IPCC Special Report
Letter to Kevin Hollinrake MP
Kevin Hollinrake (MP for Malton and Thirsk)
Regarding the IPCC Special Report published 9 August 2021
Following the publication of the IPCC report, we are writing to you as community environmental groups from across your constituency to urge you once again to press for more urgent action on climate mitigation and adaptation and a swift transition to a low-carbon economy.
The IPCC report published on Monday 9 August was written by the world’s leading Earth and climate experts but was commissioned and signed off by 195 governments in a hopeful sign of international unity. It makes clear that catastrophic climate change impacts are happening right now (at just 1.1° of warming) rather than at some vague point in the future and that governments all over the world must respond with the utmost urgency. The authors believe that we will reach 1.5° in all scenarios by 2040 and possibly even earlier if we fail to make unprecedented emissions cuts in the next few years.
Amid the dire scenarios painted in the report, there is a brief window of opportunity to limit warming to 1.5° and stabilise the climate in the hope of reversing some of the damage at a later stage. According to lead author Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, “we can stay within 1.5C but only just – only if we cut emissions in the next decade. If we don’t, by the time of the next IPCC report at the end of this decade, 1.5C will be out the window.”
Word leaders have called the report a “wake-up call for the world to take action now” (Boris Johnson), a matter of overwhelming urgency (John Kerry) and a “code red for humanity” (Antonio Guterres).
We are sure you will agree that the UK has a particular duty as the COP26 host to lead the global response to the report and to the underlying threat of climate breakdown.
As you pointed out in your response to our last letter in July following the CCC progress report, the UK government has a better record than most countries on decarbonisation. In particular, you referred to the PwC Net Zero Index (showing that since 2000 the UK has decarbonised its economy faster than any of the world’s twenty largest countries), the 2021 Climate Change Performance Index (UK second only after Sweden) and of course the 2008 Climate Change Act and the establishment of the CCC.
We accept that the UK has done better in some areas than many other countries. If we had a longer period in which to decarbonise, these incremental steps might well be sufficient. Despite being aware of the potential impacts since the 1970s, however, successive governments have been unwilling to take more radical action on the scale needed to turn this around in the time frame available to us.
You will be aware that based on current global policies we are on track for between 2.9 and 3.5 degrees of warming. Climate Action Tracker’s optimistic scenario is 2.1 degrees of warming if countries live up to their pledges and targets. If we are to stay within the 1.5° limit, however, we are clearly going to need a much more radical approach.
That means we must not only set highly ambitious long, medium and short-term targets but actually get started on the path to reaching them. We need a detailed decarbonisation roadmap (including milestones) as a matter of urgency alongside a comprehensive monitoring system to track and report on progress. The UK must also meet its financial commitments to provide mitigation and adaptation support for those developing countries that are already having to deal with the severe impacts of climate change despite having contributed very little to global emissions.
It is also crucial to get the messaging right. We understand that Alok Sharma has been working tirelessly behind the scenes, but we feel the crucial and consistent messaging from senior government figures is conspicuous by its absence. Alok Sharma’s credibility as COP26 President depends on the actions, commitments and messaging of the UK government as a whole and in particular the tone set by the prime minister, whose role should be to inspire, energise and if necessary cajole his counterparts worldwide. Ideally, government ministers and the PM should be talking up the proven economic, social and environmental benefits of a green transition on a daily basis and, importantly, assuaging concerns over cost (CCC forecast between 0.5% and 1% of GDP v much greater cost of inaction). This is an opportunity to create a sense of common national purpose and build pride in what our country can achieve through bold leadership, by doing the right thing and making difficult choices.
We understand that the UK economy is responsible for only around 1% of current global emissions, although a fuller picture would take account of our historical emissions (5%) and indirect responsibility for emissions linked to manufactured imports. This makes it all the more important for the UK to use every diplomatic and financial lever at its disposal in order to galvanise wider global action.
The PwC report you referred to, entitled Net Zero Economy Index 2020: The Pivotal Decade, notes that the pre-pandemic (2019) rate of global decarbonisation was 2.4%, “far below the rate needed to deliver the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C. Keeping warming to 1.5°C will now require a global rate of decarbonisation nearly five times greater than was seen in 2019.”
The report continues: “The average global decarbonisation rate required to limit warming to 1.5°C is now 11.7% per annum, while even a rate of 7.7% per annum is needed to keep warming to 2°C. These required rates have hitherto never been reached, but are now urgently required, year-after-year, to avoid accelerating global warming.” In this context, it is worth noting that even the UK’s decarbonisation rate of 4% (2018-19) and 3.7% (average for 2000-19), while admittedly higher than most countries, is far short of the rate required to limit warming to 1.5°C or even 2°.
The report states that “Consistently achieving double-digit decarbonisation year-on-year will require more structural and transformational changes across all sectors of the economy. Regulatory intervention will be key to helping many technologies and business models reach critical lift-off point. From R&D and clean infrastructure investment, to carbon pricing, tax incentives, and redirecting of subsidies; policy ambition in the UK needs to go hand in hand with business ambition.”
The decarbonisation deficit graph on page 10 of the report provides a striking illustration of how big the gap is between the UK/global response and what is now needed to meet our stated targets.
In light of the findings set out in the PwC Net Zero Economy Index and the dire scenarios set out in the IPCC report, we believe the government must now consider much more radical approaches to decarbonisation such as the following:
1. Reduce the cap in the UK’s cap and trade scheme (UK ETS) much more rapidly to a level that quickly disincentivises high-carbon activities while encouraging investment in and a much more rapid transition to renewables. Encourage other countries to do the same. Consider other carbon pricing mechanisms. At global level, according to a report by US energy consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd, “to stop global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels, carbon prices must surge to $160 per ton of CO2 by 2030, up from a global average of $22 at the end of last year.” Can the UK lead the way on this?
2. Immediately halt all UK fossil fuel subsidies and stimulus measures. According to a report by the Finnish power firm Wärtsilä Energy, the UK has allocated USD 5 billion in stimulus commitments to fossil fuels and just USD 158 million to renewables. Subsidising fossil fuels artificially inflates their profitability, making clean alternatives relatively less attractive to investors. This is what the CCC calls “blundering into high-carbon choices.” It also suggests the UK government has not yet fully recognised the importance and urgency of action on this issue.
3. A frequent flyer levy as supported by the CCC and the Climate Assembly. Aviation may not yet be one of our biggest sources of emissions, although it is expected to grow rapidly, but this is about sending out a wider public message that addressing climate breakdown is now a matter of the utmost urgency.
4. A government declaration of a climate emergency, matching the declarations of parliament and around 230 councils, would have a galvanizing effect in the run-up to COP26 and send a crucial message to other countries and the wider public.
5. Strongly disincentivise sales of high-emissions (non-electric) SUVs, which were the second largest contributor to the increase in global carbon emissions from 2010 to 2018 and in 2019 outsold EVs in the UK at a rate of 37 to 1.
6. Levy an additional tax on the UK profits of the biggest emitters in line with a proposal by US Democrats and use the proceeds to pay for investment in new green infrastructure. It is worth noting in this context that 20 fossil fuel companies alone are responsible for about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions (480 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965).
7. Reform national planning policy (NPPF and major infrastructure) to establish a net zero requirement for all future planning applications, a strong presumption against fossil fuel development and strict guidelines on energy efficiency in new (and existing) housing stock. At present, LPAs (including our own Hambleton and Ryedale) find it difficult to insist on stricter criteria in the absence of national guidance and regulation.
8. In line with scientific advice and the recommendations of the International Energy Agency in a report commissioned by the UK government, immediately halt all new fossil fuel exploration and production (including Cambo, the Cumbria coalmine and – until alternative cleaner fuels are available – all airport expansion).
9. Ensure that all government decisions are aligned with climate goals, i.e. a whole-of-government approach.
10. Divest government pension schemes from fossil fuel holdings and encourage local authorities to do the same.
We would be grateful to hear your views on which of these or other equally radical proposals you feel should be prioritised, which you do not agree with (and why), which you think might be the quickest/easiest wins and which may have the biggest barriers politically /economically /socially.
Referring back to the July CCC report, “It is time for the Government to implement these changes with the urgency that the science demands. Without a much stronger and urgent effort, we will breach 1.5°C of warming in the early 2030s and remain ill-prepared for the future.”
In the words of COP26 President Alok Sharma, “This is our moment. There are no second chances. Let’s pick the planet.”
To conclude, as urged by Lord Deben of the CCC, we now ask that you use all your influence in Parliament and within government to urgently bring forward genuinely radical actions and highly ambitious road maps that give us a chance of keeping below the hopefully safer 1.5° limit.
And the final word to a former prime minister: “Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world's environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order.” (Margaret Thatcher, 1990, Second World Climate Conference)
Thirsk Friends of the Earth, David Tonge, Local Group Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Time is Now – Thirsk and Malton, Mark Whiteman, email@example.com
CPRE North Yorkshire, Jan Arger, Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ryedale Environmental Group, Joy Andrews, ryedaleEG@hotmail.com
Kirby Misperton Environmental Group, Peter Winter, email@example.com
Date: 20 August 2021