No country is doing enough.
I am sure we have all been enjoying the latest snowfall: sledging in Kelvingrove, building igloos in your back garden, or being able to wear the salopettes you were wanting to whip out on the cancelled ski trip. But as we continue to see global temperatures rise, snow days could become a thing of the past.
The average Briton spends the equivalent of four and a half months of their life discussing the weather, but we seem to be all talk and no action since we are still hurtling towards what scientists call the “point of no return” with regards to the climate emergency. You might think that it isn’t a big issue necessarily: hotter weather equals more barbecues and beach trips! Though before you reach for your skewers and bottle of suncream, be warned that climate change is just that – change. And it could make the UK significantly colder.
The UK is warmed by the North Atlantic Current, which moves warm water from the Gulf of Mexico towards Europe, and there are some theories that if too many of the glaciers in Greenland melt, the newly introduced freshwater could disrupt the ocean current. This would cause the current to slow or even reverse, therefore blocking heat arriving in Europe. Before you start envisioning scenes from The Day after Tomorrow know that there can be some hope, but only if governments start tackling the crisis for what it is: not a small crack in the pavement, but a widening abyss that will soon swallow us whole.
There are many similar, and often interchanged, terms when it comes to talking about climate targets and government action, for example, carbon-neutral, zero-carbon and net-zero. Carbon neutral is more or less what it sounds like, making sure there is no change to the atmosphere’s carbon levels by offsetting any emissions through carbon-absorbing projects. Net-zero is sometimes used interchangeably with carbon-neutral, even though there is the subtle difference that net-zero includes all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide. Zero-carbon is maybe the holy grail when it comes to climate strategy because it involves preventing carbon from being emitted in the first place. In 2019, the UK government signed into law a target of hitting net-zero by 2050. Whilst this seemed like a positive step, it is far away from the immediate action required. Having targets so far in the future not only removes the urgency of the crisis but also removes responsibility: no one can predict how future governments are going to act.
The truth of the matter is that the UK are just not doing enough when it comes to climate action.
For a government that is now notorious for its U-turns, it also has a flair for the hypocritical. On 12 December at the Climate Action Summit, Boris Johnson stated that we need to protect the planet against “a challenge far worse, far more destructive even than coronavirus” and “the disaster of global warming”. He proposed that “we can radically cut our dependence on fossil fuels”, and, in an authentically British analogy, stated: “We can reverse the process by which for centuries, humanity has been quilting our planet in a toxic tea-cosy of greenhouse gases”. Doesn’t this sound all sunshine and roses? Yet the Bank of England bought the debt from oil companies as part of its coronavirus stimulus package. Looks like some of those roses have thorns.
Bailing out some of history’s biggest polluters such as BP, Shell and Total doesn’t sound like Johnson thinks that tea-cosy is all that toxic after all. Additionally, according to a report from 2019, the UK gives more subsidies to fossil fuels than any EU country. How can we ever hope to put out the fire if we keep fuelling it? Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all is Alok Sharma, the president for COP26, whose voting record shows that he has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change. Of course, who else to lead a conference about the climate measures we need to take but someone who voted against them? Someone who, at the Climate Action Summit, heroically stated: “This is the fight for the very survival of our fragile planet.”
However, at the end of the day, tackling the climate crisis needs to be a global effort. Right now, the world is far from meeting the targets laid out by the Paris Agreement five years ago. Many big economies have set similar long-term goals to reach net-zero by the mid-century, although only a few have detailed plans on how to get there. At the Climate Action Summit in December, world leaders were meant to come forward with strengthened plans to cut emissions by 2030, and whilst some did, the summit lacked ambition. The UK pledged to decrease emissions by 68% by 2030, which is not as radical as it may seem considering the costs of reducing emissions have plummeted in recent years, making the switch easier than ever. There was even less certainty from other leaders in attendance at the summit, with Modi of India vowing to “exceed expectations”, but not setting out how he would do so. Other countries have similarly inadequate plans, with Brazil still undergoing mass deforestation and Russia not having even made a plan in the first place.
There is perhaps a beacon of hope, with the Scandinavians – as ever – coming out on top. Sweden ranks first in the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) with Denmark, Norway and Finland following shortly after. However, it is important to note that Sweden is labelled number four on the list, as the first three spaces are left deliberately blank since no country performs well enough in all the index categories to be awarded a high rating. This is crucial because it demonstrates that, even if all countries implemented Sweden’s strategy, it would still not be enough. Every country needs to have climate policy at the top of the agenda.
It isn’t impossible. We have managed to produce a vaccine against Covid-19 in nine months and began distributing it in 10, making sure that everyone who wants a vaccine gets one, no matter the cost. I am not saying the journey has been perfect, but it is a massive leap from the position of the world in March 2020. This mindset needs to be applied to the climate crisis because, like the coronavirus, it is a crisis that is affecting millions of people all over the globe. The difference is that we can actually prevent the worst of the damages if we learn from our mistakes, truly leave politics at the door, and focus on a worldwide effort. The climate can’t be stopped by shutting borders.