Christmas has passed us by and it looks like Santa has once again defied the odds and managed to cope despite the sharp decline in reindeer populations in the North Pole over the last 30 years. The thought that even Santa may in future not be immune to the impacts of climate change is worth bearing in mind as we now turn our thoughts to New Year’s resolutions for 2019.
Before deciding on what yours will be it is worth reflecting on the conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report published in October. It set out the potential benefits of limiting the future rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels rather than two.
If that could be achieved – and it is no small ask – then the negative impacts of climate change could potentially be reduced, although even then they will still be significantly worse than we experience today.
The major impacts include:
- extreme weather such as severely hot days, risks from drought, heavy rain and snowfall;
- rising sea levels (a reduction of just 10 cm in the global sea level rise would mean that up to 10 million fewer people would be affected);
- the exposure of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and deltas to flooding and damage to infrastructure;
- impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, including species loss and extinction;
- global terrestrial land area undergoing a transformation of ecosystems from one type to another;
- increases in ocean temperature and acidity and decreases in ocean oxygen levels (which pose risks to marine biodiversity, fisheries and ecosystems, and impact on Arctic sea ice and coral reefs);
- other risks such as those to health (e.g. heat and ozone related mortality), food security (a smaller decline in crop yields), water supply (the proportion of the world population exposed to a climate change-induced water stress could fall by up to 50%) and global economic growth.
Perhaps one of the most worrying aspects of the IPCC report is that the pathway we are currently on as a result of existing nationally stated ambitions is broadly consistent with global warming of about 3 degrees. If the grave consequences of such a significant rise in global temperatures are to be avoided, then the IPCC is clear that we must significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
There can be little doubt that we need much firmer action by governments at the national and international level. We all have a part to play in avoiding the potentially catastrophic impacts from such a severe rise in global temperatures.
We can all help to reduce the rate of climate change
In many cases what’s good for slowing climate change is also good for your health.
Hidden in the detail of the IPCC Report is a section about enabling lifestyle and behavioural change. The IPCC are clear that humans “are at the centre of global climate change” and if we are to get on course to limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees it will require substantial changes in our behaviour.
They provide examples of what we can all do at the individual level to try and prevent the worst impacts of climate change. These include:
- Implementing resource efficiency in buildings through better insulation in our homes including roof and loft spaces, lagging pipes and water tanks, and draught proofing. This also extends to encouraging construction companies to use low carbon building materials that minimise their carbon footprint through the whole supply chain.
- Adopting low-emission innovations such as electric vehicles or plug in hybrids which also have low running costs, investing in new low carbon home heating technology such as biomass, solar or ground source heating and increased use of district heating networks which use low carbon heating methods to deliver heat to a number of buildings.
- Embracing energy efficient appliances and improve home energy efficiency by installing a new boiler or better heating controls and using energy efficient home appliances such as dishwashers, cookers and fridge/freezers with a high energy rating label.
- Energy-saving behaviour that includes walking or cycling rather than driving short distances to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality, using public transport rather than flying as on average, trains create one third of the CO2 emissions of planes, lowering heating temperatures which saves carbon as well as money, drying laundry on a washing line and reducing some of the 1.35 million tonnes of food and drink waste produced in Scotland each year.
- Buying products and materials with low GHG emissions during their production and transport and reducing meat and dairy consumption (in particular cutting back on red meat farmed on deforested land and farmed shellfish and eating more plant based products). In addition, sourcing more local, seasonal food to avoid unnecessary transportation emissions and cutting back and/or recycling aluminium based products such as drinks cans and cooking foil.
- Considering scope at the organisational level to reduce the carbon footprint from all activities at your place of work including buildings’ energy use, industrial processes and company vehicles, and designing low emission products and procedures. This could includes replacing business travel with videoconferencing and looking outside of the organisation at ways to reduce the carbon footprint of suppliers and consumers.
If you want to play your part in averting the worst impacts of climate change then the IPCC offers us plenty of options to make our 2019 New Year’s resolutions truly green ones. As we all look to recover from the festive period and maybe feel guilty about the excesses of consumerism that led us to guzzle far too much food and drink and left unwanted presents sitting under the tree, it is a good time to heed their advice. In many cases what’s good for slowing climate change is also good for your health.
Head of Policy