Some reasons why it is no exaggeration to speak of a ‘Climate Emergency’

by Hugh Richards

  • A global perspective is neatly presented in the opening paragraph of the renowned Potsdam Institute’s April 2017 report ‘The Climate Turning Point’ (published at

‘In the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, the world’s nations have committed to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.” This goal is deemed necessary to avoid incalculable risks to humanity, and it is feasible – but realistically only if global emissions [of CO2 and other greenhouse gases] peak by the year 2020 at the latest.

  • It is now the end of 2018, and global emissions are continuing to rise, with no prospect of a peak in sight.

‘For Greater Manchester to make its “fair” contribution towards the [well below] 2 °C commitment enshrined in the Paris Agreement, Greater Manchester would need to …take prompt [immediate] action to put [it] on a path to carbon neutrality in 2038.’

‘This report does not address the …more challenging [Paris] commitment to “pursue … 1.5 °C.”’

  • The UK does not yet have a target to reach ‘net zero emissions’ or ‘carbon neutrality’, let alone to achieve this as early as the Tyndall Centre would recommend. Their report for Greater Manchester states that ‘Current UK [carbon] budgets correlate with an expected probability of exceeding 2 °C of more than 56%.’
  • The UK’s own ‘clean growth’ industrial strategy itself acknowledges that its policies will not deliver sufficient future emissions reductions to meet even the existing UK carbon budgets, set by the Committee on Climate Change. There is, so far, little sign that Gloucestershire’s Local Industrial Strategy (being developed by the GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership) will do better.
  • The IPCC’s October 2018 report on ‘Global Warming of 1.5 °C’ predicts that, if global warming continues at its current rate, 1.5 °C is most likely to be exceeded around 2040, but could easily be as early as 2030. [This seems to be the rationale for the notion that the world has ‘12 years to act’ to avert the major climate impacts predicted to result from exceeding 1.5 °C and the increased risks of triggering a cascade of tipping points leading to ‘runaway climate change’ and ‘hot-house Earth’.]
  • The IPCC’s ‘1.5 °C’ report shows that in order for global warming to be limited to 1.5 °C, global CO2 emissions must start falling steeply after 2020, unless a risky strategy is adopted that allows warming to ‘overshoot’ 1.5 °C. With or without ‘overshoot’, global CO2 emissions would have to reach net zero ‘around 2050’. [The ‘equity steer’ of the Paris Agreement means that for a developed country such as the UK, net zero would have to be reached much earlier.]
  • The UK is not alone in having inadequate targets in relation to the Paris Agreement goals. Even if all countries were to fulfill their Paris Agreement commitments, the IPCC expects ‘global warming of about 3 °C by 2100, with warming continuing afterwards. [This assumes that no major feedbacks triggered by ‘tipping points’ have started to take effect before then.]
  • The Paris Agreement remains a framework for voluntary action by individual nations. There is currently no enforcement mechanism, such as a legally binding international treaty.


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