From climate change to climate emergencies – a changing world and changing attitudes

From climate change to climate emergencies – a changing world and changing attitudes
16 September 2019

From climate change to climate emergencies –  changing world and changing attitudes

Global climate is in crisis. The language we use is changing, from climate change, to crisis, breakdown and emergency.

Since I have worked at Ricardo, I have seen climate policies and targets come and go and levels of commitment and ambition rise and fall. We’ve had targets to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% on 1990 base year (smashed it); Wales’ commitment to a 3% reduction per year; Local Authority National Indicators and zero carbon homes. We also have the UK Climate Change Act (2008). It is a ground-breaking legally binding target to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions by 80% between 1990 and 2050. Recently things have started to change, and we now know that we could and should be doing more.

In the last year, so much has changed. Greta Thunberg began a weekly climate strike outside the Swedish parliament buildings on the 20th August at the age of 15. In just a year she has become a figure head for a global movement of youth strikes and rebellion.

Then in October 2018, the IPCC released its special report ‘Global warming of 1.5°C’. This covered how much more significant the impacts of global heating are at 2˚ or above, compared to 1.5˚, and what would need to be done to meet this limit. Global emissions are still rising, and the IPCC recommends that they are reduced by 45% compared with 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero at around 2050. They also noted that globally we are not on track to keep warming below 1.5°C. So countries are now looking to update their commitments. Interestingly, a lot of the pressure to do this is coming from the people, from the local level.

So, this is where people like Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion come in. The public are beginning to put pressure on governments to increase their levels of ambition. To go beyond their current legal obligations and try to mitigate this approaching disaster.

The Climate Emergency movement began in Australia in 2016, when the City of Derebin declared a climate emergency and produced a climate emergency plan. In November 2018, Bristol became the first major UK Local Authority to do the same. Since then, over 220 UK Local Authorities (LAs) have declared climate emergencies as well as many town and parish councils, universities, private organisations and importantly, the UK Government. The declaration LAs are being advised to use includes a requirement to put citizens’ assemblies and working groups in place; disinvesting from fossil fuels; call on central Government to put appropriate policies and funding in place to support climate initiatives; and set a target date for carbon neutrality (usually 2030, as opposed to the updated Climate Change Act target of 2050).

LAs are facing growing pressure to take action and not only from their own constituents. This is evidenced by actions from private organisations like ClientEarth (an environmental law organisation) announcing last week that they are writing to 100 LAs who are currently putting together new local plans to give these authorities an 8 week deadline for setting evidence-based targets and embedding these targets in their planning policy.

As an environmental consultancy that works with LAs across the UK on subjects such as air quality and waste management as well as annually producing the Local Authority CO2 emissions for BEIS, Ricardo has seen an increase in enquiries from LAs looking for support in meeting their targets across various sectors. We are supporting organisations to understand what delivering against their climate emergency pledges actually mean. As a business, we have worked directly on emissions targets, decarbonising waste fleets and renewable energy strategies. In the last week, we have run a number of training courses for LA officers about where to start with understanding their emissions and prioritising their actions.

We are living in both exciting and frightening times; with increasing opportunities to act and support ambitious plans but also more awareness of the importance of these actions. I am so glad that Ricardo’s mission has recently been updated; we want to create a world fit for the future. What a huge task that is. For now, let’s enjoy this picture my daughter drew of Greta (our hero) heading across the Atlantic to give Trump a good talking to.