Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) write a letter in response to a letter on climate change policy from Professor Bob Whitmarsh, chair of WinACC Science and Technology Advisory Panel.

 WinACC has now responded in turn to Lord Bourne's letter as follows:

"We welcome the doubling of DECC’s innovation programme to £500m over 5 years. But we consider that the overall framing of the Government’s policy on climate change[i], with its focus on market forces, competition and cheap energy bills, is misguided because it falls far short of recognising the scale and urgency of the global challenge  – and the costs of not facing up to this challenge.  As Winston Churchill put it: “It is no use saying ‘We are doing our best’.  You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary”. In the case of climate change, it is evident to us that “what is necessary” must include the following:

  1. Rapid decarbonisation of the economy and society. The IPCC’s carbon budget for a 2 in 3 chance of staying beneath 2°C global warming requires global reductions in emissions from energy of at least 10% p.a. by 2025 and zero emissions by 2050.[ii] Your letter does not reflect the reality of our predicament, or the need to prioritise the actions needed to address it as a matter of urgency.
  2. Redoubling climate mitigation in order to address sea level rise. Sea levels are rising globally as warming oceans expand and as the Greenland and Antarctic ice melts.  Although the rate of rise is hard to predict because the processes are complex, the geological evidence is clear: that for every global temperature equilibrium there is a corresponding equilibrium sea level.  For example, a global temperature increase of 4°C will eventually cause a rise in sea-level of up to 2 metres, putting at risk entire coastal cities around the world and their 187 million inhabitants.[iii]  A recent study concluded “… policy decisions made in the next few years to decades will have profound impacts on global climate, ecosystems and human societies — not just for this century, but for the next ten millennia and beyond.”[iv]
  3. Meeting or exceeding (in light of the Paris Agreement’s collective aspiration to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C) the requirements of the UK’s 4th Carbon Budget (2023-2027) and subsequent budgets, as mandated by the Climate Change Act 2008.  As is clear from the Climate Change Committee’s analysis,[v] the Government is currently not on track to meet the 4th Carbon Budget, and the analysis points to serious policy gaps in the Government’s approach.
  4. Reinstating the funding for CCS research and development, and removing subsidies for fossil fuels. The recent scrapping of support for CCS is widely recognised as being incompatible with currently envisaged continuing levels of fossil fuel use and will make it hugely more difficult to comply with the requirements of the Climate Change Act 2008. The use of CCS in conjunction with bioenergy has been shown to hold great promise in meeting emissions targets.[vi]
  5. Reversing Government policy on exploiting shale gas. Your letter refers to security of supply and new clean technologies. Judging by recent government decisions and announcements we take this statement to include the development of the UK’s shale gas reserves. However, to prevent dangerous global warming, half of all natural gas (the powerful greenhouse gas methane) reserves must remain unburned, and stay in the ground.[vii]  Unfortunately evidence from the USA shows that around 10% of fracked gas leaks into the atmosphere.[viii] Only when the leakage of shale gas is less than 3.2% does replacing coal by gas in a power plant generate any climate benefit.[ix]  In any event, the development of an established shale gas industry in the UK is incompatible with any reasonable interpretation of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC’s 2°C and 1.5°C budgets.[x]
  6. Cutting aviation emissions. Globally, in 2013 aviation caused 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport.[xi] The aviation industry is one of the fastest growing in terms of its greenhouse gas emissions, and increases in aircraft efficiency will be insufficient to reduce emissions by the required amount.[xii] The global warming impact of long-haul aircraft burning fossil fuels is around twice that of the emitted CO2 alone.[xiii]  Yet the Paris Agreement totally ignores emissions from international aviation, as does the Kyoto Protocol.  Steps must be taken to cut aviation emissions as a matter of urgency.  As noted by Professor Alice Bows-Larkin, Professor of climate science and policy at the University of Manchester: ‘It is our view that the current policies surrounding the aviation sector in the UK are at odds with the goal within the Paris Agreement.’ and “The vast majority of academics working on climate change mitigation would agree that a rapid and significant reduction in the combustion of fossil fuels is needed in the coming decades…I am unaware of any analysis that can demonstrate how aviation could be an exception to this.”[xiv]
  7. Recognising the UK’s own historical contribution to climate change and acting accordingly to transform our energy systems and the efficiency of our building stock.  A recent paper[xv] compared individual countries’ responsibility for climate change with how much they suffered from it. The UK’s absolute contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is among the highest 20% while the extent to which it suffers from climate change is in the lowest 20%.   Continued support for the Paris Agreement from the low emitting countries that suffer the most requires redress of this inequitable situation. This would include a rapid and comprehensive renewal of our energy infrastructure and buildings, with a major focus on renewable energy technologies, to make them fit for the 21st century.
  8. A national conversation on climate change. As noted by John Ashton, CBE, in May 2013[xvi]None of our big national parties is yet serious about climate change. It’s not that they don’t have policies, even some good ones. But they haven’t built a conversation with the country about what climate change means in relation to their values. What it means in the context of our history and our national character. What it means for the choices we now face, about where we are going and ultimately about who we think we are.”  Only the Government has the resources and standing to convene this national conversation – a conversation that is urgently needed in view of the gravity of the situation we are in.

[ii] Anderson, Kevin. “Duality in Climate Science.” Nature Geoscience, October 12, 2015, pp.2.

[iii] Nicholls, R.J., N. Marinova, J.A. Lowe, S. Brown, P. Vellinga, D. de_Gusmão, J. Hinkel, and R.S.J. Tol. “Sea-Level Rise and Its Possible Impacts given a ‘beyond 4°C World’ in the Twenty-First Century.” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 369, no. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0291 (2011): 161–81.

[iv] Clark, Peter U., Jeremy D. Shakun, Shaun A. Marcott, Alan C. Mix, Michael Eby, Scott Kulp, Anders Levermann, et al. “Consequences of Twenty-First-Century Policy for Multi-Millennial Climate and Sea-Level Change.” Nature Climate Change, February 8, 2016. doi:10.1038/nclimate2923.

[v] Anon. (DECC). “Meeting Carbon Budgets – 2014 Progress Report to Parliament Government Response to the Sixth Annual Progress Report of the Committee on Climate Change.” DECC, 2014.

[vi] Anon (CCC). “Bioenergy Review.” London, UK: Committee on Climate Change, December 2011.

[vii] McGlade, Christophe, and Paul Ekins. “The Geographical Distribution of Fossil Fuels Unused When Limiting Global Warming to 2 °C.” Nature 517, no. 7533 (January 7, 2015): 187–90. doi:10.1038/nature14016.

[viii] Schneising, Oliver, John P. Burrows, Russell R. Dickerson, Michael Buchwitz, Maximilian Reuter, and Heinrich Bovensmann. “Remote Sensing of Fugitive Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Production in North American Tight Geologic Formations: Remote Sensing of Fugitive Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Production.” Earth’s Future 2, no. 10 (October 2014): 548–58. doi:10.1002/2014EF000265.

[ix] Alvarez, R.A., S.W. Pacala, J.J. Winebrake, W.L. Chameides, and S.P. Hamburg. “Greater Focus Needed on Methane Leakage from Natural Gas Infrastructure.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, no. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1202407109 (2012).

[x] pers. comm. Prof. Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Manchester

[xiv] Bows-Larkin, Alice. Heathrow 13: Prof Alice Bows-Larkin’s Expert Evidence on Aviation and Climate Change, 2016.

[xv] Glenn Althor, James E. M. Watson & Richard A. Fuller (2016) Global mismatch between greenhouse gas emissions and the burden of climate change Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 20281,  doi:10.1038/srep20281

[xvi] https://www.thersa.org/events/2013/05/lifting-the-lid-on-the-politics-of.... John Ashton was from 2006-12 Special Representative for Climate Change to three successive UK Foreign Secretaries, spanning the former Coalition and previous Labour Governments.

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