Ending Global Warming Realistically
by Andrew Hawkins, Chairman

Today the Committee on Climate Change offers its recommendations for how the UK can ‘end its contribution to global warming within 30 years’.  Its Chairman Lord Deben emphasises that this is not only possible but ‘can be done within the cost envelope that Parliament has already accepted’.

its recommended measures, based on a vast quantity of work, include:

  • Setting a net-zero greenhouse gas target by 2050 (a 100% reduction from 1990)
  • Pushing for tougher international emissions targets
  • Accelerating the electrification of transport and heating
  • Promoting zero-emission technology, especially hydrogen
  • Encouraging carbon capture and storage
  • Making changes to the way land is used and farmed (‘planting billions of trees’ was how The Times interpreted it)

Lord Deben’s recommendations represent the pragmatic end of the climate change warning spectrum: the 277-page report (available here) contains not a single mention of the word ‘extinction’, and its recommendations are steeped in the pragmatic language that reflects its authorship by a panel of experts who know that any solutions need to be practical and politically palatable.

And the public are ready to hear the Committee’s message.  Following the Extinction Rebellion protests, ComRes tested the public mood to see how their tactics were playing out and how the climate change message is landing, with some surprising results:

  • 54% believe that climate change ‘threatens our extinction as a species’
  • A further four in ten (39%) feel that while our extinction is not threatened, climate change’ does need to be tackled’
  • 67% believe human activity is the principal cause of climate change, up 10 points in the last five years
  • Only 22% believe the impact of climate change has been exaggerated

So the message of the seriousness of climate change is getting through, but are people willing to change their behaviour?

Yes, according to our poll.  Overall, 51% say they would be willing to forego at least one overseas trip per year for the sake of the climate, but the really interesting point is that all age groups are within four percentage points of that figure.  Even generally more sceptical demographic groups accept the scale and urgency of the situation: almost six in ten of those aged 65+ do NOT believe that the impact of climate change has been exaggerated.

However, while Extinction Rebellion have hogged the headlines by gluing themselves to trains and stripping off in the House of Commons Gallery, the public are much less receptive to their aims and tactics, which attract just 26% support in our poll.  Moreover, two-thirds of the public think Emma Thompson was ‘hypocritical’ to fly more than 5,000 miles to deliver a message – to which most people are already sympathetic.

We might even conclude from the poll that the public is on-side over the urgent need to tackle climate change despite the actions of Extinction Rebellion.

This wider benign opinion landscape gives serious, credible attempts to define policy solutions, such as those from Lord Deben’s Committee, a genuine opportunity to set the pace for radical reform.  The public, it would seem, really are ready for policies that will require commitment to extensive behaviour change and enable the UK to lead the world by example.