, then 1.6°C is next best, followed by 1.7°C and so on. The more the planet warms, the harder it will be to live and the more likely that tipping points are reached unleashing all manner of devastation.

So, can we avoid it? Great change – technological and social – has occurred in short periods. Only 66 years separated the Wright Brothers’ first flight (36 metres) and Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon. Public attitudes in Britain towards homosexuality flipped in a matter of years. We will need to combine something of the two and compress it further still if we want to maintain a habitable planet. Business as usual (see Friday’s or tomorrow’s newsletter) will not cut it.

Elsewhere in the paper, RMT members at Network Rail have voted to accept a pay offer. The union said the deal includes an uplift on salaries of between 14.4 per cent for the lowest paid grades to 9.2 per cent for the highest paid, increased backpay, and a no compulsory redundancy agreement until January 2025.

In the comment pages, Financial Editor Simon English warns that when Northern Rock went under, a run on a bank took days or weeks to unravel. Now it takes an hour. Rob Rinder says school visits by professionals are key to social mobility and ensuring that a wealth of talent isn’t lost. While Melanie McDonagh is on top form with an excoriating take on ‘Happy Monday!’ culture.

And finally, beavers were hunted to extinction across the UK 400 years ago. Now the “charismatic large rodents” (Ross Lydall’s words, not mine) are returning to Ealing of all places as part of a rewilding scheme funded by City Hall. You have been warned.

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