by Morgan Phillips (TGT Co-Director UK)
Yesterday in the UK, Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced her intention to legislate for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Today in India, crops are failing, livestock are dying and entire villages are left abandoned by families fleeing a prolonged drought and devastating heatwave.
The Government’s announcement has been met with a mixed reaction. Some, fearing what this means for their jobs, their cars, their city breaks and their beefburgers, got angry that we are trying to tackle climate change at all; at the other end of the spectrum, we saw full on fawning and mutual back-slapping about how wonderful it is that Britain is ‘leading’ on this. Then somewhere in between disgust and delight, we got a sort of slow clap congratulations that didn’t dismiss the significance, but pointed out that it will likely be too little, too late.
The reality of it is that even if (and it is a big if) the world’s major polluters all fall in behind the UK and enshrine net zero by 2050 in law, it is unlikely to prevent warming from exceeding 1.5C or even 2C above pre-industrial levels. It is telling that the official statement from Number 10 made no reference to 1.5C or 2C; it leaves us questioning if deep down they know that their commitment is inconsistent with those targets. They probably do, so better not to mention them….
Our take at The Glacier Trust, is that net zero by 2050 isn’t sufficient, but we still just about welcome it because, as we said last week, the right thing to do is the right thing to do; and because doing nothing at all is unthinkable and morally wrong.
To be clear though, we are not jumping for joy over what amounts to crumbs of bread thrown down from the big table. The environmental movement should not allow itself to be patronised in this way, we need to double down on our campaign efforts and persuade all political parties to legislate for net zero by 2030.
We need to persuade our political leaders to do something else though too, something arguably more pressing. Right now, in Rajasthan, India; 1,000km west of our project work in Nepal, temperatures are hitting 50C in the shade. It is a heatwave at the tail end of a long drought; people are dying from exposure to the sun, wild and domesticated animals are perishing from a lack of water, communities are pouring precious water on the road to stop the tarmac from melting — just so water tankers and other vital supplies can reach them. We have even learned how some water tankers require police protection such is the scramble.
It is a humanitarian crisis, but it mightn’t be. The sort of devastation being experienced today in India will happen again and again over the coming decades as the climate crisis intensifies. In response, aid agencies like the UK’s DEC will spring into action — at great expense — to save lives as each crisis reaches critical levels of emergency.
It doesn’t have to be this way; not if we start recognising both what is in store and what can be done. Sam Relph’s excellent report from India makes this point well, he says:
Scientists predict that as temperatures continue to rise with global heating and populations grow, the region will experience harsher water shortages – and will need to find clever solutions to ensure there is enough water for all.
Finding solutions to water shortages during times of drought is possible; it is what we have been doing in Nawalparasi with HICODEF over the last few years. It takes careful planning, project management and money. This is climate change adaptation and we need to persuade world leaders to ramp it up significantly. We simply can’t let regions like Rajasthan suffer drought after drought; over 4,700 farmers have committed suicide in India over the last five years; this has to end.
If politicians aren’t prepared to set the target date for net zero emissions at 2030 or earlier, to prevent catastrophic global heating, we need to persuade them that they have a moral responsibility to fund climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and compensation for the losses and damage caused by the climate breakdown our fossil fuel addiction is fueling.
Given the UK’s historical exploitation of India, the moral case for investing heavily in adaptation programmes there and in neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan is extremely strong. We urge all political parties to consider making these commitments. At a time when foreign aid budgets are once again under scrutiny, we need to call for an increase, not a decrease.