“Climate Change is not a risk that has been downgraded after the Referendum” Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
Climate change is a political issue. It is such a big problem that we cannot tackle it without ambitious legislation from global governments to reduce our emissions. Of course, we encourage individuals to cut down their own carbon footprint by doing things such as using public transport, eating less meat and insulating their homes – but we need to change things at scale, and quickly.
We need to shut down coal-fired power stations, move money from fossil fuels to renewables, build zero carbon homes, bring electric vehicles to the masses, and control emissions from aviation – and it is almost impossible to do that without supportive government policy.
People who work on climate change tend to be idealistic (you have to be if you spend a lot of time reading about the impacts of climate change). Politics, however, rarely makes time for idealism. Our climate campaigners spend a lot of time negotiating political priorities, election cycles, and ideologies. And so, since Friday morning when the result of the Referendum came in, we have been working out what needs to be done to keep climate policy alive across the UK in the wake of the decision to leave the EU.
European targets such as our target to generate 20% of energy from renewables by 2020, and standards, like those for vehicle emissions and electrical goods, have been helpful for tackling overall emissions. While it is uncertain what leaving the EU will mean for policies like these, we will find ways to protect and build our £46bn-a-year low-carbon economy. Public opinion (on either side of the Referendum debate) is clear on climate change – over three quarters of us consistently think that it should be a priority for government.
And if there’s any issue that the UK has been a global leader for, it’s climate change: the 2008 Climate Change Act was a world-leading piece of legislation. And our strong, industrialised economy gives us an opportunity to invest in clean technologies – but it also justifies our ambition, because we remain a big producer of carbon emissions with a responsibility to the global community to cut our pollution.
So we are excited to see that the government looks determined to keep up that leadership. Today the government has approved a new and ambitious UK carbon pollution reduction target. It commits the UK to cutting carbon emissions 57% from 1990 levels between 2028 and 2032. This is the level of reduction which the Government’s independent scientific advisors have told them will keep us on track to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050.
The next job is to make sure that there’s a plan of action and enough supporting policy, financing, and vision to deliver on that target. We’re also looking to the Government to ratify the Paris Agreement to bolster confidence in the UK’s commitment to climate action.
Finally, when the Secretary of State announced the new carbon target, she reminded us that making the emotional case for action shouldn’t always take a back seat to political negotiations. So I want to finish by saying that regardless of what lies ahead, the moral case for climate action is absolute. Our Chief Adviser on Climate Change recently blogged about the record breaking global temperatures we are experiencing today, when the global average temperature has increased by only 1°C .
The impacts of that warming are already visible, from the mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, to record low extent of Arctic sea-ice, and increases in extreme weather events here in our own green and pleasant land. We need to act now to cut emissions deeply to make sure the world stays well below 2°C of warming and do even more to try to limit the rise to 1.5°C as agreed in Paris last year .
Our climate change campaigners are idealists here at WWF: we are all here because we believe change is both possible and urgent. We will have to engage with politics to get the job done, but now, more than ever, we will be reminding all our politicians that action on climate change is simply the right thing to do.