The Guardian view on climate change: too much, too soon

(The Guardian, 5 Dec 2018) We are losing the war against climate change; the use of fossil fuels is driving higher carbon emissions when they need to be coming down.

Outside of the desperate and the deluded, everyone knows that the world is in the early stages of a truly catastrophic climate change. As Sir David Attenborough told the UN climate change conference in Poland, “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”. We have even worked out, with scrupulous care, what we must do to avoid this or to mitigate the effects of climate change. We know what to do. We can see how to do it. There’s only one problem: we do almost nothing.

Figures released today by the University of East Anglia for the conference in Katowice show that global carbon emissions will be higher than ever before this year. In fact they will rise by nearly 3%, an astonishing and terrifying annual figure at a time when the need to diminish them has never been more urgent. The main driver of this growth has been the increased use of coal, which is rapidly approaching its previous peak level, from 2013. There is a particular irony in that this conference is being held in Poland, a country that still derives 80% of its electricity from coal, even if this is less grossly polluting than it was in the Communist era. In fact emissions there are down 30% from their peak in 1988. But far more must be done. To limit global warming to the Paris agreement goal of 1.5C, CO2 emissions would need to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by around 2050.

All this destructive activity far outweighs the progress that has been made on the use of renewable resources. That is considerable, but so long as renewables are understood only as a pastime for the rich, they will be wholly insufficient to meet the problems before us. The Paris goal often looks like a drunkard’s resolution that everything will be different as soon as tomorrow comes. Everything has stayed much the same, and the balance of expert opinion is that three degrees is now more likely than the target figure of half that.

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The Guardian, 5 Dec 2018: The Guardian view on climate change: too much, too soon