Is it not astonishing 40% of British voters apparently know nothing of our commitment to achieve Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050? A similar number are deeply sceptical about it all, scoffing that the “climate has always been cyclical” and often slipping into classic conspiracy-theory language about the whole concept of Climate Change. A third group accept to some degree that it is happening, but argue that achieving Net Zero carries a disproportionate cost to us all.
The reality - and I have seen it for myself in various forays to both Arctic and Antarctic – is that the ice is retreating at an alarming and unprecedented rate; that if the Greenland or Antarctic ice-shelves were to collapse, or even a vast glacier like the Thwaites were to disintegrate, the consequences could be catastrophic and imminent. It is undeniable that our temperature is 1 degree centigrade higher than the pre-industrial level; that that is caused by ‘greenhouse gases’ especially CO2 in the atmosphere; and that they are man-made. There can be no question that the extreme weather events - forest fires, huge heat, flooding, droughts - that we have seen round the world in recent weeks is directly linked to Climate Change, and that we will see these events increasing in occurrence and seriousness in the years to come. All of that is true and demonstrable, and it achieves nothing by trying to deny it.
The temperature rise will be 1.5 degrees centigrade by about 2040, and we will have to fight hard to stop it going a long way higher than that. Net Zero by 2050 is an essential pre-requisite to prevent 2 degrees or more by the end of the century, which would result in up to 6 metres increase in sea water levels engulfing large coastal and island parts of the world.
I do accept, however, that there would be little point in the UK achieving Net Zero or fighting to save the planet in other ways at what might be an unaffordable cost if we cannot persuade the big polluters - India, China, Brazil - to follow suit. The UK is responsible for just 1% of global emissions and we are in the lead in de-carbonisation anyhow. We must find a way of achieving Net Zero without bankrupting either the nation or individual households; and without totally wrecking our landscape with wind and solar farms in the wrong places. That is why the CoP26 conference (one of the long series of UN conferences on Climate Change, the previous one being in Paris) which is to be held in Glasgow in November, is so important. That will be our moment to lead the World, to lead by example and by diplomacy (which is one reason why Alok Sharma’s extensive Global diplomatic missions in recent months are so vital).
As a Nation we must accept the reality of Climate Change which brilliant British science has led on for so many years; we must firmly commit to Net Zero; we must do so in an affordable way, perhaps even a way which will be of benefit to the UK economy in green technology and infrastructure; and we must lead the world and persuade the great polluters to follow our lead. All of that is the challenge of CoP 26.