In 2015, world leaders committed to holding global warming to well below 2C whilst pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5C as part of The Paris Agreement at COP21. It is now expected that the world is likely to hit this level of warming within the next five years. In this article, Dr Angela Minas explores the actions needed to prevent this limit being breached.
- Researchers are 98% certain that the world will reach 1.5C warming prior to 2027.
- To prevent further overshoots and slow the ascent to the 1.5 C limit, carbon and wider sustainability should be embedded into the operational and strategic plans of governments and local authorities. This can be underpinned by enacting the Climate and Ecology Bill.
- Local authorities should take a co-benefits approach to framing climate action and tackling the challenges of climate change and local development.
A recent report by the World Meteorological Association reveals that by 2027, global warming is set to hit 1.5 C above preindustrial levels – a limit which, if reached/breached could cause further catastrophic impacts. If this temperature is met over a sustained period of time, there will be more frequent and intense extreme weather events (e.g., floods, droughts, heatwaves) negatively impacting health, biodiversity, food security, water supply, and economic growth.
Although the UK government have expressed a commitment to achieving net zero, fossil fuels are still on their agenda with new oil and gas extraction projects, such as Rosebank, potentially in the pipeline. This is despite there being “no practical emission space” for any nation to develop any new fossil fuel-based production facilities for even just a 50% chance of keeping to 1.5 C warming. Therefore, if the government are to keep to our commitment made under The Paris Agreement, it is more important than ever to provide an urgent and radical response to climate change.
The Climate and Ecology Bill
The Climate and Ecology Bill (CE Bill) was reintroduced to the House of Commons in Spring 2023. Written and supported by scientists, the CE Bill calls for a science-led and people-oriented approach to limit global warming and protect and restore nature and critical ecosystems. This is a very important step to ensuring that necessary actions will be taken to tackle the climate and nature crises.
Underpinned by fundamental principles that aim to rapidly cut emissions by ending fossil fuel production and import, the CE Bill will set the UK on a track to limiting further warming. One of the key clauses in the bill is centred on the UK using no more than its proportionate share of the global carbon budget. This sets a new climate target more aligned with meeting the Paris Agreement and considers cumulative and imported emissions such as international aviation and shipping, and manufacture of products abroad – often in lower income countries.
The strategies required by the CE Bill also include: reducing emissions from imported goods; minimising damage to ecosystems, food, water and human health both at home and overseas; and protecting and enhancing biodiversity. Fairness and public involvement are embedded in the bill, for example, through the proposed Climate and Nature Assembly process. Tyndall Centre research has produced scientific evidence that these actions are necessary, and legislation can solidify them.
If enacted the CE Bill could go further than mandating that emissions be reduced and also help to underpin the inclusion of carbon and climate targets in every decision that local authorities make.
A co-benefits approach to climate action and delivering climate commitments
Research by the Tyndall Centre and the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation (CAST) points to the importance of taking a co-benefits approach when framing climate action (See our report here). A co-benefits approach is where policies are enacted to tackle climate change whilst also delivering on other priorities such as cleaner air, the creation of green jobs, and improved public health from active travel, or vice versa. As a simple example, a policy on biodiversity supports more green spaces to be protected and developed; this has a positive impact on carbon sinks, air pollution, and people’s mental health and well-being.
In particular, our research on sub-national climate action suggests that this gets buy-in from decision makers as it offers the scope to tackle different priorities together. In our work with CDP, we found that cities citing the co-benefits of their climate action reported 2.5 times more climate actions than cities that did not.
75% of local authorities in the UK (over 300) have declared a climate emergency. Embedding co-benefits in their climate action planning and decision making is an opportunity to align their local agendas and political commitments. Early results from our co-development work with Greater Manchester Combined Authority show that whilst this is challenging to do in practice, it is possible to embed carbon and wider sustainability into the operational and strategic plans of local authorities (See GM Strategy). With appropriate resource allocation, some of the ways this could be done include: employing a ‘carbon budget’ approach to financial planning (see for example: Oslo’s approach) and setting higher standards for sustainability and equalities e.g., in construction of new building or procurement in supply chain. It is also useful to create cross-department sustainability working groups to avoid working in silos, and instead share good practices on carbon reduction and get internal support in identifying where impact can be maximised.
What needs to happen
The Climate and Ecology Bill is currently scheduled for second reading in November 2023. Though it has the support of 150 cross party MPs, the Bill has not been tabled by the government. Passing of the Bill therefore relies upon adequate parliamentary time being given to it and allowing its progress through the legislative process. If the government is truly committed to meeting net-zero and its obligations under The Paris Agreement, then Ministers should review its contents thoroughly and urgently adopt it as their policy.
In the meantime, local authorities should start to embed carbon and wider sustainability targets into all their decision-making processes. This will enable them to tackle climate, nature and development priorities together, achieve multiple benefits and help slow temperature increase towards the 1.5C warming limit.