At the Paris Climate talks in 2015, agreement was reached to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
The agreement is a potential lifeline for many of the poorest people around the world. The poorest 2 billion people have caused less than 10% of historic greenhouse gas emissions, yet are most at risk from man made climate change.
Global warming of 1.5 degrees will still have a damaging effect on the planet and all who live here. It will result in an increase in the severity of extreme weather, a reduction in the availability of water, falls in the yields of staple crops and sea-level rises. Drought across parts of Africa is currently putting 6 million lives at risk in Somalia alone. Some estimates suggest that 400,000 deaths per annum are the result of climate change.
At 2 degrees of warming, however, the risks increase dramatically and disproportionately. In areas such as North Africa and the Levant, water scarcity would severe. In tropical and coastal areas, ocean acidification and sea level rises already disrupt the livelihoods of entire regions and threaten widespread coastal flooding.
New analysis this week has revealed that in the next four years, without serious change, we will burn enough carbon to make limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees impossible.
The announcement of a general election here, whilst a climate change denier sits in the White House, must focus minds. By the time our next Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be, calls the next election (assuming no more surprises!), we will have blown our chance to prevent this disaster, unless they have enacted serious and urgent change.
There are reasons to hope. The costs of renewable energy and cleaner technologies are dropping quickly. Last Friday the UK electricity grid ran entirely without coal for the first time since the industrial revolution. Various cities around Europe and the world have set ambitious goals for becoming ‘zero-carbon’ in the coming years.
But we must be realistic. Making this change requires serious decisions and bravery, of the type establishment politicians have not yet shown themselves capable of.
Ending further fossil fuel exploration. Stopping fracking. Making big changes to our homes, our workplaces and our transport system.
Developed countries such as ourselves must lead. And forward thinking cities such as Cambridge must drive change. Local institutions, such as the University, must immediately lead by divesting their money from fossil fuel companies.
Civic society in Cambridge must join our call for Cambridge to aim to be the country’s first ‘zero carbon’ society.
Don’t let climate change be forgotten this June.