Context

Humans have caused irreversible climate change, the impacts of which are being felt around the world. Global temperatures have already increased by 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels. Atmospheric CO2 levels are above 400 parts per million (ppm). This far exceeds the 350ppm deemed to be a safe level for humanity and the natural world.

Image Clean Earth

Our current plans and actions are not enough; the world is on track to overshoot the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit before 2050 (1). The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C described the enormous harm that a 2°C rise is likely to cause compared to a 1.5°C rise. The report says that limiting Global Warming to 1.5°C may still be possible if extremely ambitious action is taken by 2030, by national governments, local authorities, civil society, the private sector and local communities.

To reduce the high risk of runaway global warming and limit the effects of climate and ecological breakdown, it is imperative that we as a species reduce our CO2 eq (carbon equivalent) emissions from the current average of 6.5 tonnes per person per year to less than 2 tonnes as soon as possible (2). Individuals cannot be expected to make this reduction on their own. Society needs to change its laws, taxation, infrastructure, agriculture and its economic system which is based on perpetual growth, in order to make low carbon living feasible and the new norm.

At the same time, the world is facing a biodiversity crisis. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services recently concluded that the world faces the loss of one million species (3). This mass extinction is driven in significant part by climate breakdown, but is worsened by unsustainable agriculture and commodity practices, use of highly toxic pesticides, unplanned urbanisation and pollution (8).

Carbon emissions and environmental destruction result from both production and consumption, in other words CO2 eq gases produced directly by our cars, homes and businesses and indirectly by our energy use -Scope 1 and 2 emissions (7)- plus the embodied carbon- Scope 3 emissions- and environmental damage embedded in our choice of consumer goods. The latter ranges from the massive loss of carbon-absorbing rainforests to grow palm oil for food production, to wasting food and replacing household goods and personal items before it is necessary. Taking into account Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, the carbon footprint of London’s inhabitants is one of the highest in the world. We have to reduce our consumption.

Carbon Trust Definition of Scope 1,2,3 emissions

The 10 warmest years in the UK have all occurred since 1990. Climate breakdown will result in major changes in water supply, increase the risk of flooding and coastal erosion (4). Loss of biodiversity is higher in the UK than in most European countries (5). Urban centres can play a vital role in protecting biodiversity, but here too nature is under threat as a result of mismanagement of green spaces, pollution and poor development and planning policies.

Local authorities have an important role in CO2 eq emissions reduction. They have direct control over policies that affect planning, transport, and waste, which together account for 40% of UK emissions (6). They are also in a unique position to influence the manner and pace at which communities and businesses move toward a zero-carbon way of life.

Recognising their vital role in tackling the dual climate and biodiversity crises, City Councils around the world, including 112 councils, cites and parishes in the UK, have declared a Climate Emergency. The Greater London Assembly and Mayor of London declared such an emergency in December 2018. Camden has indicated that it will follow suit and formally declare a climate emergency by October 2019.

Camden Council has already shown foresight and leadership when it comes to addressing the issue of climate breakdown by reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions, for example through installing solar energy panels and low-energy lighting at Swiss Cottage Library and borough-wide systematic replacement of obsolete high-pressure sodium street lighting with LED. These and other measures have delivered reductions in CO2 eq emissions within the Borough, but much more radical action is required to further reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions and to deliver much more difficult reductions in Scope 3.

Image Kelly Hill

References:
1 The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC, 2018:
https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/
2 Fossil CO2 & GHG emissions of all world countries, 2017: http://edgar.jrc..ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=CO2andGHG1970-2016&dst=GHGpc
3 The IPBES’s Global Biodiversity Assessment, 2019:
https://www.ipbes.net/news/ipbes-global-assessment-preview
4 Environment Agency’s Climate Change and Adaptation, 2018:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/climate-change-impacts-and-adaptation
5 RSPB’s State of Nature, 2016:
https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/conservation-projects/state-of-nature/state-of-nature-uk-report-2016.pdf
6 How Local Authorities can reduce emissions and manage climate risk, Committee on Climate Change 2012:
https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/LA-Report_final.pdf
7 Scope 1, 2 and 3 of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol explained: https://www.carbontrust.com/resources/faqs/services/scope-3-indirect-carbon-emissions