Sustainability

50 months left to ‘critical’ climate change levels

global warming

Environmentalists have called on government to take immediate action against rising global temperature levels, saying that if carbon emissions continue at their projected levels, in just 50 months’ time it will become impossible to prevent a ‘critical’ two-degree Celsius (3.6 Farenheit) rise in temperature.

In a letter printed in the Guardian, 27 prominent climate activists accuse the government of being ‘reckless and short-sighted’ by not investing in a ‘modern low-carbon economy’. The letter urges the government to lead by example and act now to stave off the limit at which global temperatures can stabilise, saying that if ‘we don't do more, it is hard to imagine what incentive poor countries will have to act’.

According to a report published by the New Economics Foundation (nef) in 2008, 100 months on from 1 August 2008, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will ‘begin to exceed a point whereby it is no longer likely we will be able to avert potentially irreversible climate change’.

Nef says that the term ‘likely’ is defined by the definition of risk used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that specifies that at the projected levels of greenhouse gas concentration in 2016, there is only a ’66-90 per cent chance of global average surface temperatures stabilising at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels’.

On Monday (1 October), the half-way mark was reached in the ‘100 month countdown’, and was followed by a letter signed by leading environmental groups calling on government to act now to help stave off the impending date.

Signatories to the letter include: Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive of Oxfam; John Sauven, Chief Executive of Greenpeace; Sir Crispin Tickell, Former UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Caroline Lucas, MP Green party; and Molly Conisbee, former Director of Campaigns at the Soil Association.

‘This year has seen a record loss of sea ice, and greenhouse gas concentrations above the Arctic at their highest point for possibly 800,000 years. Crop-wrecking droughts and record temperatures have scorched the US midwest. But, to our dismay, climate change and the weather volatility it fuels have fallen far down the political agenda when they need to be at the top. It remains, however, one of the greatest threats to human progress, and tackling it could be a huge economic opportunity’, writes the group.

‘There is so much to gain from investing with speed and scale in a modern low-carbon economy that the failure to do so appears both reckless and short-sighted. Some recent policies seem even to take us backwards. More of the same old economics will not work. To create jobs, more secure energy systems and less pollution, investing in a massive energy-efficiency drive and a programme to expand renewables are just two of the more obvious steps that could benefit the economy and the environment.

‘There are around 50 months left before we cross a critical climate threshold. After that, it will no longer be "likely" that we will stay on the right side of a two degree Celsius temperature rise – a line Britain and the rest of the EU has sworn not to cross. If we don't do more, it is hard to imagine what incentive poor countries will have to act’, the letter warns.

The signatories go on to outline what actions they will take individually to help limit their contribution to greenhouse gases and reduce their impact on the climate.

Over 200 countries signed an obligation to try and limit global temperatures rising by more than two degrees Celsius at United Nation talks in Durban, South Africa, in 2010, with the aim of avoiding dangerous impacts from climate change such as rising sea levels, floods and droughts.

However, there were fears that a two-degree rise was still too high, and that the possibility of keeping temperatures below this figure would prove difficult due to the ongoing burning of fossil fuels.

"It is very clear that we should push in the negotiations that the [two-degree goal] is not enough”, said Peter Betts, the UK’s Director of International Climate Change, in 2011.

“The reason we are not doing enough is due to the political situation in some parts of the world", he added.

Read the letter to the Guardian.