By Kiri Hanks, Oxfam Climate Change Policy Advisor
Never has climate change been so high on the agenda. From the Extinction Rebellion protests and youth climate strikes, to the generosity of the British public in responding to the devastating impacts of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique. People care and want urgent action.
Survivors of Cyclone Idai face shortages of clean water and food
and are at risk of waterbourne diseases due to contaminated flood water.
Image: Sergio Zimba/ Oxfam
Against this background, the Committee on Climate Change has today published its scientific advice, recommending that the UK strengthen our climate targets to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In other words, the UK should only produce the same amount of emissions that we’re able to remove from the atmosphere.
The independent committee was tasked by the government to recommend how the UK can take action on climate change in line with the Paris Climate Agreement goals. This question was triggered by a panel of experts from around the world after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned last October that there were just twelve years left to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, and laid bare how every fraction of a degree of warming will matter.
Here’s Oxfam’s take on the Committee on Climate Change’s advice:
1. Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 would be a huge step in the right direction – but we can and should cut UK emissions further and faster.
This is a question of fairness and of climate justice. As a major economic power that is among those most responsible for climate change, the UK must take a lead. We need to reach zero earlier than the global average, and much earlier than poor countries.
To be credible the new goal must be backed up with decisive action to reduce emissions. As it stands, the UK is not on track to meet even our current targets which themselves are insufficient for meeting the Paris Agreement goals.
2. Zero emissions should mean zero within the UK, not zero by buying carbon offsets from other countries.
It’s good to see the Committee on Climate Change recommending that zero emissions means zero within the UK. An approach where UK companies compensate for burning fossil fuels or farming unsustainably by removing emissions in developing countries would be unfair. And could come at the expense of people having enough food to eat. This is because so-called solutions like “negative emissions technologies” – if deployed on the kind of scale often assumed – would require huge amounts of land used for food turned over to energy crops.
In developing countries there are ways of removing emissions that are safe, fair and can benefit people living in poverty. Restoring natural forests and mangroves – and defending the rights of forest communities who protect them – are crucial in order to tackle climate change. Promoting agro-ecology farming techniques can both lock in emissions and benefit smallholders. It makes total sense to support these measures. However, these actions need to be in addition to, and not instead of, pulling all levers to reduce emissions at home.
Image: Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville / Oxfam.
3. Climate change is already a brutal reality for vulnerable communities in low- and middle-income countries.
It is a profound injustice that the people who have contributed the least to the climate crisis are worst affected by its impacts. Communities like those in Mozambique, whose lives have been ripped apart by Cyclone Idai – a storm which dumped nearly a year’s worth of rain on the region in just a few days and submerged entire villages. In the midst of the unfolding humanitarian crisis, Cyclone Kenneth brought similar downpours last weekend – the first time ever that two powerful storms have hit Mozambique so close together.
Climate change means that super storms are likely to produce more rain, and more devastating costal floods due to sea-level rises. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth have also come on the back of several years of drought in much of the region, which has been made worse by climate change. Farmers who had already faced several consecutive failed harvests, saw this year’s crops washed away.
Farmers showing the rice rotten in the water, (from left to right) Noilita, Gerarldo and Duxa.
Image: Giuseppe Selvaggi/Oxfam
Extreme weather is hitting the poorest and most vulnerable hardest – those who live in flimsy homes, on the most precarious plots, and who have no savings to fall back on. Governments of major emitters like the UK have a dual responsibility: to stop contributing to the problem and to deliver on their commitment to provide much-needed climate finance to developing countries.
A boy looks at a section of road that was washed away in the flooding caused by Cyclone Idai.
Many people lost their lives in the landslides. Image: Philip Hatcher-Moore/Oxfam
The UK must stop contributing to climate change and continue to meet its climate finance obligations to developing countries – Supporting communities to adapt and become more resilient to climate change is vital in the face of the spiraling extreme weather.
Ask your MP to get serious on climate change.
It’s now up to the government to follow the Climate Change Committee’s advice by setting a more ambitious target in law – and show it is serious about sticking to it. This summer, ask your MP get behind meaningful steps on climate change and call on the government to put their own advice into action. And if you can…
Please join us at The Time Is Now Mass Lobby of Parliament on 26th June to speak to your MP in person.