0:08 When we hear politicians and some scientists talk about climate change it is easy to be left with the impression that we simply need to build lots of low carbon technology by 2050 or even 2030. Wind turbines, nuclear power stations, solar panels, electric vehicles, and increasingly negative emission technologies. But such careless language is seriously misleading.
0:28 Our concern about climate change relates to rapidly rising temperatures. And what we know from careful scientific work is that these rises are driven by the total amount of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases we’ve put into the atmosphere. When we burn fossil fuels we emit carbon dioxide, some of which will remain in the atmosphere affecting the climate for thousands of years.
0:48 But is a rising temperature such a big problem? Well, as the temperature rises so we’re going to see an increasing range of impacts – from disruption to rainfall patterns, more severe, droughts increasingly, intense storms, rising sea levels, greater flooding, and even hotter heat waves. There remains a lot of uncertainty around some of these impacts, but only really in the detail. We’re confident that the impacts we are already witnessing are only set to intensify.
1:14 So far we’ve seen a rise of a little over one degree Celsius. But unless we act immediately we’re heading for two degrees Celsius of average warming by the middle of the century and three or four by the end of the century. Recognizing all of this, national leaders came together in Paris in 2015 and agreed to take action to hold the temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to not exceed 1.5 degrees.
1:40 If we’re to have a good chance of meeting the 2°C commitment, scientists have estimated we can emit around 800 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. That is, we have a carbon budget of 800 billion tonnes. Say it quickly and it sounds a lot, but that was in 2018 and it is now 2021. By the end of this year we would have emitted around one fifth of our remaining global carbon budget. And as we’re focusing here on energy, allowance has to be made for the emissions from deforestation and from chemical processes such as steel and cement production. At current rates of emissions from our energy system we have a little over 15 years of carbon budget left, for a good chance of staying below 2 degrees, and just a handful of years for a similar chance of 1.5 degrees.
2:27 But is it all hopeless? Is 2 degrees Celsius, which in itself is a very dangerous compromise for many, any longer possible? In my view, it is… just!
2:38 First, we need a rapid decarbonization of our energy system – larger in scale than the post-war reconstruction of Europe, or even Roosevelt’s 1930s new deal. The productive capacity of our economies needs to be retooled to construct a zero-carbon society. At the same time, we need to electrify most of the energy system. Essential though such changes are, they cannot cut emissions at the rates needed to meet our Paris commitments.
3:06 So, second, we need to ratchet up the efficiency of our energy use, whether it is in our cars, our laptops, our refrigerators, or our industries. But government also needs to put in place policies to stop us spending any money we may save on yet more high-carbon activities. They need to guard against what we refer to as the rebound effect.
3:27 Finally, though technologies are a prerequisite of meeting our Paris commitments, they are insufficient. Immediate cuts in energy use and hence carbon emissions by high energy users are now critical.
3:40 There is an enormous imbalance in individuals’ emissions. Half of all global emissions arise from the activities of just 10% of the global population, with the top 1% having twice the emissions of the bottom 50% But does this imbalance really matter? Well yes, and hugely so. If the top 10% of global emitters were required to cut their carbon footprint to match the average European, whilst the other 90% made no major changes, that would still deliver nearly a one-third cut in global emissions.
4:10 The beauty of bringing equity into the equation is that it reframes the debate. It is no longer about trying to reduce emissions from almost eight billion people, but about really focusing in, at least in the short term, on the one to two billion people who are responsible for most of the emissions.
4:28 So what can we do? Surely it’s the job of our leaders? Well far from it. Society is a complex place with a myriad of interactions – a child questioning their parents about their car’s emissions, employees pushing their pension firms to divest from fossil fuels, or national campaigns to influence the direction of policies. All are important, but in themselves can only have a limited effect. It is then the job of policymakers, company CEOs and others to build on these examples and scale them up to rapidly drive wider social change. Ultimately it is a partnership between bottom-up and top-down. Leadership is needed at every level. In a very meaningful way we all have agency. We all have a role to play.