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The climate emergency is happening now and even if we turn off the taps on all oil and gas wells tonight, it will only slow the process, not stop it.
A growing number of climatologists now say they were wrong – things are going to be worse than expected and will happen sooner than expected. Our government was already struggling with the idea of having to adapt our way of life over several decades. He is absolutely unprepared to change the design of buildings, cities and society in the coming years.
We are not prepared. This was the message of the terrible tragedy of the flash floods in Germany and the shocking heat wave that killed entire rivers of fish in Canada. Flash floods are not new, even the ones that hit West London this month and shut down part of the tube system, but the magnitude of the flood is increasing as the atmosphere warms and capacity increases. of air to hold water. Heat waves do happen, but their ability to bend metal from bridges and wipe out power lines has taken entire regions by surprise.
In the UK we still plan to build around a million houses in floodplains by 2050. Will any be built on stilts? I doubt. The best our developers can handle is a free sandbag store in the back garden. We also do not design buildings capable of withstanding the heat without resorting to air conditioning. Until we get a carbon-free grid, air conditioning only adds to the problem of the climate emergency and even after getting 100% renewable electricity, air conditioning in cities only adds to the problem. heat island effect of all that concrete and tarmac daytime heat.
Things will continue to get worse, much faster, until we start making the policy choices that will allow us to slow the extent of the damage.
Tree streets can do an amazing job of cooling things off, but councils like Sheffield have struggled to adjust to this new reality. Lots of people get it, but that hasn’t stopped huge tracts of gardens before being paved for parking cars with no permeable surfaces. The extra tarmac not only releases heat stored up overnight, but it also means that a sudden downpour has no land to soak up and flows straight into a drainage system that just can’t cope. sudden flooding.
Of course, none of these problems compare to the outright nuclear disasters we plan to build on the sand dunes of the Suffolk coast and other places like it. When you’re on the beach with buckets and spades this summer. Think of Sizewell C. Think of the nuclear sandcastle, surrounded by a huge sea wall.
The national policy statement for the siting of nuclear power plants was finally adopted in 2011, but was based on the 2007 assessment of sea level rise by the Independent Panel on Climate Change. . It’s a pretty reassuring document that talks about the worst-case scenario of a half-meter rise in sea level over the next hundred years. Sounds good, except that it doesn’t include any impact from melting glaciers and ice caps.
The evidence changed rapidly with each new report from an Arctic satellite or monitoring station. Since then, every IPCC assessment has shifted the worst-case scenario up. The 7e The assessment is due out next year and will undoubtedly shift everything up again, but the scariest part is that due to the rigorous process of analysis, consensus building and government oversight, the findings will already be obsolete.
Evidence shows that the poles are warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, as retreating sea ice reduces the ability to reflect heat upwards and melting permafrost releases methane which creates a cloud of local gas that heats up. Considering that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet alone would result in an estimated rise of 7m, this is a bad time to build a nuclear reactor with a 160 year life span in the coastal lowlands. .
None of this is primarily a Western problem. Hundreds of rail commuters narrowly escaped death this week as Zhengzhou, China recorded the highest daily rainfall since weather records began, receiving the equivalent of eight months of rain in a single day . The climate emergency is happening now and even if we turn off the taps on all oil and gas wells tonight, it will only slow the process, not stop it.
All of this makes COP26 a landmark event with the UK government leading the process. We have interim carbon reduction targets that are some of the best in the world, but they don’t go far enough or fast enough. They are also not backed by a solid plan. Worse yet, we are still taking huge steps back with the expansion of Heathrow, £ 27 billion in road construction and a race to build incinerators across the country.
We are not building any better. The Institute for Economic Affairs estimates that carbon emissions are heading for a new high in 2023. Things will continue to get worse, much faster, until we start making the policy choices that will allow us to slow it down. extent of the damage.
Without a New Green Deal, we have no chance of making the huge changes involved either in adapting to the climate emergency or in transitioning to a carbon-free future. The ideas and plans are already available, but it takes political will to make them happen.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb is a peer of Green Party Life.
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