Are we keeping our promises on climate? UK and world update

Asad Rehman

07 November 2016

There was major progress at the Paris climate talks in 2015. But current plans put us on a course for a planet-burning 3.5C rise.

“I hear no objection in the room. I declare the Paris climate agreement adopted,” said Laurent Fabius, the French President of the climate talks, on 12 December 2015, as the gavel came down on 2 weeks of intense climate negotiations.

What is the Paris climate agreement?

The historic Paris Agreement hammered out between 195 countries covered climate action up to 2030 and set out the global ambition to “limit the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2C, and to pursue further efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C”.

It also recognised that it would “undertake rapid reductions in accordance with best science… and on the basis of equity, and efforts to eradicate poverty”.

The Agreement only becomes legally binding when 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions have ratified the new climate treaty, through their own domestic processes and parliaments.

Current targets add up to a planet-burning 3.5C warming

During September’s G20 Summit in China, the US and China, 2 of the world’s biggest polluters, announced that they had both ratified the Agreement.

With pressure mounting from the international community, India, Canada, Indonesia all signed up, closely followed by the European Union (although not all 28 member states have ratified – including the UK, which isn’t expected to sign until the end of 2016).

On 5 October 2016 both legal thresholds were finally crossed. The Treaty would come into force exactly 30 days later, on 4 November, just in time for the start of the climate talks (COP22) in Marrakesh, and before the US Presidential elections where climate change remains a contested issue.

Was there any progress at the Paris climate talks?

Getting the 1.5C threshold recognised in the Paris Agreement was a huge win for climate justice groups such as Friends of the Earth and our sister groups around the world, who represent many of the poorest and most vulnerable to climate change.

As was stopping some richer countries bullying poorer countries into agreeing to exclude mention of:

  1. rich countries’ greater responsibility in causing the climate crisis, and
  2. rich countries’ obligation to do their “fair share” of effort.

We argued that poorer countries, many already dealing with huge problems of poverty and inequality on top of climate impacts, desperately need rich countries to:

  • ramp up their own efforts to tackle climate change
  • support poorer countries so they can develop their own clean economies, and deal with the already significant impacts of climate change.

However record-breaking temperatures not seen for 115,000 years are a stark reminder that the next 5-10 years are some of the most critical if we want to stop run away climate change.

Current targets in the Paris Agreement, however, add up to a planet-burning 3.5C warming.

Say no to fracking

Instead of making the deep cuts in pollution needed, some governments are relying on unproven technology, such as large scale bio-energy carbon capture and storage, to be able to carry on polluting.

Even if this technology could even become feasible, and that the projected costs of trillions of dollars could be met, the reliance on bio-energy could spark a new global land grab with terrible consequences for global food production and our natural areas.

Climate change solutions 2016

The only proven solutions to global warming remain:

  • ending the global economy’s addiction to dirty energy from fossil fuels

  • investing in global renewable energy that has the interests of people at its heart

  • ending the unsustainable consumption of meat and dairy

  • creating a food system based on sustainable agriculture that can feed people as well as cool the planet
  • tackling the excessive consumption in rich countries that use more than their fair share of the planet's resources.

Why we must keep up the pressure on rich countries

The next 3 years will be critical in getting governments to live up the promises they made in the Paris Agreement.

Friends of the Earth will be heading to the Marrakech climate talks (COP22) in November 2016 to call on governments like the UK to increase their targets (see below) for the critical pre-2020 period.

If we miss this window, scientists say it is increasingly unlikely that we can prevent temperatures from breaching the 1.5C target.

The Japanese government wants climate money promised to poorer countries to finance new coal-fired power stations

As discussions begin in Marrakech on implementation of the Paris Agreement, we need to be aiming to translate them into concrete action by 2018.

This is when climate scientists produce a new report on the 1.5C "guardrail", and also when the climate talks in 2018 (COP24) will have a formal opportunity for governments to discuss increasing the weak targets in the Paris Agreement .

We will also be working to ramp up the $100 billion that rich countries have promised poorer countries by 2020 to help them tackle climate change and its impacts.

Though it sounds like a lot of money, it is nowhere near enough to meet the actual costs of climate change.

And even with this inadequate pledge, rich countries still haven’t outlined how and when they will provide the money.  

Some rich countries even want such “climate finance” for poor countries to go towards supporting multinationals and their dirty energy business model.

The Japanese government, for example, wants this money to finance new Japanese-built coal-fired power stations in developing countries.

Renewable energy in Africa - a breakthrough

Burning fossil fuels remains one of the key contributors to climate change.

Yet incredibly nearly 1 in 6 people – 1.3 billion people – are without any access to electricity.

We made a major breakthrough with our idea for a renewable energy fund; $10 billionis pledged  for a new Africa Renewable Energy Initiative

Friends of the Earth, and its international Federation, are campaigning against the burning of fossil fuels, but also supporting poorer communities to develop clean energy alternatives, that are owned by them, rather than big business.

In Paris we made a major breakthrough with our idea for a renewable energy fund. Countries pledged $10 billion for a new Africa Renewable Energy Initiative.

We’re now working to make sure that the money supports the right kind of projects, as well as pushing for a comparable global renewable energy fund.

Climate refugees explained

Climate change impacts such as droughts, floods and extreme weather are already responsible for hundreds of thousands losing their lives. Millions more are losing their homes and livelihoods.

The International Organisation on Migration, an expert body of the UN, calculates that by 2050 up to 200 million people could be forced to leave their homes because of climate change.

That’s nearly 1 in every 30 people in the world.

At present climate induced migration – or “climate refugees” – be they from extreme weather, food and water scarcity, or because their communities have been submerged, have no right to legal protection.

By 2050 up to 200 million people could be forced to leave their homes because of climate change

Friends of the Earth is calling on the international community to give those in need the help they need and adopt a new “climate refugee protocol”. The world needs to say: We welcome climate refugees.

If we don’t want the promises in the Paris Agreement to remain simply words on a paper, we need to urge the UK to act and do its fair share to keep the planet and its people safe.

Is the UK tackling climate change?

There is some excellent progress in the UK – the UK’s greenhouse emissions were 38% below 1990 levels in 2015.

But overall the UK is off-track to meet carbon-reduction targets. These targets will need substantial tightening to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

What is a carbon budget?

Government adviser the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) sets 5-yearly carbon budgets for the UK, as steps on the way to meet the UK Climate Change Act target of “at least 80%” below 1990 levels in 2050.

The CCC has so far set carbon budgets up to 2032, and successive governments have passed them all.

The UK met the first carbon budget (2008-2012), and is on track to outperform the 2nd and 3rd budgets (2013-2017, and 2018-2022).

This is excellent news, and shows that emissions cuts are doable and can be sustained over many years.

However the CCC says the UK is off-track to meet the 4th carbon budget, and that policies need strengthening in many areas.

In addition, the UK’s carbon budgets and 2050 target are not, in Friends of the Earth’s view, a reasonable contribution to the Paris climate goals. They need substantially tightening, to reflect:

  • the fact that the Paris Agreement commits nations to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5C. Current UK targets are based on at best a 50:50 chance of 2C
  • the UK’s carbon budgets appropriate a very large share of the remaining Global Carbon Budget to the UK. It is neither fair nor pragmatic to assume that other nations should make far greater efforts to allow the UK to make slower efforts.

Friends of the Earth together with our colleagues in other groups, including the International Trade Union Confederation, faith groups and grassroots organisations in the Global South, produced a report on sharing the global carbon budget fairly

A recent report by the CCC looked at the UK’s climate progress in 4 areas:

1. Renewable electricity – how are we doing?

The UK has a major success story to tell. Renewables have rocketed to provide 25% of UK electricity in 2015, up from 6% in 2008.

This has gone hand-in-hand with plummeting costs. Onshore wind is now the cheapest form of new electricity generation.

Coal power is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. In May-September 2016, solar power produced more electricity in the UK than coal.

These trends, coupled with major advances in technology and cost for energy storage worldwide, means that renewable electricity technologies can become the dominant, clean heart of the UK energy system within a decade.

The UK has a major success story to tell on renewable energy but overall is off-track to meet its climate targets

However, in the past 18 months the government has mounted a series of policy attacks to slow down renewables, and focused very heavily on nuclear power, such as the widely criticised and expensive Hinkley C power plant.

There are some signs that the government does back “smart grids”, which help more efficient use of energy, and wants to see the offshore wind sector continue to flourish. But overall the government remains too fixated on propping up old and increasingly expensive technologies rather than investing adequately in renewables growth.

2. Energy saving in our homes – how are we doing?

Energy saving is the top-priority for action on climate change. But the CCC reports that “Progress improving the energy efficiency of buildings has stalled since 2012.”

And since 2015 the government has further watered down or cancelled a wide range of energy-saving policies.

This lowering of already inadequate inaction is particularly shameful given that the UK has some of the worst-quality housing in Europe, with homes so inefficient millions of people cannot afford to keep their homes warm.

Such “fuel poverty” is the cause of tens-of-thousands early deaths every year.

3. Transport and carbon emissions – how are we doing?

Overall progress is slow.

Car fuel-efficiency improves, but recent events such as "dieselgate" show there is need for far more rigorous independent testing.

The government continues to pour far more investment into high-carbon road building than into low-carbon public transport in cities, walking and cycling.

On the plus side, electric vehicle (EV) production and sales are growing very rapidly.

Over the next decade, EVs can become a strong complement to a renewable electricity grid, providing large amounts of additional storage.

Aviation policy is completely divorced from climate considerations, with Heathrow expansion set to produce an additional 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution.

4. Fossil fuels – how are we doing?

Global oil, gas and coal production from existing fields and facilities would take us over the Paris 1.5C limit and also a 2C goal. No-one should be drilling for new coal, oil or gas.

Yet the UK government remains gung-ho in its support for both an entirely new fossil fuel industry – fracking for shale gas – as well as allowing new opencast coal and attempting to “maximise” oil and gas production in the North Sea. The government needs to move away from maximising production to minimising demand.

Overall, the UK is off-track to meet targets which will also need substantial tightening to meet the Paris agreement goals.

Say no to fracking

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