Tuesday, 16 July 2019

What we must all do to halt climate emergency

What we must all do to halt climate emergency

A GROUP of Henley residents attended the “Councils leading in the climate emergency” meeting in Oxford last month. It was a call for urgent action as part of a worldwide response to climate change.

The main speakers were Adrian Whitehead and Bryony Edwards, from Darebin, a suburb of Melbourne in Australia. They are the founders of Community Action in the Climate Emergency.

Darebin City Council was the first in the world to declare a climate emergency and to put this at the top of the agenda in all the council’s activities.

Parts of Australia are currently suffering from extreme heat, with temperatures close to 500C. The Australians told the meeting about the catastrophe happening there, including the worst ever bush fires and the death of 23,000 bats over two days in November.

The residents of Darebin (population 50,000) have responded to the developing crisis by lobbying their local councillors and getting the council to declare a climate emergency. Other local councils in the country have followed suit and the idea has now been picked up by more than 200 councils in 29 countries worldwide, including 15 in England.

The London Assembly has passed a motion to bring forward the date to achieve “zero earbon” to 2030. If this fails to happen, then large areas of London coud be flooded at high tide. There is already a greater use of the Thames Barrier than predicted to protect these areas.

The graph below shows the
1.5 degree international target to “avert catastrophic climate change” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, October 2018). We are almost there. In February 2016, according to the data from NASA, we reached a peak temperature of 1.65 degrees above the IPCC baseline. The annual average to February 2016 was 1.2 degrees above the baseline.

At the meeting we were told that if we are going to keep to the internationally agreed deadline of
1.5 degrees we must not only bring the date for zero carbon forward to 2030, we must plan for carbon capture to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere beyond that date.

Adrian and Bryony went on to explain why we must go beyond the actions proposed in the IPCC report, which did not take into account some secondary effects that could accelerate the rate of climate change.

One of the most worrying of these is the massive release of methane gas from the Siberian permafrost as reported recently in the Daily Mail. The article explained that warming of the ground is causing the release of methane underground which then blasts its way to the surface. Methane is 28 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

We attended the Oxford meeting as the chairman and treasurer of Henley in Transition and both felt that it called into question everything that we had been doing up to now.

The meeting had a huge impact on me. We felt both relief and excitement. We had the feeling for some time that we — humanity — are sleepwalking into disaster. Every day it seems there is new evidence being brought to our attention that the situation is urgent. At last here was recognition of the seriousness of the situation as well as a way forward — with pressure from the bottom up.

But isn’t action being taken? Yes, there is more energy coming from renewable sources, but at the same time the world is also burning more fossil fuels and adding to the problem. So, this was recognition that the pace of change is far too slow.

Henley in Transition has been going for 10 years now. We have become very involved in campaigns like Clean Air for Henley and Plastic Reduction as well as bringing environmental science to schools and maintaining and adding to green spaces in Henley.

We have organised successful community projects, such as installing low-cost solar panels and carrying out an infra-red survey to show residents where the heat was being lost from their homes. But the numbers involved are tiny in comparison with the scale of the problem.

Yet new houses are still being built with no renewable energy and totally inadequate insulation, i.e. business as usual. This has to change. So what can residents do if they want to support the Climate Emergency campaign? One key idea is that local councils can lead the way. There are local elections coming up on May 2. Join us in lobbying candidates to ask that they support having a motion passed by Henley Town Council and South Oxfordshire District Council to declare a Climate Emergency. Then only support candidates who are prepared to do this. This would commit councils to:

1. Assess future policies for their impact on the climate.

2. Commit the councils to becoming zero carbon by 2030.

For example, the current review of the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan is an opportunity for the town council to make a clear statement that it understands the urgency of the situation and commits to carbon neutral policies on all policies, including housing and transport during the lifetime of the plan. Now is the time for communicating a clear vision for a sustainable Henley.

Last week, Oxford City Council unanimously passed a motion declaring a Climate Emergency. Craig Simmons, who proposed the motion, said: “The climate crisis is an emergency that requires actions at all levels of government, local, regional and national. We need to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. This is an extremely challenging but achievable goal. We need to deliver real change. The hard work starts here.”

So what can individuals do? Lots of us now are very good at recycling, using less plastic, saving energy and are happy to buy an electric/ hybrid car for our next purchase. Now we need to tackle other issues that have a major impact on the climate, such as:

• Fly less: Emissions from aircraft are a major contributor to climate change.

• Eat less meat and dairy, especially beef and lamb.

• Move to a renewable energy supplier. This is very easy and in most cases will not cost a lot more.

• Repair and recycle rather than buying new.

We need the Government to pass laws that will support and enable the above actions but individual actions like those above will help bring pressure for change.

One tool that the Government could use to help produce the necessary shift would be a carbon fee and dividend policy. This is where a “fee” is applied to a product depending on the amount of carbon that is used and then instead of this money disappearing into the Treasury coffers, it is returned to people as a dividend.

There is a lot of support for this in America from both Republicans and Democrats.

We will arrange a meeting to examine this idea further and flesh out how it might work in the UK.

Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that sees climate change has reached a stage where immediate action is essential, to avoid tipping points which could bring us to the end of civilisation or even lead to our extinction. It calls for immediate responses by governments to the climate emergency and believes that the only effective action available to the public is rebellion. Non-violent direct action.

Everyone has to make up their own mind about the actions that they are prepared to take. Extinction Rebellion groups are springing up in towns and cities. We believe that its voice should be heard.

In summary:

• There is mounting evidence that the Earth is moving towards climate catastrophe.

• The IPCC set a target of 12 years to reach zero carbon and keep to 1.5 degrees of warming. It is already clear that it is not possible to meet this target without drastic action.

• Local councils can lead the way by declaring a “Climate Emergency” and working towards being zero carbon by 2030.

• We all have a responsibility as individuals to act for the sake of future generations.

• Henley in Transition will do all it can to raise public awareness about the Climate Emergency. We also undertake to provide a forum for discussion about the solutions to the crisis as well as providing support and help for those people who feel they should respond and want to get involved.

Readers who wish to contribute ideas and join in the action to reduce carbon consumption and the impact of climate change should email Henley in Transition at henley.in.transition@gmail.com

You can also follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

• There will be a public meeting to discuss the climate emergency and what we can do about it at Henley town hall on Wednesday, February 20 at 7.30pm.

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