Climate Crisis and the Environment

You And The Planet: The New Normal | The Royal Society

Left to right from top: Justin Rowlatt, Jim Skea, Pete Smith, Harriet Bulkeley, Margret Tadie
Ottilie Owen

The Royal Society held a virtual event looking at what the new normal is for the planet. The discussion was focused on “combating climate change and protecting global biodiversity”. Ottilie Owen watched the event and has reported back for us on what was discussed.

The event was hosted by Justin Rowlatt, BBC chief environmental correspondent. The panel included a diverse range of experts: Professor Jim Skea, Professor of sustainable energy, Imperial College London and co-chair of IPCC working group III; Professor Pete Smith, Professor of Soils and Global Change, Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen and Science Director of  Climate X Change; Dr. Margret Tadie, Department of Process Engineering, Stellenbosch University; and Professor Harriet Bulkeley FBA, Professor of Geography, Durham University.

“We will not reach our targets unless we take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to some degree to compensate”

The talk commenced with Justin asking why justice and the transition are so narrowly linked? Justice isn’t a requirement of a transition away from greenhouse gas emissions, but given the role of multinational cooperations in generating much of the emissions which have led to climate change it makes sense to told them to account.

Harriet explained that a just transition is “not so much a question whether it is necessary, but it is about desirability”. Those with the most responsibility for the situation and with the capacity to act “must be encouraged to do so” and held accountable.

Multinational corporations were a focus of some of the discussion. Although they have been a big part of the problem, Jim argues that they must be part of the solution. “We will not reach our targets unless we take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to some degree to compensate,” he said. And the people with the relevant expertise are often part of the large oil and gas companies. It is a case of “redirecting what the multinational companies are doing”.

Harriet encouraged this but added that we should ensure such companies are “held to account for whether they’re really putting their money where their mouth is,” and that they “push their boundaries about what they’re prepared to do for the environment”.

We can move forward to create a “balance between us and the planet”

Harriet rationalised that to make the change to a more sustainable society we must include cities, as 70-80% of energy-related greenhouse gases come from cities. “Cities are a space of collective action and community” with leaders who can encourage talks and increase regulations and taxes. Combined with “partnerships between business and civil society” these factors make action easier as the outcome can be seen and felt immediately by those involved.

But, Margret postulated out of COVID-19 came remote working, which means there is no need to be in a big city, thus we can move forward to create a “balance between us and the planet”.

COVID-19 has revealed to us the consequences of not acting rapidly and thus the dire need to act now on climate change. If we don’t, “we will have the same kind of restrictions and difficulties in the longer term that COVID has created for us,” Jim argued.

Our traditional recovery choice, Harriet argued is a “high capital investment in infrastructure”, however, this is not sustainable. We need to think of other more sustainable infrastructures that will create jobs in the long run.

Pete expanded on this, we want to find solutions that are both “profitable and deliver to climate change”. Solar and wind are cheaper than fossil fuels, for example, so it makes more sense to invest in renewable technology.

But if renewable energy becomes the most desirable form of energy production, do we really need to worry about justice?

“We could end up on a pathway that locks us in to something that doesn’t provide justice or equity in the future”

Jim, whose work in the IPPC Special Report On Land has allowed him to see a bigger picture of the climate crisis. He elucidated how the problem is bigger than just renewable energy, as we have set such ambitious targets that this isn’t enough, we need behavioural changes. We need justice for the transition, but this is also pragmatic as if we don’t engage everyone, we won’t be able to make all the changes that are needed.

Earlier in the discussion, a poll question was read out to readers who should be responsible for a future that is just and fair? A very diplomatic outcome was revealed with 77% of people voted that everyone should be responsible

Margret, who works on the ground level with communities in Africa, advocated how important it is to get local communities involved in these changes as livelihoods are built around this. If an action (or inaction) will affect a community, then those communities need to be directly involved.

People must see the benefits so that it motivates the next change and the next

Pete narrowed in on the importance of taking people with us for a just transition. “If we don’t include justice from the very beginning,” he say, “we could end up on a pathway that locks us in to something that doesn’t provide justice or equity in the future”. We are already exceeding our planet’s boundaries, so we must think about how to manage this. Pete gave the example of our current food system gives out a third of greenhouse gases, despite not feeding everyone healthily.

This process of a transition must be gradual Margret explained so that we do not alienate people from the process. People must see the benefits so that it motivates the next change and the next.

Justin concluded the discussion asking the panel to each mention one thing people can do if they want to do their bit to try and solve the climate crisis for a just transition.

It seemed a reoccurring answer was to eat less meat with Pete, Jim and Margret narrowing in on the dire need for behavioural change. Pete also suggested flying less, whilst Harriet asked us to tell someone we care and get them to care also to unite everyone to propel us forward together into a green fair recovery.

Ottilie Owen

Featured image screenshotted from the Royal Society video.

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