November, 2009

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Climate change

News and views from the RSPB on climate change and what you can do about it.
  • How to pay for a low carbon future?

    Funding the change to a low carbon economy is a key challenge for all political parties, so it’s good to see George Osbourne outlining his ideas on how a Conservative government might meet it.


    We encourage them to extend their proposals to promote investment in climate change adaptation and in the protection and restoration of ecosystems such as wetlands, woodlands and uplands and the natural services they provide.


    It’s worth reminding ourselves of the context here: Scientific consensus suggests if the Earth warms beyond an average of 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, the impacts will be catastrophic for people and the environment.


    Such a future would include more intense rainfall and severe flooding during our winters, increasing the frequency of events such as those in Cumbria this week. Massive crop failures, particularly in tropical areas, and rapidly rising seas will be immensely damaging to our food security. For every one-degree of temperature rise we risk the extinction of 10 percent of species. 


    To have a good chance of staying within the 2-degree limit, the world’s richer countries, including the UK, must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent before 2020. To do that, we need to find around £200-£250 billion by 2020.


    This will require a step change in the level of investment into clean energy. That investment needs to start now. We cannot wait until the economic cycle recovers.


    The Conservatives’ announcement today is hugely welcome as a step towards getting public and private investment flowing. The proposals should increase the amount of capital available and, by reducing risk, reduce the costs of investment too.  The introduction of green ISAs will enable individuals to play their part as well.


    However, the detail needs to be developed further. There is a risk that unless it is well-designed, a green investment bank will encourage people to put money into hard infrastructure, but neglect cost-effective opportunities, such as protecting natural carbon stores and building resilience to flood risk through restoring habitats such as peatlands, saltmarsh, mudflats and forests. 


    The Tory proposal must ensure that it looks after the needs of those suffering the immediate effects of climate change, including action to improve our natural flood defences. Such action can also deliver a suite of other social benefits such as biodiversity, tourism, and recreation.


    The importance of considering all of the costs and benefits from an investment is described in our recent publication ‘Naturally at your service: why it pays to invest in nature.’


    We also warmly welcome the Conservative’s pledge to reform the Export Credit Guarantee Department and stop government guarantees being used to support carbon intensive activities overseas. There is a broader challenge here that must be addressed. Given the urgency of the climate challenge and the pressure on public funds, the taxpayer cannot afford to support activities that, at best, do not deliver public goods and at their worst support environmentally damaging activity.


    The public money underpinning the banks is another such example, where taxpayers’ money is being used to support high-carbon investments, including investments in dirty fossil fuel projects (such as the RBS helping to raise £400 million for the exploration and extraction of oil from war-torn Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo).

  • All aboard to save the rainforests

    The Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, was in London this week, stopping off on her way to the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. The nice people at Greenpeace kindly invited me to join them at a press conference they were holding onboard. It was a chance to try to get across our thoughts as the talks draw ever nearer and my thoughts were largely concerned with the fate of the world’s rainforests.

    Environmentalists have described Rainforest conservation as the 'long defeat', but Copenhagen offers hope to turn that around. The great majority of nations will come to the negotiating table having recognised the value of rainforests and will be looking to build new economic models, which make trees worth more alive than dead. Negotiators have worked for two years on a treaty text, which will allow them to do this.

    That is why it is so frustrating to see some world leaders pull back from their clear commitment to do a deal in December. Delay now could end our last best hope to save the world’s forests. We are all aware the natural world and all the many services it provides for people are under grave threat from climate change. Environment scientists estimate that up to half the world's species - some five million life forms - could be placed at risk of extinction by a five-degree rise in temperature.

    Fewer people realise that the natural environment, so threatened by climate change, is also one of our best hopes for avoiding its worst consequences. Tropical deforestation accounts for between 15 and 20 per cent of global emissions, roughly the same as the emissions of the whole European Union and rather more than those from all ships, cars, trains and planes.

    At present, rainforest is being lost at the rate of 13 million hectares a year - an area the size of England. But stemming this tide is possible. The efforts of countries such as Brazil, which has slowed its rates of deforestation significantly in recent years, show that this is not a lost cause. But critically, rainforest nations need to know now that the world - and rich nations in particular - are set on a low carbon development path. They need to know that the global economy will reward them, if they take the risk of re-setting their own development strategies to focus on forest protection. No country can be expected to risk its economy and future well being, on the basis of supplying a service - rainforest protection - which it cannot be certain the world wants.

    Rainforest nations will arrive in Copenhagen hoping to get a loud, clear signal from the world that their forests are worth protecting. This means an ambitious, fair, legally binding climate deal. If they hear this, we can begin the job of rainforest conservation in partnership. If they do not, we may well be staring down the jaws of that long defeat again.

    There is still time to do the right thing. Leaders have urged ordinary people, including RSPB members, to get out and show that they care about climate change - to prove that there is popular support that will allow them to move. On December 5, tens of thousands of those ordinary people will be out on the streets of London and in other cities around the world. We are keeping our side of the bargain, now it is up to world leaders to keep theirs.

    Ruth Davis, RSPB Head of Climate Change Policy

  • A call to march for the climate

    Copenhagen or Bust?

    Many of you will have heard recent reports that hopes are fading for completion of a new global climate treaty at the UN summit in Copenhagen, starting just 21 days from now. You might even be wondering, why should I bother campaigning on climate, when so many world leaders seem to have given up? 

    I'd like to give you some reasons to fight – in fact, to shout louder and demand more.  I hope these encourage you to join us on December 5th, at one of the climate rallies in London, Glasgow or Belfast – and to lend your voice to ours in the weeks and months ahead, in the continuing battle against dangerous climate change.

    Ye cannae change the laws of physics.....

    The first and best reason to keep going, is that whilst summits come and go, climate change continues along at just the rate dictated by science – no faster, no slower. 

    Every week brings new evidence of the gathering pace of that change. Methane is leaking in ever larger quantities from permafrost fields; massive changes to rain-fall patterns are leading to prolonged and devastating droughts; and we are witnessing further dramatic ice-loss at the poles.

    In the wake of this, come human misery, and a heightened threat to the wildlife we know and love.  There can be few sadder sights than that of whole peoples abandoning their countries forever, knowing that they are lost to the sea; and unseasonably heavy rains deluging our northern cities as people scramble to bolster flood defences.

    And yet our politicians tell us they have had no time to address this crisis.   We cannot accept this excuse .

    Will the real economists please stand up?

     It is these same men and women who worked day and night in the midst of the economic crisis, to reconstruct the world’s financial institutions.

    The Climate Action Network - the group of NGOs lobbying for a good UN climate deal in December - estimate that something like $200 billion a year of public money will needed by 2020, to address the planetary emergency of climate change.  Rich nations say they cannot afford it.  And yet in 2008, these same nations mobilised 8.4 trillion dollars, much of it in a matter of days, to underpin the banking system.

    Every single one of these leaders knows that tackling climate change is also a real and immediate economic necessity.  A recent study by the International Energy Association estimated that every year of delay will cost $500 billion per year.

    The case for action is clear; the excuses for inaction are feeble; and the consequences of inaction are morally and economically unacceptable.  So who is telling us to wait, and why?

    Will Uncle Sam please come to the departure lounge?

    The calls for delay began in the United States, where President Obama is struggling to get climate legislation through the Senate before December.  Without it, the US President feels constrained in what he can offer the international community - and so he is trying to ‘buy time’. But is it right or rational, that the rest of the world simply shrugs its shoulders and says 'ok'? 

    In fact, the international community must press harder, to help concentrate the President's mind, and create the political momentum needed for action.   

    Binding, ambitious and fair.

    In the UK, Secretary of State for Climate and Energy, Ed Milliband, has tried recently to redress the balance and show what is still possible and necessary from Copenhagen. In a recent interview,  Mr Milliband turned up the pressure on those like Canada's Premier Steven Harper, who are using the calls for delay to argue the case for inaction.

    Mr Milliband stressed the need for real numbers on emissions cuts and finance to be agreed in December, and for Heads of Government (including President Obama), to be there to back them up.  He also gave the strongest indication yet, that the UK and the EU as whole, will not stand for a final outcome that is 'political' rather than 'legal' in nature.  Don't let statements like these be a 'voice in the wilderness'. Civil society should be speaking up, louder than ever before, reinforcing this call to action.

    Lets be clear, then. Targets, finance, a legally binding outcome, and the timetable for delivering them, are all still at stake in December.  But none of them will be won, if we  are silent now. Never has the need been greater for people to speak up for urgent government action on climate change. 

    Doing the hard work at home.... 

    Finally, consider this.  In the real world, emissions cuts do not come about simply because nations sign up to an international treaty, binding or not. They happen because of domestic laws and policies, put in place as a result of political pressure - the kind of pressure which UK activists are exerting (for example) to stop new, dirty, coal-fired power stations. 

    In the UK, concerned citizens must keep up the call for action that delivers on our own ambitious climate targets - targets we fought so hard for when we lobbied for the UK's Climate Change Act. Similarly, the most important step the United States government can take is to cut the excuses, get back home, and legislate.  And if that's the message coming loud and clear out of Copenhagen, we will all have done our job.

    Ruth Davis, Head of Climate Change Policy at the RSPB