Today, the Committee on Climate Change publishes its advice to the governments across the UK on the long-term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the UK’s transition to a net zero-carbon economy.  Below, my colleague Melanie Coath (who is the RSPB lead on climate change policy) offers her verdict on the report.  At the end, I outline how the RSPB is responding.

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Finally, the pendulum swings…

At first the shift was barely noticeable.

Even when the mighty IPCC report on limiting global warming to 1.5oC landed with a thud on the metaphorical global doormat, it felt like not a great deal changed. Despite the vast additional reams of meticulous research and analysis coupled with a compelling case for urgent action, it seemed it was still not enough for most politicians to glance up from the machinations of the Brexit behemoth. 

The embarrassingly poor turnout at the Parliamentary debate on tackling the problem was testament to this and when at the end of the same month, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, set out his budget, it did not mention climate change. 

However, the scales started to tip: the report was enough to get the world to start paying attention to the weekly strikes of one inspirational Swedish school girl and the many thousands who followed her lead; it was enough for progressive local authorities to start unilaterally declaring climate emergencies; it was enough for one UK Climate Minister to call on her experts and ask, “what must we do”?; and it was enough for ordinary people to start taking extraordinary, rebellious, action to say: we’ve had enough.

The landscape has shifted, quite dramatically, from even just half a year ago and, like a river finally carving a new channel through softer rock, the pace of change is growing.

Image of a kittiwake (one of our species most threatened by climate change) by Ben Andrew rspb-images.com

New direction

Today the experts have delivered their verdict: the Committee on Climate Change’s new report sends an unequivocal message to the governments across the UK that we need more ambitious climate change targets. 80% emissions reductions by 2050 is far from sufficient, it must be 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions or, put another way, we must have net zero emissions by 2050. Remarkably, due to clean technologies becoming substantially cheaper, this can be delivered at an annual cost of 1-2% of GDP, the cost envelope that the governments across the UK already accepted when existing climate change legislation was first passed. But has the Committee gone far enough? We, along with our NGO allies, have argued that the UK could and should go further to achieving a net zero target by 2045. However, while we will continue to make the case for the maximum possible action to address climate change, we welcome this milestone report, and the role it identifies for natural ecosystems in mitigating climate change. In point of fact, the CCC does recommend net zero by 2045… for Scotland and this increased level of ambition reflects in part the substantial opportunities for natural climate solutions that exist north of the border. 

New solutions

Support for those nature-based solutions is growing as never before. Just last month we saw the major call to action for substantial political and financial investment in these. Already, there is much greater awareness of the need to invest in protecting and restoring nature for its own sake but also for all it can do for us including helping to get us out of the huge climate change hole we’ve dug for ourselves. Not only has the interdependency of the ecological and climate crises finally received the recognition it deserves but we now can start fixing the problem through UK legislation. We are working hard with partners to secure nature’s recovery via the new environment and agriculture legislation across the UK, and via resetting our trajectory to cut carbon emissions through a strengthening of the targets in the UK Climate Change Act.

You can help!

If you have one minute then sign this petition calling on Government to take action. If you have one day then join us and our many partner organisations and friends in Westminster on 26th June for a once in a generation opportunity to take these issues to Government at a mass lobby for climate, nature and people under the banner of The Time is Now.

New urgency

And finally, today there is growing recognition that we are facing an emergency. The first two local authorities declared a climate emergency last November; now the total stands at fifty-four. Earlier this week the Welsh and Scottish Governments also announced such declarations. Finally the Westminster Parliament just yesterday evening passed a Commons motion declaring an environment and climate change emergency.

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So where do we go from here in the face of these extraordinary and welcome shifts?

Action is needed at all levels. The Paris Agreement, for all its flaws, has a remarkable secret weapon: a powerful mechanism to ratchet up the ambition from all governments to tackle the global climate threat. It is incumbent on all governments to respond to the IPCC report findings with commensurate action.

Here in the UK, as today’s Committee on Climate Change report sets out, that means a rapid reduction to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of this century. And we all have a part to play.

I hope we will have a fantastic turnout for our Westminster lobby of Parliament to make the case new laws to drive nature’s recovery and play our part in preventing catastrophic climate change.  Others will choose to highlight these messages in even more insistent ways.

The RSPB is also changing.

Alongside our major new nature recovery campaign, we are agreeing new climate change policies and targets to match those that we are demanding of governments.  

We will continue to try to embed climate change action (both mitigation and adaptation) in all aspects of our work: from nature reserve management through to reducing the carbon footprint of the charity itself.  

It’s deeply challenging but we are determined to play our full part in the fight of our lifetime.

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