Together we can avoid dangerous climate change

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Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Together we can avoid dangerous climate change

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At 9am this morning, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its major report on the science of climate change. It is the first in a series of three that together represent an important milestone in the development of our collective understanding of the science behind climate change; and for the RSPB it is yet another reminder that if we want to save nature, we must redouble our efforts to address climate change.

We have yet to see the full report, which will be published on Monday, but the headlines in the summary document are straightforward:

We are more certain than ever that climate change is due mainly to human activities – The IPCC conclude that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.” The global average temperature has risen by 0.85oC between 1880. Scientists are 95-100% certain that human activity have been the dominant cause of this warming. That’s about as sure scientists are that smoking causes lung cancer.

Climate change continues apace – Whilst the rate of surface temperature increase has slowed in recent years, the overall trend is one of rapid warming. Each of the three most recent decades has been warmer than all previous decades for 150 years, the sea level is rising at an increasing rate, most glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking, and temperature extremes, such as heat waves, are becoming more common.

We are on the path to dangerous levels of climate change – If the world carries on as it is, average global temperatures will rise well beyond the universally agreed limit of two degrees above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. For wildlife, such a scenario is disastrous - a scientific review in Nature suggested that this degree of climate change risked committing up to a third of species to extinction.

A gloomy outlook that could dishearten even the most devout optimist, particularly when some commentators continue to aggressively reject the science. Yet I am going to be optimistic and see this report for what it is: confirmation - to the highest degree of certainty we can reasonably expect - of the risk of a climate crisis and what we must do to avert it.

We get to choose the world we want (figure from the IPCC fifth assessment report)

The good news is that we have made considerable progress over the past few years.  Since the last IPCC report in 2007, here in the UK we had the Climate Change Act introduced, a world-leading piece of legislation that continues to drive the low carbon transition in the UK. The Act was a result of the tireless efforts of many, including RSPB supporters, as well as politicians working together from all of the major parties, in the interests of the current and future electorate. It was an extraordinary achievement that should act as a reminder to everyone that acting together we can make the break from the daily grind and do the right thing for our common future.

Since then, the recession - alongside aggressive climate sceptism - has redirected political and public attention and threatened to unravel efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. In reality, however, progress has continued to be made, and I believe that there are now signs that we are coming out of this difficult and fractious period. The US and China have begun to take serious action, for example, whilst the international negotiations have made progress - most of the world’s countries have now agreed to a global goal of keeping climate change to within safe limits and have recognised that more needs to be done to achieve this.

All of this makes me believe if we take responsibility and work together, we can avoid dangerous climate change, and, in doing so, build a better world that would allow nature and people to prosper.

  • If you wish to help, here is an EU petition which will go some way to beginning the processes which are required to solve this problem. I suspect that RSPB cannot push this as it threatens funding.

    But surely even CEO's of huge corporations can see the sense of this if enough people push for it.

    First of all I offer you a link to Wikipedia page explaining about the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI)

    From there you can access the Eradicating Ecocide website which I also copy below

    Then I offer you the End Ecocide webpage of the ECI for you to consider signing

    For those of you who would like to see Polly Higgins explaining her proposal in a series of interviews on youtube

  • I just hope that you will bring pressure to bear on the Natural History Unit to communicate the science ie that CO2 reductions are integral to it and that the 20 year delay here by the BBC post the 1992 Rio Earth Summit has been an act of political cowardice.

  • Martin, I'd agree there is room for optimism (if not much !). When you come down to the practicalities what initially looks impossible starts to open up real possibilities: I suspect few people realise that 1/2 of all our energy in the UK goes on heat and if my house is anything to go by cutting our energy use by half (ie reducing UK emissions by 25%) looks entirely feasible. Similarly, the way we use land to make ourselves more resilient against the impacts of climate change could actually save, not spend, money (as well as reversing the decline in biodiversity): were ecosystem services properly valued it would soon be clear that some land is more valuable as wetland to absorb the impact of flooding and hold water than it is for food production - but we pay farmers to produce food whereas the rain that falls on the land is worthless to the landowner. Many of the barriers we face are human & institutional, nothing to do with nature at all (how exactly does energy saving work for the energy companies and the climate change sceptics supporting them, for example ?). Is it surprising that farmers push for subsidy for food production in the absence of any clear alternative ? And, of course many land managers are very ready to adapt if they can see a sustainable future for their business and livelihood.

  • I do hope the politicians take this report very seriously indeed otherwise the lines about the clattering train come to mind;

    " Who is in charge of the clattering train? The axles creak and the couplings strain. The pace is hot and the points are near and sleep has deadened the driver's ear; the signals flash through the night in vain, for death is in charge of the clattering train."

    Let's hope this planet does not end up like the clattering train.