Seeing Code Red

3rd September 2021

Erin LynchErin Lynch

August saw the landmark publication of the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC, a report that’s been described as a ‘code red for humanity’. It offers irrefutable evidence of mankind's role in the ongoing climate crisis and a clear signal that if we want to prevent further disaster, we have to take urgent action now.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a UN body mandated to provide objective scientific information on human-induced climate change and its consequences. This year’s report ran over 3,949 pages long, referenced over 14,000 scientific papers and was written by 234 scientists (the AR6 Working Group I). From this mass of information, the authors isolated a simple, stark message. Major climate change is inevitable and irreversible, and it is only possible to avoid global warming of 1.5°C or 2°C if massive and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are on a global scale.

The report took advantage of a breakthrough in attribution science (something we discussed in a previous newsletter as it relates to climate change litigation) which enabled the authors to show that it is ‘virtually certain’ that human activity has changed the Earth’s climate in ‘unprecedented ways’ — some irreversible. Extreme weather events can be traced back to rising temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuels. August gave us even more instances of extreme weather in Greece, wildfires burned 120,000 acres of forest and forced the wholesale evacuation of dozens of villages.

The IPCC report also said that it is highly likely that temperatures will exceed the 1.5C threshold set by the 2015 Paris talks. The authors believe that 1.5C will be reached by 2040, but quite possibly by 2034. If this threshold is met ‘we will see more intense and more frequent heat waves’, ‘an increase in heavy rainfall events’, and ‘increases in some types of droughts in some regions of the world’. Many argue that the 1.5 limit is not enough and we’re on track to witness the melting of the Arctic ice caps, widespread coral bleaching, and even more destructive weather patterns.

Talented groups are rapidly developing exciting solutions that might enable us to reduce emissions and capture carbon dioxide. But it’s important that any and all of these ‘climate solutions’ are built around ‘climate justice’ — making sure that we don’t forget about disenfranchised, low-income communities in our efforts to protect the planet. Our partners at Carbon180 just published a thought provoking paper about what ‘fair carbon removal’ might look like.

The IPCC is expected to publish two more installments — one on the impacts of the climate crisis, and the other on potential solutions. But we’ve got no time to lose. All of this lends even greater urgency for world leaders to commit to ending coal plant and fossil fuel facilities when they meet at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this November.

In the meantime, some of our charity partners have posted their own perspectives on the implications of the report:

  1. How can farming help address climate change? The Sustainable Food Trust reviews the IPCC report.
  2. The Clean Air Task Force on how the IPCC report underscores the urgency of accelerating carbon free technology.

Good Tythings

  1. It looks like beavers are here to stay after a successful trial on the River Otter in Devon. Beavers used to roam the UK but were hunted to extinction in the 16th century. It’s hoped that their presence will help reduce the risk of floods and support surrounding ecosystems.
  2. Thanks in part to campaigning from Surfers Against Sewage and other Ocean Activist campaigns, Defra has amended the Environment Bill to bring in new measures to tackle storm overflows and reduce harmful sewage discharges.
  3. An in-depth investigation from The Clean Air Task Force has exposed more than 70 methane leaks escaping from Romania’s oil fields, gas pipes, storage containers, and even playgrounds. The IPCC report found that methane levels are currently higher than at any point in the past 800,000 years and ‘strong, rapid, and sustained reductions’ are required to keep to the 1.5c warning limit. We’re optimistic CATF’s discovery can help demonstrate the urgency for an EU-wide solution.
  4. The Rainforest Trust has helped secure over two million acres of the Bolivian Amazon from fires and deforestation. The achievement comes after skincare influencer, Hyram, joined forces with the Trust to help raise awareness of the charity’s cause. The Bajo Paragua San Ignacio and Concepcion Municipal Protected Areas will preserve at least 1,273 vertebrate species and ensure that the forest can continue to lock up 337,162,504 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
  5. SolarAid is working with Lendwithcare to launch Mayi Walas or ‘Shining Mothers’, an initiative that will help women to launch their own sustainable businesses. Studies show as primary users of household energy, women suffer most from energy poverty, and are best-placed to bring renewable energy into their communities.
  6. SolarAid has also partnered with Book Aid to distribute 55,875 books to Malawi. Thanks to SolarAid’s sustainable lights, families and children across Malawi can read books during the day and night.
  7. The Sustainable Food Trust has been campaigning to protect small, local abattoirs. Research carried out by the National Craft Butchers association paints a concerning picture about the local abattoir workforce — with a majority of owners approaching retirement. This has serious implications for the UK’s ambitions to eat and source meat locally. Having a robust local food system improves the nation’s resilience in the face of emergencies created by infectious diseases, supply chain issues, and extreme weather.
  8. ClientEarth is challenging Just Eat and Carnival over their climate failings. Neither company is addressing how the climate crisis will affect their operations and finances in their investor reports, so ClienEarth has referred them for investigation and enforcement to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). ClientEarth argues that ‘Every listed company, no matter the size of their carbon footprint, has a part to play in mitigating climate change and reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero.’
  9. A new study found a clear link between air pollution and severe mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, risk of suicide, and other mental disorders. The research, which involved 13,000 participants in South London, found that a relatively small increase in exposure to air pollution (nitrogen dioxide) led to a 32% increase in the risk of needing community-based treatment for mental illness, and an 18% increase in the risk of being admitted to hospital. This research validates the work many of our charity partners are doing to improve air quality, including Trees for Cities, who are working diligently to make the air healthier in urban areas across the UK.

Other Ways To Help

  1. ClientEarth want to help people hold the UK Government responsible in court for the real-life impacts of air pollution. If you have symptoms you think are linked to dirty air, you can learn about your legal options here.
  2. Soon, schools across the UK might start to offer a GCSE in ‘natural history’. The subject will help young people understand the importance of biodiversity, and the risks our lifestyles present to wildlife. In the meantime, Action for Conservation has spots open for secondary schools in London and the South East to join its free environmental action programme ‘WildEd’. Email wilded@actionforconservation.org to get involved.
  3. On Thursday 2nd September, Alan Carter is offering a free workshop on ‘food forests in your garden’ which looks at how to plan, plant, and cook diverse harvests.
  4. Alison Swan Parente, founder of the School of Artisan Food sat down with Sustainable Food Trust CEO Patrick Holden to discuss his life’s work. Check out the podcast here.
  5. Hubbub are putting the fun back in litter picking by offering free Plastic Fishing trips for students aged 8-11 years in London boroughs on their 99% recycled plastic punt called ‘Poly-Mer’. They’re also offering free ‘Plastic Fishing education kits’ for classrooms across the UK.