Radical changes need to be implemented across the globe within the next 12 years to avoid a planet-wide environmental catastrophe. Many of these changes need to happen on a national or supranational level, but local or even personal changes could also make a major impact if implemented at scale.
Earlier this month, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called for urgent action to reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent within 12 years and limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
In the face of matters like this, it’s easy to feel so overwhelmed that no action seems possible. The truth is, however, that we need to take both collective and individual responsibility for the changes required: We can put pressure on governments by writing to our MPs and using our votes to favour green-friendly parties with strong environmental credentials; we can put pressure on corporations by making careful buying choices; we can make environmentally aware decisions at work or lobby our bosses to do so; and we can build sustainability into our homes.
If we manage to make the changes required, scientists believe we could significantly improve the survival changes for the thousands of species of flora and fauna that have evolved to live within Earth’s natural temperature ranges. And importantly around 10 million fewer people would be severely impacted by rising sea levels.
The disparity in wealth and natural resource utilisation around the world means that the heavy lifting needs to be done by wealthier countries, which have both benefitted the most from industrialisation and in the process most severely impacted the global climate. This means sacrifices to help push a rapid shift towards renewable and carbon-free energy generation, energy-efficient homes and businesses, electric-powered public transportation, and a reduction in air travel.
The British government has already made significant strides towards cutting emissions and improving energy efficiency, but much more will need to be done in every area to meet the IPCC’s targets within 12 years.
Despite the success of wind power generation in Scotland and some areas of England and Wales, the majority of the UK still relies on fossil fuels for energy generation. The government does offer schemes to subsidise home-owners adding solar panels or small-scale wind-turbines to their roofs, but much bigger plans are required if the country is to move away from its reliance upon coal, oil, and gas.
The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) called the IPCC report “a wake-up call for governments and businesses across the globe,” and added that “the construction and property industry in the UK is an economic juggernaut, and our buildings account for approximately 30% of carbon emissions. It is also the industry with the most cost-effective means of reducing carbon emissions, so it will be a vital catalyst for change in the wider economy.” The UKGBC believes that it is possible to achieve a net zero carbon constructed environment by 2050.
Within properties, much can also be done to improve energy efficiency and reduce the amount of electricity required to keep temperatures comfortable and reduce fuel bills. Far too many houses and businesses remain poorly insulated with single-glazed windows, wasting huge amounts of energy. New government-backed schemes need to be introduced to push these buildings into the 21st century and follow the example of Scandinavian countries with triple-glazing and plantation shutters for use at night – and soon.
On the transport front, many commentators have already predicted the end of personal car ownership within the next 20 years with firms from Uber to Addison-Lee already saying they will have electric self-driving cars on the road within the next three to five years. But here too, the changes are not coming quickly enough to change behaviour and meet emissions targets within the IPCC’s 12-year timeframe without significant government help.
Can we make the 2030 deadline? Maybe. But, the more that each of us does to reduce carbon emissions the better chances we are giving ourselves and the planet.