We are facing a global climate emergency caused by human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
Droughts, storms, floods and fires are devastating people’s lives. Millions of people are fleeing their homes. A mass extinction of plants, animals and other life is under way. Human civilisation is unlikely to survive.
Scientists have been raising the alarm about climate change for more than 40 years, and finally, denial is falling away and governments, businesses and all of us are facing up to the reality. But there’s still a vast gap between the ‘climate emergency’ declarations being made by governments at all levels and the urgent action needed to address the challenge.
Fossil fuels in the spotlight
Our planet is now 1oC warmer than it was before the industrial revolution. This is mainly a result of the huge volumes of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – that have been burned since then.
Burning fossil fuels releases stored carbon and pumps it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) and other ‘greenhouse gases’. These trap heat from the Sun, warming the Earth’s surface and disrupting the climate.
Before the industrial revolution began in the late 18th century, the atmosphere contained about 280 parts per million CO2. Now, there are more than 400 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere and rising. Last time CO2 levels were this high, there were trees growing near the South Pole, sea levels were 20 metres higher than now, global temperatures were 3 to 4 degrees warmer, and humans didn’t exist.
Time to change course
The most recent warning by the United Nations (in its 2020 Gap Report) said we need to cut fossil fuel production by 6% every year to keep warming below 1.5°. Instead we are increasing production by 2% per year.
In December 2015, at the Paris Climate Conference, the UK government and 195 others agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and strive to keep global temperatures at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. That’s what scientists say is needed to avoid total climate breakdown.
Nearly three years later, in October 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists – the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – released a report warning there was only a window of 12 years in which to take action to keep global warming to this 1.5C target.
Two years have elapsed since that report was published, and the necessary action has still not been taken. The 1.5-degree target is now very unlikely to be met.
In the UK, the Government has set a legally-binding target of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In May 2019, the Committee on Climate Change published a report which stated that to meet this, fossil fuels need to be phased out of transport and heating by the early 2030s.
Keep fossil fuels in the ground
Oil companies already have more oil and gas on their books than we can afford to burn if we’re going to stay below 1.5ºC heating. So it makes no sense to allow exploration for any more.
To stave off the worst effects of climate change, we need to keep all fossil fuels in the ground. That means saying no to exploratory oil and gas drilling in the Weald and everywhere else.
The science and impacts of climate change – on the Committee on Climate Change website
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has a series of reports on the science of climate change.