Practical ways to save the world in 12 years

Written by Alison Vipond on 10th Dec 2018

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s ‘Special Report on 1.5C Global Warming’ makes sobering reading. The report highlights that we have just 12 years to stop the world from warming to more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – a prospect which would result in severe consequences for our ecosystems and, perhaps, humanity.

Against the backdrop of the report, non-executive director of Ecology Building Society – which provides loans to help homes and businesses become more energy efficient – Alison Vipond discusses how we all have a role to play in helping to limit warming by making sustainable changes in our lives, as well and how we can hold our politicians to account on reducing carbon emissions.

“The IPCC recently released its long-awaited special report on the impact of global warming. And it makes for pretty harrowing reading. The warning is stark: Limit global warning to a maximum of 1.5C, or else. The world is currently 1C warmer than pre-industrial levels. If the temperature continues to rise at the same trajectory, we will hit 1.5C in 2040 and 2C in the early 2060s.

The report took 91 lead authors and editors almost three years to write. It contains more than 6,000 cited references and explores two 1.5°C pathways. One sees the global temperature stabilise at, or just below, a 1.5°C rise. Another sees the global temperature temporarily exceed 1.5°C before falling later in the century. The second pathway is known as an ‘overshoot’ pathway and could well result in greater impacts than the first one, including irreversible damage such as the collapse of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

Why 1.5 degrees must be the goal

The effects of climate change are already being felt across the globe, from extreme weather events, to disappearing sea ice and a drastic decline in biodiversity. And we’re on track for things to get much, much worse. The effects of a 2C rise in temperature include:

  • Twice the number of people suffering from a lack of water
  • Coral reefs all but eradicated
  • Hundreds of millions more people at risk of climate-related poverty
  • An increase in extremely hot days, leading to more deaths and forest fires
  • 10 million more people affected by a rise in sea levels

Even a 1.5C rise will have significant consequences, including the loss of 70 to 90 per cent of coral.

However, according to Priyardarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of the IPCC Working Group III, “Limiting global warming to 1.5C compared with 2C would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health and well-being, making it easier to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

The report warns that in order to keep the rise to 1.5C there needs to be a “rapid escalation in the current scale and pace of change.” Simply put, we need to greatly reduce our carbon emissions, and we need to do it as quickly as possible. As it stands, the pledges made as part of the Paris Agreement are not enough to limit warning to 1.5C, as, according to the report, global emissions need to fall well before 2030.

Policies need to be put in place to spur people to take action. Measures could range from incentives to make electric cars more affordable, to tax implications for businesses that refuse to significantly lower their emissions. Renewable energy sources must be prioritised over energy-intensive options such as fracking. And people need to be supported to make their homes more energy efficient.

Government backpedaling

Buildings currently contribute over 27 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions. That carbon footprint needs to be reduced, and quickly. Grants, incentives and other measures need to be put in place now to encourage homeowners and businesses to improve insulation, reduce draughts, upgrade boilers and inefficient appliances, and invest in solar panels.

In recent years, we’ve seen a reversal of many of the positive steps the government was taking to encourage a low-carbon economy. It’s become much harder for community energy projects to get off the ground; the plan for all new homes to meet zero carbon standards has been scrapped; and many of the grants and incentives that used to be available to homeowners have been cut, despite the fact that there are still some 11 million owner-occupied properties in the UK with an EPC rating lower than band C.

We urgently need to see our politicians deliver policies which reverse this downwards trend. Grants, initiatives and strict penalties must be reinstated and new fiscal incentives considered, such as lower stamp duty for homes achieving the highest EPC ratings – a measure which Ecology has previously called for.

The Scottish government has said it will seek updated advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – the government’s official climate watchdog – on how to meet the 1.5C target. The UK government is expected to similarly instruct the CCC to investigate what it would take for the UK economy to move to net zero emissions before 2050.

Efficient buildings

One clear way of reducing emissions in line with the report is retrofitting all existing properties, something a recent paper from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the University of Nottingham Trent is calling for. Rick Hartwig, IET lead for the built environment, said, “There is considerable practical experience in financing deep retrofit projects, managing them, and engaging with the householders. We need to build on that experience to create a national retrofit programme to deliver our 2050 goals. This will not only help drive demand but allow greater scale to cut the costs per property.”

There’s no denying that a national retrofitting programme would be expensive, but it is possible and Ecology stands ready to support such an initiative.

Ecology has been helping people to make their homes more energy-efficient for over 30 years. Ecology’s pioneering range of C-Change mortgages incentivises energy-efficiency through mortgage pricing based on a property’s climate impact. We want to encourage other lenders to take a similar stance, and recently joined the Europe-wide Energy Efficient Mortgages Pilot Scheme for that very reason. But the government needs to throw its hat in the ring to make large-scale retrofitting a reality.

While it’s clear that governments need to take drastic action, and soon, if a 2C rise is to be avoided, everybody can play their part. We need to show the policy makers that we’re prepared to take drastic measures and we need to change how we live our lives, particularly in the Western world.

Small changes on a large scale

Actions we can all take include:

  • Holding the UK government to account, e.g. by writing to MPs
  • Choosing an ethical finance provider that will use money for positive environmental and social impact and won’t invest in fossil fuels
  • Eating less meat
  • Flying less and reducing car use
  • Eating locally produced food, where possible
  • Reducing, reusing and recycling
  • Making our homes more energy efficient

According to Dr Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC, lifestyle changes really can make a big difference, “This is not about remote science; it is about where we live and work, and it gives us a cue on how we might be able to contribute to that massive change, because everyone is going to have to be involved.”

Small changes, done on a large enough scale, really can make a difference. And, as Dr Debra Roberts says, “That’s a very empowering message for the individual.”

Here at Ecology we’ll continue lobbying the government for those elusive meaningful policies….

Alison Vipond is a non-executive director at Ecology and Research Manager at Northumbria University

Click here to read Alison’s previous blog: Building a greener society – happy birthday Global Goals.

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