Pip Roddis, Climate Team Policy Officer
Earlier this year, new numbers were added to the ‘terrifying new math’ of climate change: 82, 49, 33. They come from climate scientists at UCL and published in Nature, in the first study to suggest which existing fossil reserves cannot be burned over the next 35 years if we are to meet the 2°C climate change target.
82% is the amount of global coal reserves that must be left under the ground if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. 49% is the amount of known gas reserves that must be left unexploited. And 33% is the amount of the world’s oil reserves that must be left unextracted.
The study also looks at how this should be apportioned in different regions of the world. It suggests that half of unburnable gas reserves globally, and over half of the world’s unburnable oil, are in the Middle East. Canadian tar sands must remain largely unexploited, with 85% of its 48 billion barrels of bitumen reserves unburnable. Despite large potential unconventional gas resources in China, India, Africa and the Middle East, over 80% of these resources are unburnable before 2050. And perhaps most notably, the paper shows that all Arctic resources should be classified as unburnable – revealing the urgent need to halt Arctic fossil fuel exploration right now.
And before you get your hopes up, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) won’t save the day. Because of the expense of CCS, its relatively late date of introduction (assumed to be around 2025), and the predicted maximum rate at which it can be built, CCS has a relatively modest effect on the overall levels of fossil fuels that can be burned – roughly 6% more coal, and 2% more gas and oil.
It is clear that fossil fuel production needs to be phased out. Yet despite this, a clause within the recent Infrastructure Act has introduced legislation to maximise the economic recovery of UK petroleum. This is somewhat counter to the present need to transition away from fossil fuels and to prioritise investment in low-carbon and renewable energy, alongside measures to reduce energy demand. This legislation seems to confirm the UCL paper’s comment that ‘Our results show that policymakers’ instincts to exploit rapidly and completely their territorial fossil fuels are, in aggregate, inconsistent with their commitments to [a 2°C] temperature limit’.
We urgently need our leaders and policymakers to act upon the challenging new numbers of climate change. The RSPB welcomes the recent announcement by the three leaders of the main Westminster parties to end the use of unabated coal for power generation, and to continue to tackle climate change in line with recommended carbon budgets. However, we need to see a clear timeline for this phase-out to take place. A good start would be for all political parties to outline a manifesto commitment to phase out unabated coal in the UK by the early 2020s, as the Committee on Climate Change agrees must happen in order for us to meet our legally binding climate change commitments. There’s a lot more at stake than just numbers.
To round off the week, Mark Ward - editor-in-chief of Nature's Home magazine - shows the love for what he doesn't want to lose to climate change.
What will I miss? I’ll miss the seasons and those magical moments in nature that tell me a new season has arrived.
I’ll miss the first sighting of a sulphur-yellow brimstone butterfly flashing through my garden in March. I’ll miss baby blackbirds hopping on my lawn in May. I’ll miss swallows gathering on telephone wires in September before heading to Africa and I’ll miss the sight of a flock of pink-footed geese, fresh in from Iceland for winter, calling gently to one another as they fly south overhead.
These natural events mark the passing of the weeks and the transition of the seasons for me – not a calendar. These are the things I look for and these are the things I want my children to look for – and experience the same thrill over. That’s why I’m showing the love this Valentine’s Day.
I’ll miss knowing that the third week of March is when I can expect to find my first wheatear of the year flashing its white rump on the field next to my house. I’ll miss searching for my first large red damselfly of the year by my pond in April. I’ll miss the badgers bringing their cubs to my garden every June. I’ll miss that magical October morning when the sky is full of “chuckling” fieldfares fresh in from Scandinavia. I’ll miss those freezing January days when ice covers the gravel pits and I know that skulking bitterns will come out from their reedbed homes to find holes to fish in.
Climate change is already affecting the behaviour, migration and emergence times of the wildlife I love. It is becoming harder to tell when summer ends and autumn starts, and knowing if we really will get a “proper” winter. I miss snow at Christmas, but I’ll miss the seasons more.
What will you show the love for this Valentine’s Day?
Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 is one of his most moving and poignant poems. The sonnet explores the themes of loss and change - the speaker tries to stave off the inevitable loss of the object of his affection, but there's an underlying uneasiness and sadness, a sense that written lines will only ever be a poor substitute for the real thing.
Could there be a more fitting poem to get us thinking about climate change around Valentine's Day? This week I want to Show the love for wildlife and nature, the things I cherish most but that could be lost to climate change. I want to keep seeing them in the wild, in the flesh, rather than watch them be condemned to the pages of history books, much like Shakespeare feared would happen.
Here is that wonderful Sonnet, brought to you by some of the UK's leading voices, including Stephen Fry, who are all showing their love for the climate. Oh and there's a funny bit at the end with Jarvis Cocker.
If you want to get involved and Show the love for the climate this week, go here, or Give your love using this e-action.
If you want to share with us what you love and want to see protected from climate change, post a comment at the bottom of this blog.