For the first time in years, Earth Day can be celebrated with a renewed sense of optimism and hope.
Presidents, prime ministers and chancellors are gathering, virtually of course, for president Joe Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, in the wake of a fresh wave of emissions targets. The United States has set a more exacting national obligation to cut CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, and the European Union has set a figure of “at least” a 55 per cent cut by 2030.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson has upped the UK target to 78 per cent of 1990 emissions by 2035 (with 43 per cent already achieved), with many countries now committed to a net-zero economy by 2050 (or in the case of China, by 2060).
These pledges are encouraging, but still far more needs to be done to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, and to prevent a more calamitous 2C temperature rise. Temperatures are already at around 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, and could breach 1.5C as soon as 2034, according to analysis undertaken by the EU’s Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development.
This is why The Independent is launching its Stop Fuelling the Climate Crisis campaign, calling for Britain to take greater action on the climate crisis – specifically by ending support for fossil fuels – in the lead-up to its crucial role hosting Cop26.
Mr Johnson told world leaders on Thursday that action was needed across the globe – but to truly lead, the UK must take those steps first. There are three areas that command immediate attention.
First, the government’s commitment on oil and gas in the North Sea is still not at the level its own independent advisers say is required to meet net zero by 2050. While other countries have pledged firm dates for ending extraction, the UK has not.
The key to moving on from fossil fuels – and “building back greener”, as the prime minister puts it – is to end the dependency on oil and gas, showing how a focus on renewables can contribute to economic growth rather than hinder it.
Second, the continued use of UK taxpayers’ money to invest in fossil-fuel projects abroad makes no sense. The government has already, rightly, ruled out this use of foreign aid money in principle – but the remaining loopholes in the fine print of its new policy significantly undermine this step. The climate crisis is a global issue, and our actions abroad are as important as those on our own shores.
Third, responsibility for a green economy goes beyond the government – it’s up to the financial sector, too, to make meaningful change happen. The Bank of England, with its new remit to promote environmentally sustainable growth, is scaling back purchases of bonds issued by fossil-fuel companies. The Treasury Select Committee suggests allowing investors in personal pensions to have much more information and more say about where their money goes, so that they can choose to support green growth. Banks have pledged to meet their own climate targets, and now they too must follow up these pledges with action.
The current summit being hosted by President Biden certainly shows willing from the international community. It is remarkable, given their bitter differences on security, trade and human rights, that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are “attending” the summit with around 40 other leaders, and that China, responsible for about three-tenths of global emissions, has agreed to cooperate with the US on renewed efforts to meet the shared obligations set out in the 2015 Paris accord.
It is imperative that the UK shows the type of leadership that the rest of the world will follow, both in the run-up to Cop26 and beyond.