Blog: #EarthDay the big CC

Planet earth. The one and only.

As an energy journalist I’m well versed on the frankly depressing effects of climate change.

Last Thursday I went to the Leaders in Innovation Conference in Cambridge – one of the UK’s hubs for clean technology innovation. Among other things, the conference addressed the challenges of developing clean technology innovation for a climate change conscious era.

For one of the last sessions of the day, the key note speaker was Professor Martin Lees, a prominent climate change scientist and advisor the UN.

I wondered why it was necessary to have a speaker on climate change at a cleantech conference – it’s sort of preaching to the converted; these people work daily to develop and commercialise low or zero carbon technologies for a cleaner, greener future. I started to drift off.

But the stark picture he painted of the future if the world were to continue on a ‘business as usual’ course reeled me back in. That is a future in which governments fail to do something transformative to mitigate global warming so it remains below the 2 degrees target set for global climate policy. The big opportunity to do this will be at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris between 30th of November and 11th of December this year. Though, quite frankly, going on past performance, I’m not filled with confidence.

In aid of #EarthDay and at the risk of depressing you all I thought I’d share some of the things Professor Lees said. [I’ve asked for his slides to share with you but am yet to hear anything back].

If the global community continues on its current course the world is headed for 4 degrees of warming – double the current target.

Lees chief message was that a 4 degrees rise would result in the end of civilisation by the end of the century. THE END OF CIVILISATION. I can see how it’s easy to dismiss this as exaggerated, overly dramatic, scaremongering even; it’s inconceivable after all. But there are thousands and thousands of independent studies to back this hypothesis up. This isn’t an issue anyone can afford to be ignorant about. This is why:

  • Global warming will see an increase in environmental refugees, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, US. Hurricane Katrina displaced more than 400,000 people from the New Orleans area and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
  • According to the IEA Carbon Budget, to have a 50% chance of meeting the 2 degrees warming target 70 – 80% of the world’s proven fossil fuels reserves must not be burnt and must stay in the ground. When you consider since 2003 globally coal – the most polluting fossil fuel – consumption has grown nine times faster than the growth seen in wind-energy consumption and 40 times that of solar energy, it’s scary. (Side note: this is what makes UK Independence Party’s proposal to bring back coal completely ridiculous.)
  • Our children – my children – will live 10 – 20 years shorter than us, with a life expectancy of 50 – 60 years, if we continue as we are. Air pollution already kills 7 million a year.
  • Lees says that if the world misses the 2 degrees warming target, as it is currently on course to do, there is no going back. We cannot reverse the damage.

Lees said one of the major problems facing this seemingly indomitable challenge is that politicians, world leaders, don’t understand the science and therefore have lacked to legislate effectively against climate change.

Let’s keep pressuring world leaders to act decisively on this massive challenge and pull out the big guns in Paris in November.