Five steps to save the world
Climate change is one of the great challenges facing humankind, and what to do about it is even more of a conundrum. However, Professor Kevin Anderson has a plan ... and it has fairness at its heart
LAST week, MSPs were delivered a hard-hitting report by a climate change expert. It said what we are doing now, and what is planned by the Climate Change Bill going through Parliament doesn’t go far enough in making our fair contribution to global emissions reductions. We need, says its author, Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, is to cut harder and faster. We also need to acknowledge that this is an equality issue – and that much of the cuts in emissions should be borne by those who are now the highest emitters.
Anderson’s report follows revelations by the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change report last month, which warned that the world is on track to have warmed by 1.5C by between 2030 and 2052, and proposed 1.5C as the new target to avoid global disaster, rather than the current 2C set in the Paris Agreement. What Anderson recommends is an urgent strategy for Scotland, a Marshall Plan-like project for widespread, industrial-level change, which would involve phasing out North Sea oil and gas, changing the way we build and power homes, reforestation, electrification and accelerated development of renewables.
Among the criticisms that Anderson has of targets contained within the Scottish Bill is that that the “slice of the pie” of global emissions that Scotland assumes it can have are too great. Anderson believes the best route to solving climate change is to see it as an equality issue. Some people, he says, including those in developing countries, but also more deprived populations here in Scotland, will need to contribute more emissions, and some drastically less.
For instance, the 10 per cent of the population who are the highest global emitters create half of global emissions. “Imagine,” he says, “we had regulations that forced those top 10 per cent of emit- ters to the average European level, while the other 90 per cent do nothing – the reduction in global emissions would be one third.”
Equity “is the absolutely pivotal central issue”, he says. “We are not going to solve climate change at a global level or indeed within a country like Scotland unless we address issues of inequality. That’s mostly because we’ve left it so late that poor people don’t have any emissions to squeeze out of.”
Anderson’s calculations suggest that Scotland will exceed its 2C commitment in less than 10 years if we proceed at current levels, and that we need to deliver a CO2 mitigation of 10 per cent each year, starting now – and that’s not even considering what it would take to keep to 1.5C.
Nevertheless, in global terms, the planned Scottish climate policy is quite ambitious. On many levels it seems like landmark legislation. The Bill plans to set a target of 55 per cent down on 1990 levels by 2020 and 90 per cent down by 2050. “Our Climate Change Bill,” said a Scottish Government spokesperson, “means Scotland will have the toughest climate legislation in the world. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said last month that the world needs to be carbon-neutral by 2050, which is exactly what the targets in the Bill mean for Scotland.”
Nevertheless, Anderson believes we need to go further, that 55 per cent by 2020, given we have already almost halved our reductions from the 1990 level, isn’t a drastic enough cut.
In particular, we need to look at severely cutting our emissions from energy use. He says: “Most of the emissions in Scotland, around three-quarters, come from the use of energy, and ... we should be looking at reducing those energy-related emissions by about 80 per cent by about 2030 and then at being virtually zero carbon energy by about 2035 to 2040.” His vision of how we do this entails the wealthy drastically reducing their emissions, while those living in poverty increase theirs by a small amount.
“Let’s be clear: lots of people in Scotland need to be consuming more energy and more material goods. The poor, and that includes people working in low-paid jobs, are people I’d like to see consuming more. But it does mean that consumption has to be reduced significantly by professors and by journalists and senior people in our society who have done very well out of the system.”
Anderson’s report was commissioned by Friends Of The Earth Scotland, as an attempt to draw attention to what they felt were the insufficiencies of the Climate Change Bill. Caroline Rance, Friends Of The Earth Scotland campaigner, observes: “The Scottish Government’s Climate Bill fails to deliver the urgent action needed to tackle the climate crisis. It does next to nothing extra before 2030, instead pushing responsibility on to future generations.
“Instead of calculating Scotland’s fair
Let’s be clear: lots of people in Scotland need to be consuming more energy Prof Kevin Anderson
share of global efforts, the Government’s proposed targets are based on pessimistic guesswork about what technologies we’ll be using in the decades to come.”
On the whole, Anderson is broadly positive about the way Scotland is engaging with the issue in the current Climate Change Bill, and also of the approach of Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, to the issue. “For instance,” he says, “when the UK minister Claire Perry asked the Committee on Climate Change for some advice in relation to the Paris Agreement, she said to them you must not consider anything before 2032. But the Scottish minister has come along and quite expressly said to the committee you can consider everything on through to 2032 and beyond.”
This, he says, is promising. Indeed, he identifies Scotland as a country with potential to show great leadership on the global stage in this issue. “It seems to me that in Scotland you’re more open to an agenda of reason and fairness.”
Professor Kevin Anderson wants the approach to climate change and emissions reduction to have equality at its heart