Setting targets for reducing carbon emissions

Tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn (by my standards) I am off to the Green Party conference, so as to get there in time for a meeting of the Climate Change Policy working group. We are both united and divided. At five o’clock on Sunday a plenary session of the conference will choose between two versions of our proposed new policy on Climate Change.

We agree that the GPEW (the Green Party of England and Wales) has an outdated policy – back in Kyoto-land – despite the addendum at the last conference supporting the Paris COP21 aspiration to keep global warming as near as might be to 1.5 degrees. We agree that the situation is far more urgent than the GPEW, let alone other parties, let alone the population, seems to realise. The dangers of catastrophic climate change are higher, and the probability of being able to keep global warming down to 2 degrees is lower.

If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate (and in fact the rates of emissions are still increasing) then we will reach the point of catastrophic change by 2055. But this is rather like falling off a high cliff. You only die when you hit bottom but your death becomes inevitable when you fall. (Our Background Paper)

We disagree about what targets to set. If we are to go with our own support of the 1.5 aspiration, we should set a UK target of zero carbon emissions by 2030 (ZC30). That would make sense as the UK’s share of the globally needed reductions. (However, impossible as this target may seem, it doesn’t even include embedded emissions in our imported food and other goods.)

Some of us think we should go with ZC30, because it’s in line with what the science suggests would be needed to reach a target we’ve already accepted, because it makes campaigning sense to go for what is needed, because it’s time the Green Party gave leadership, and said unequivocally that climate change has to become the framework for all political policies. Nothing else makes sense in view of the gravity and urgency of the situation.

Others say this is a technically and practically, as well as politically impossible target. Our lives depend, they say, on an industrial system that in turn depends on fossil fuels and an agricultural system that emits a lot of greenhouse gases. To suddenly stop emitting would be life-threatening. They point out that the authors of Zero Carbon Britain moved their original target date, when it became clear it was unattainable. They say the GPEW will forfeit any claims to leadership if it sets an impossible target, and that our target should be ‘net zero as soon as possible’ – implicitly our existing Party policy, to reduce emissions to 90% from 1990 levels by 2030. (This would require us, in all honesty, to forgo the 1.5 aspiration).

Both targets would require (to differing degrees) the use of NETs (negative emissions technologies) which either take a long time – too long a time – to work, like planting forests, or are expensive and uncertain, like carbon capture and storage.

I’m a supporter of the ZC30 target, although I appreciate the arguments against it. I think that you should try to mobilise all out for what you want and need, because that underlines the reality of the situation, and even if you don’t reach your target you are likely to get nearer to it than if you set a lesser one. I think that we can’t actually know what is possible. That the key factor is political will to unite people against accepting ‘Business as Usual’.

Whichever view is adopted this weekend, the GP policy will be more realistic than any other party’s policy. It will face what needs doing, and why (especially in view of Britain’s historical role in industrialising and colonising) it should be done. It will briefly outline the implications, sector by sector, backed up by a substantive background paper.

And then the next struggle will be to make sure that this policy, whichever it is, makes a difference. We don’t want it to be one of those bleeps that everyone ignores. ‘What’s that silly noise? Oh, thank goodness, it’s finally shut up.’



One thought on “Setting targets for reducing carbon emissions

  1. Thanks Caroline, good to hear that so clearly laid out. And thanks for your work with Greens. I’m in Oz but it’s all our one planet.

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