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Is it time to take heed?

There are people in my friendship group who continue to deny that global warming has anything to do with human behaviour and actions.

Fair enough you might say, but my fruitless attempts at persuading them otherwise would be made a lot easier if Government Ministers took on a role to inform and persuade the public on the merits of achieving net zero carbon emissions at the earliest possible timescale.

In recent weeks climate scientists from around the world have warned us that we are in danger of passing a significant tipping point (of limiting the long-term increase in temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels), with the United Nations warning us that the world is “on the verge of a climate abyss”.

The more optimistic of the climate scientists say it is not yet inevitable the 1.5C target will be passed, but they are in a small minority and achieving this would require an extraordinary change in the pace of corrective action, including a massive reduction in the burning of fossil fuels.

For instance, are we willing to forego our foreign holidays, our gas guzzling cars and the convenience of next day deliveries from the fleet of vans that scurry across the country to satisfy our insatiable demand for consumers goods?

Of course, it needs to go beyond this and it will impact on how we heat (and cool) our homes, how we cook our food and even what we eat, as we hopefully shift to eating a lot less meat.

The science is clear and the stakes could not be higher

Patrick Mooney Patrick Mooney News editor, Housing Management & Maintenance

Wake up call  

“The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C is hanging by a thread,” said the official spokesperson for António Guterres, the UN Secretary General. “The battle to keep 1.5C alive will be won or lost in the 2020s – under the watch of political and industry leaders today. The science is clear and so are the world’s scientists: the stakes for all humanity could not be higher.”

Closer to home Alok Sharma, the President of the COP26 climate summit in 2021, said: “This should be another wake-up call for governments to stop prevaricating and inject much more urgency into delivering on the climate commitments they have already made.” He added that world leaders needed to get on and deliver on the pledge they made to transition away from fossil fuels at COP28 in December last year.

I wonder what messages Mr Sharma has given in private to his former boss Rishi Sunak, who is not exactly setting a good example as the leader of a major economy, nor as the father of two young daughters.

Two climactic measures should act as a global call to arms. Firstly - the world's oceans have broken temperature records every single day over the past year, and secondly - the largest ever recorded leap in the amount of carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere has just occurred. Carbon dioxide is the primary gas that is heating up the planet.

The combination of these two major contributors should scare even the most dogmatic members of the flat earth society! Sadly this still excludes at least a couple of my friends (Steve and Alan), both middle aged men who enjoy swimming in tropical waters. It also appears to exclude our Prime Minister.

Planet-warming gases like CO2 are mostly to blame for the climate changes, but the weather event called El Niño is also helping to warm the seas. The super-heated oceans have hit marine life hard and driven a new wave of coral bleaching. The data behind this comes from the EU's Copernicus Climate Service. Copernicus also confirmed that last month was the warmest April on record in terms of global air temperatures, extending that sequence of monthly-specific records to 11 in a row.

For many decades, the world's oceans have been the Earth's pressure release valve when it comes to climate change. Not only do they absorb around a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans produce, they also soak up around 90% of the excess heat. But over the past year, the oceans have shown that they are struggling to cope, with the sea surface particularly feeling the heat. From March 2023, the average surface temperature of the global oceans started to shoot way above the long-term norm, hitting a new record high in August 2023. 

This should scare even the most dogmatic members of the flat earth society!

Patrick Mooney Patrick Mooney News editor, Housing Management & Maintenance

Catastrophic impacts on communities

Recent months have brought us no respite, with the sea surface reaching a new global average daily high of 21.09C in February and March this year, according to the Copernicus data. Not only has every single day since 4 May 2023 broken the daily record for the time of year, but on some days the margin has been huge.

Many island communities in seas around the world are already suffering the consequences of this, with tropical storms increasing in frequency and ferocity while sea levels rise and fish stocks plummet. This is also hitting their tourist sectors, much to the irritation of my friends Steve and Alan.

Before long the situation could get a lot worse. The global average concentration of carbon dioxide in March this year was 4.7 parts per million (or ppm) higher than it was in March last year, which is a record-breaking increase in CO2 levels over a 12-month period. “It’s really significant to see the pace of the increase over the first four months of this year, which is also a record,” said Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 Program at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “We aren’t just breaking records for CO2 concentrations, but also the record in how fast it is rising.”

In fact, the concentrations of CO2 have increased every year since measuring began in 1958, as the heat-trapping gas continues to progressively accumulate due to emissions from power plants, cars, lorries and other sources, with last year hitting a new global record in annual emissions.

Deforestation in the Amazon, parts of Africa and South East Asia has added to the problem. Meanwhile the world is threatened with severe heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires. We are already feeling the changes in terms of increases in the number and strength of storms, as well as prolonged and heavier than normal rainfall in the UK.

Anti Green

Rather than heed the warning signals, our Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has doubled down on his anti-Green policies (delaying the end of new sales of petrol and diesel cars and giving the green light for the huge Rosebank oilfield off the coast of Shetland), by allowing developers to explore for oil and gas under offshore windfarms for the first time ever. Campaigners say this is further proof that Ministers are abandoning the climate agenda.

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which regulates North Sea oil and gas production, is granting licences to about 30 companies to look for hydrocarbons on sites earmarked for future offshore windfarms. The move has brought renewed criticism from the Prime Minister’s former net zero tsar Chris Skidmore, who worries that any future oil and gas production could hamper clean energy generation.

Skidmore said: “With a general election just months away, this is a deeply irresponsible and divisive move that goes against all advice from the International Energy Agency or the UN, and regrettably will further set back the UK’s climate reputation. “Instead of wind powering new oil, the investment should instead be in more wind and renewables. More fossil fuels will only create stranded assets and stranded jobs at a time when demand for oil and gas is falling.”

He added: “This is a political and cynical stunt that will only backfire … We need to stop playing politics with climate and people’s future and take a grown-up position on seeking to find consensus for an end date to new oil and gas.” Supporters of the scheme say that if any of the sites under windfarms prove suitable for production, oil and gas platforms will be able to use power from the wind turbines to lower their emissions. They will also have to strike an agreement with windfarm operators before they can begin drilling.

Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “It’s hard to think of a worse use of clean electricity from windfarms than powering the dirty industry that’s driving the climate crisis. It’s like using a nicotine patch to roll a cigarette.

Renewable energy accounted for more than 30% of the world’s electricity last year

Patrick Mooney Patrick Mooney News editor, Housing Management & Maintenance

Rays of hope

Before we despair that all is lost, some crumbs of comfort have arrived with the news that renewable energy is producing record amounts of electricity. Renewable energy accounted for more than 30% of the world’s electricity for the first time last year following a rapid rise in the quantity of wind and solar power, according to new figures.

In fact the world may be on the brink of driving down fossil fuel generation, even as overall demand for electricity continues to rise. Clean electricity has already helped to slow the growth in fossil fuels by almost two-thirds in the past 10 years, according to a report by climate thinktank Ember. It found that renewables have grown from 19% of electricity in 2000 to more than 30% of global electricity last year.

Solar was the main supplier of electricity growth, adding more than twice as much new electricity generation as coal in 2023. It was the fastest-growing source of electricity for the 19th consecutive year, and also became the largest source of new electricity for the second year running, after surpassing wind power.

The first comprehensive review of global electricity data covers 80 countries, which represent 92% of the world’s electricity demand, as well as historic data for 215 countries. The surge in clean electricity is expected to power a 2% decrease in global fossil fuel generation in the year ahead. This could be pivotal!

“The decline of power sector emissions is now inevitable,” said Dave Jones, of the climate thinktank Ember. “2023 was likely the pivot point – peak emissions in the power sector – a major turning point in the history of energy. But the pace of emissions falls depends on how fast the renewables revolution continues.”

World leaders are aiming to grow renewables to 60% of global electricity by 2030 under an agreement struck at the UN’s COP28 climate change conference in December. This would require countries to triple their current renewable electricity capacity in the next six years, which would almost halve power sector emissions of CO2 and other damaging gases.

All of which brings us full circle. My friends Steve and Alan need to change their lifestyle and what they purchase – whether it’s for heating their homes, or the transport they use. They need the Government to stop us from using fossil fuels and to spearhead a conversion to a cleaner and Greener economy, using all of the tools at our disposal. The public needs to do its part and demand that this is a major issue in the upcoming General Election. I will continue to do my best to persuade Steve and Alan to change their ways, but I badly need help to do so. I suspect we all have friends with similar beliefs and attitudes. Given the scientists’ warnings, we can’t leave it any longer before they change their behaviours, or future generations will never forgive us.

Patrick Mooney is News editor, Housing Management & Maintenance