This article was originally published on the Sustainable Business Toolkit website in March 2013
There have been a number of sets of weather and climate-related data published in the last couple of weeks that illustrate just how extreme the weather was in the UK in 2012 and how this fits into a picture of a global climate that appears to be warming at a faster rate than was previously thought.
A report on the drought and flooding experience in the UK in 2012 by the Environment Agency and reported in The Observer on 2nd March shows that flooding was recorded on 20% of days last year and drought on 25%, often in the same parts of the country with some rivers experiencing both their lowest and highest recorded levels within the space of a few months.
Following hot on the heels of this report comes the news that levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii have showed the second largest annual increase on record. Data just released show that the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere rose 2.67 parts per million to 395ppm.
News that global efforts to reduce emissions have not only so far failed to lower the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere but that these levels are actually increasing at a record rate will, or certainly should, make sobering reading for governments and policy makers around the world.
The 2007 Bali Climate Change Declaration formally set out the consensus view of the world’s leading climate scientists that, in order to avert potentially disastrous consequences, the increase in global temperatures should be limited to no more than 2 Degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In order to limit the rise in temperatures to 2 Degrees, the scientists’ view was that atmospheric CO2 levels should be “stabilised at a level well below 450ppm” and that, in order to achieve this, emissions would need to peak and then decline in the 10-15 years following 2007. The fact that, 6 years into this timeframe, CO2 levels are continuing to rise at an increasing rate, casts doubt on the ability of the global community to achieve the 2 Degrees cap on warming. This limit of 2 Degrees has been adopted by many of the world’s developed economies, including the European Union, and the fact that its achievement is now in doubt will come as a major blow to governments and campaigners alike.
The fact is that even a 2 Degrees rise in global temperatures is predicted by many to have dramatic consequences so the prospect of an even greater increase is a grim one indeed.
You would think that an impending global calamity of this nature would be front page news and would galvanise governments into action, spurred on by the demands of their electorates and constant media scrutiny of the progress they were making towards averting disaster. In fact, research published earlier this year by Media Matters in the United States shows that, while 2012 was the warmest year on record, this was not reflected in the coverage the issue received in the mainstream media.
With very little effective pressure from the popular press, politicians are able to continue to dismiss climate change, and environmental concerns in general, as being fringe issues that must not be allowed to thwart efforts to get the economy back on track. In the UK, the widely-reported remarks in a speech by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne that “We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business, so let’s at the very least resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe” seems to encapsulate the Government’s approach: do what we absolutely have to but be in no rush to adopt a leadership position on the issue.
Also in the papers is the news that the country’s two largest heritage organisations, English Heritage and The National Trust, have won a high court battle to stop a windfarm being built in Northamptonshire in a location that would adversely impact views of and from the Trust’s property at Lyveden New Bield, which is an Elizabethan ruin. Now I used to live very close to Lyveden and it is indeed a remarkable monument and there are many very good arguments for not building a windfarm in its vicinity, not least the fact that Northamptonshire is one of the least windy counties in England. However, I do wonder what could be achieved if the country’s largest heritage charity and a government quango could join forces to demand positive action to respond to the challenge of climate change as well as going to court to challenge misguided efforts to tackle the issues. It is right that these bodies should be vigilant in guarding our national heritage from despoliation but who is taking the same care over our national, and indeed global, future?