At the end of this year, world leaders will gather in Glasgow for a big climate change conference as the scientific evidence of our changing climate accumulates.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is predicting that the average global temperature in 80 years’ time is likely to be between 3°C to 5.5°C above late-19th century levels if no action is taken to reduce global CO2 emissions.
Climate change is already affecting the UK with rising sea levels, higher average temperatures and more frequent very wet days. And globally, we are seeing heat waves, drought, extreme rainfall and coastal flooding which – unchecked – could result in human beings having to move home.
A decade ago I met some people in Kenya who had done exactly that because it had stopped raining where they were living. They left their village and pitched up in a town where they built benders to live in made of twigs, carboard and bits of plastic from the local rubbish tip, and then they waited to see if the rains would return.
There are those who think this isn’t happening and who rubbish the science. I’m not a scientist, but I think we should take what they say seriously. And I would put this question to the doubters; are you absolutely sure that you are right and the scientists are wrong? Because if you’re mistaken, then you’re taking an enormous risk with everyone’s future.
The task we face is very practical. How we reduce our CO2 emissions and then get rid of them altogether? We have made some progress as a country. UK emissions have fallen by about 40% since 1990. We have done this by burning a lot less coal, producing more renewable energy from wind turbines and using energy more efficiently. While we still have a long way to go, the UK’s experience shows that we can make progress.
So, what do we need to do next?
First, replace petrol and diesel cars with electric ones. More and more car manufacturers are making electric vehicles available and their efficiency and range are improving, but we need to solve the problem of how to charge your car at home at the end of the day without trailing cables out across the pavement.
Secondly, change the way we heat our homes and cook our meals. This is likely to mean either electric or hydrogen-powered boilers and cookers.
Thirdly, lots of emissions come from ships transporting goods around the world which are currently powered by diesel engines. In future, batteries, hydrogen or ammonia will be the new sources of power.
Finally, there is the tricky question of aviation. No-one has yet developed a way of lifting 250 people into the sky to travel 3,000 miles other than by burning kerosene, which emits a lot of C02. In Leeds, this issue is coming to a head with the proposed expansion of Leeds Bradford airport. The Committee on Climate Change said last year that the UK’s planned increase in aviation would need to be curbed to restrict CO2 emissions. There are those who say that flying should be taxed much more heavily, but then you end up with it becoming the preserve of the well off. And the problem with each area facing a decision on expansion on their own is that, knowing how many jobs depend on their airport, they fear that turning down their expansion will simply result in a neighbouring airport getting the go ahead. It is the Government that needs to deal with this because airport expansion is unsustainable.
Every single country faces the same challenges, dilemmas and choices as we do, and international agreements between nations are so important to hold us all to account for the commitments we make and the progress we demonstrate. That’s why the meeting in Glasgow this November matters. If we want to make a difference, then each one of us must commit to action so that we can pass on a safe and secure planet to our children.