Climate change: have recent world events made everyone take their eyes off the climate change ball?

by | 21 July 2022 | Environment, Sherwood

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the war in Ukraine is diverting attention away from climate change, while at the same time showcasing the world’s ‘suicidal’ dependence on fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas, have been powering economies for over 150 years, and currently supply about 80% of the world’s energy. Although cleaner sources of energy are gaining ground it is not happening fast enough.

The war in Ukraine has highlighted dependence on Russian oil and has caused a worldwide increase in energy costs, resulting in every country and government re-examining their energy security, with many urgently seeking ways to overcome previous obstacles to expanding fossil fuel use. Self-sufficiency for future independence has become more important than the future of the planet.

Energy is at the heart of the climate challenge – and key to the solution. A large chunk of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that blanket the Earth and trap the sun’s heat are generated by burning fossil fuels to provide electricity and heat. Fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75% of global GHG emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

In an effort to decrease Britain’s reliance on imported energy, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said it was ‘absolutely right that we explore all possible domestic energy sources’. Ministers have now paved the way for a reconsideration of fracking in England by commissioning a new study to re-examine previous safety concerns.

Concern doesn’t stop with opening the door to fracking, which is bad for climate change due to methane emissions. The housing secretary Michael Gove is expected to approve the UK’s first new coal mine in three decades, saying that the new colliery in Cumbria will help the country cut its reliance on Russian coal.

The latest measurements of the big three GHGs – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – show continued rises. Carbon dioxide levels have increased by 150% over preindustrial levels, methane levels by 262%, and nitrous oxide levels by 123%. As GHG concentrations rise, so does global average temperature.

In the 2015 Paris climate agreement, participating countries agreed to a common target: to hold the rise in global average temperature to under 2˚C and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5˚C. It is now inevitable that will not happen – a recent Met Office report gives a 50% chance of hitting 1.5˚C within the next five years. The science is clear: to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, emissions need to be reduced by half by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.

We cannot achieve this unless we end our reliance on fossil fuels and invest in alternative sources of energy that are clean, accessible, affordable, sustainable, and reliable, and that emit little to no greenhouse gases or pollutants.

Opening new coal fields, re-considering fracking, increasing subsidies to the oil and gas industry and expanding the use of fossil fuels because of panic over world events is a backward step in the fight against climate change.

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Pauline Meechan
Sherwood Forest Friends of the Earth