Choosing our future

Alice Hooker-Stroud argues for a Zero Carbon Britain.

It’s a hard fact to swallow but we are currently failing to tackle climate change: we are not taking action far enough or fast enough; and the more we have delayed, the harder it has become.

This week on Click on Wales

This week on Click on Wales we’ll be asking what type of energy policy we want for Wales.
This comes ahead of the IWA Energy Summit 2014 which will be held this Wednesday at Butetown Community Centre, Loudon Square, Cardiff.

Climate scientists are suggesting that for industrialised countries like the UK (and of course, that means Wales too), at least a 10% per annum decrease in greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to keep warming below 2 degrees C. Contrast this with current policy in Wales to reduce 3% per year, and we can see how far off ‘tackling’ climate change we truly are. Currently – even with our emissions reduction pledges (legally binding or not) – we are on course for roughly a 4 degrees C hotter-than-normal future by the end of the century (and more afterwards). This change in temperature brings with it more heatwaves, floods and droughts; it brings melting ice, rising sea levels, and acidifying oceans.

In this future, our lives will be very different. The hotter it gets, the higher the risk of death, ill-health, and injury; damage, destruction and eradication of ecosystems and biodiversity (on land and in the seas); and breakdown of food and infrastructural systems (water, electricity, health, transport etc). In short: the future for which we are currently heading is vastly different from today. ‘Business as usual’ is not only ‘not an option’ (to keep climate change below 2 degrees), but ‘not a reality’ – ‘business’ (and our communities, families, and societies) will not be able to operate in this future, in the same way they do today – if, in some cases, at all. Change will happen, whether we want it or not.

However, there is another future open to us. It too, requires that we change much of what we are used to. However, we have the ability to choose these changes, rather than having change imposed upon us. At the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid-Wales, we have been looking at what kinds of changes are required to meet the demands of climate science. If we were really to take this problem seriously, what would we in the UK have to do and what would the end result – this ‘other’ future – look like?

Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future (the latest report from the Zero Carbon Britain project) sets out a possible future for the UK. One in which we run on net zero greenhouse gas emissions – removing our contribution to the climate problem entirely. We could get started on building this future immediately because we already have all the technology to make it work.

We can get off fossil fuels completely and run the UK on 100% clean, renewable energy. We can reduce our energy demand – insulate our houses, walk and cycle more, provide and use more public transport, electrify our transport, and fly much less. We can change our agricultural systems to be carbon neutral, by eating and using our land differently.

All this is possible – we are blessed with one of the best wind resources in the world, and there are plenty of other renewable energy sources in the UK. There is enough land here to provide a healthy diet for us all, grow biomass to make our energy system reliable, and have more space for important wildlife habitats like forests and peatlands. And there are additional benefits if we do it right – more jobs, warmer houses, better health and higher wellbeing.

These are big changes, and the transition to an emissions-free UK is not easy. But climate change is a big problem, and there are no small solutions. With climate change – quite rightly – the primary concern for future generations listed in the National Conversation, ‘The Wales We Want’, we need to face up to the choices we have and the changes we need to make, and set in motion plans fit for achieving them.

Zero Carbon Britain is not a ‘blueprint’ to be followed to the letter – it is a proof of concept: that an alternative future is available, and that it works. We can choose this future. We hope the work will inspire more ambitious action to tackle climate change in the knowledge that it is possible. The UK has emitted more greenhouse gases per person historically than all but one other country in the world. We have the ability, the opportunity, and the responsibility to eliminate our emissions. With 73% of respondents to a survey on public perceptions on climate change in Wales saying that Wales should set an example to the outside world when it comes to addressing climate change, then we should be making these kinds of choices, now.

Alice Hooker-Stroud now works as Communication Officer for the Zero Carbon Britain project at the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid-Wales. She has Master’s degrees in Physics and Earth System Science and contributed to work modelling fossil fuel CO2 emissions; helped set up a climate research group in Barcelona, Spain; and was the primary author of a set of climate science factsheets designed for campaign groups, before starting work as research co-ordinator for Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future.

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