Sunday, January 31, 2021

Climate Change: Cautiously optimistic

The Climate Change Commission's report was released this afternoon, recommending a stronger Paris target (though one "met" on paper only, by buying "reductions" in other countries, not by actually reducing emissions), emissions budgets for the next fifteen years, and a series of policies to meet them. The latter look quite sensible - and include things like a fossil vehicle and domestic gas phase out, strengthening the message that the gas industry has no future, as well as a reduction in cow numbers. And its pleasing to see from the government's press conference that their initial reaction is to basicly say "yes" and that they plan to adopt it all. "The Government will not hold back" is exactly the attitude we need. Though James Shaw was also quite explicit that the only way they think they can diverge from the advice is to strengthen it, because weakening it without evidence would simply be an invitation to be sued.

Unfortunately the reaction from National is to undermine the experts (who have already tested these policies; that's why they recommended them). So while I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll start seeing the policies we need, there's a high risk of them being reversed if climate-denier National ever gets back into power. So if we want to save the planet - and your grandkids' lives - we need to make sure that doesn't happen.

The sour note is the budgets. The Commission has done what the law demands, and set a downward path to net-zero (except for methane) in 2050. To make it easy to understand what we need to do now, they've expressed these against a 2018 baseline, rather than the 1990 baseline usually used. But when you put it back into the usual numbers (using 1990 emisisons of 63.591 MT, from here), there's a shock: their budgets amount to an emisisons increase of 6.5%, followed by cuts of 10% and 30%, which is miniscule compared to international efforts. Partly this is because the inaction of previous governments means we're starting from a very bad place. But the separate target for agricultural methane also means we're heading for a total cut of somewhere between 62% and 76%. So depending on what the final methane target is, we're doing a bit of backloading, but the Commission is right to say that technology change already in the pipeline means some sources are just going to fall off a cliff. So it might not be an unfair allocation.

It does highlight however just how weak our chosen target of "net zero for everything but cows" actually is. And when the UK is promising a cut of 68% by 2030, and there's an increasing trend of countries announcing they plan to be net-zero in all gases by 2050 or earlier, its clear that the shitty compromise in the Zero Carbon Act's target is unsustainable, and will need to be strengthened. The only question is how long it will take for the government to get the message.