Back at the start of the second world war, the period of months to the end of 1939 and the beginning of 1940 was dubbed “the phoney war”. This was the time during which the UK had declared war (following the blitzkrieg attack on Poland) but seemingly nothing happened. It was a war apparently without action.
Are we in the phoney war stage of the battle against climate change?
We have identified where we need to get to i.e. the target or endgame, but the strategies and action plans to achieve them still seem very distant, and the current levels of action are nowhere near what is required.
Targets Divorced from Progress
You would be forgiven for having a healthy amount of scepticism when governments and organisations pledge their commitment to addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. After all we have been promising to fix the problems of climate and biodiversity since the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
At that summit, three conventions were formed –
- The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)*
- The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and (UNFCCC)
- THE UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)**
Regrettably, the global outlook for all three is both interrelated and deteriorating.
As the head of the International Energy Agency declared in May “the gap between the rhetoric and what is happening in real life is widening”
No plan should be taken very seriously without an assigned budget, timeline and clearly assigned responsibility.
Therefore the Governments Climate Action Bill should be viewed as the start of a transformation rather than the end game. It will at least cement the goalposts in place. This is welcome but the real work in actually decarbonising our economy is overdue and needs to be ramped up quickly.
Converting targets into action – added impetus from the European Green Deal
Recent negotiations between the European Parliament and the European Council in April paved the way for the European Climate Law and was described as a game-changer.
This climate law will affect more than 50 laws as part of the legislative train schedule which can be viewed here.
It’s a big deal and it commits the EU to decarbonising 2.5 times faster this decade (2020-2030) than we did in the last decade.
Of particular interest is the specific focus clause, which will be transformational.
By law, it requires the Commission to check that any and all new legislative proposals from the Commission is consistent with the pathway to carbon neutrality by 2050 or explain and justify the specific reasons for the deviation from this pathway. This will affect all the upcoming legislation including energy and transport legislation and the next Common Agricultural Policy.
A new European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change will be set up, made up of 15 experts. This independent board will advise on whether policies are consistent with climate neutrality and advise on progress.
The European Parliament negotiators believe that this pressure in the system of law-making will strengthen and reinforce the climate law and avoid a situation where targets are divorced from real progress in reducing emissions.
*The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report highlights the 6th mass extinction and was discussed in a previous biodiversity blog. It basically says things are getting worse faster than ever before and the factors making things worse are growing. It has been described as a serious and irreversible threat to the persistence of civilisation
**In 2018 the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission published a new edition of the World Atlas of Desertification, comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of land degradation at a global level. It shows that every year an area equivalent to half the European Union (4.18 million km²) is degraded mainly in Africa and Asia but the south, east and central countries of the EU are also at risk of desertification.