2023: climate and the year ahead
A new year is upon us, and with that the potential for a fresh start and some fresh impetus to see action around some of the critical issues facing our society. The cost of living crisis is still in full swing, and the NHS in crisis, even if it has slipped from the headlines. The Ukraine invasion continues, abating only because of the cold weather, but likely to reappear come the spring. There is still a global emergency around nature. And we are still in the ever more evident throes of a climate emergency too. So what can we do and what does 2023 promise?
There have been many announcements already about climate. 2022 was again one of the warmest on record, and as Professor Ed Hawkins told me in an email this month:
“The data from 2022 is stark, however you look at it. Whether you view the figures in their raw form, or look at the data as another red line added to the climate stripes, the message is clear. Excess heat is building up across the planet at a rate unprecedented in the history of humanity.
“The latest coloured stripe added to the global warming stripes image is the second-darkest red, but is very close to being in the darkest red category. This is remarkable, given that an ongoing La Nina in the Pacific has helped to hold temperatures down. When we see a return of a neutral or warming phase of El Nino, the darkest red stripes will return.
“This should be a cause for alarm, but not alarmism. If you think how hot 2022 was, and then realise that those 12 months will likely be one of the coolest years of the rest of our lives, I think we will regret not having acted sooner on these warnings.”
Last year saw some progress, with a very strong government commitment to the principle of Loss & Damage, which played a crucial role in getting any agreement at COP27 in Egypt on this thorny issue. After COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland’s reputation for leadership in this field has grown. And yet, in December, the UK Climate Change Committee criticised the Scottish Government for consistently missing domestic targets and losing its lead in climate action within the UK, as well as further afield. Reform Scotland produced an equally scathing report at the beginning of the year, and there is clearly a great deal to do. Scotland has been a global leader in its commitments but these are worthless if they are not acted upon, and there is a feeling that many of the changes which need to be committed to now to achieve climate targets, are being pushed into the long grass. All sorts of obstacles are being blamed from a lack of devolved powers, to funding constraints, to the need to sustain oil and gas production for the interim, to the sometimes glacial timescales of parliamentary procedures and government bureaucracy. 2023 is a vital year then, because if we do not sufficiently lay the groundwork for the transition away from fossil fuels over the next 24 months, we are not going to deliver against targets, and much of the credibility we have gained globally may well be lost.
There have been distractions, and it is understandable that governments have been stretched in their responses to Covid, and now the hike in the cost of living. They have managed to find significant funds to tide them through these short term crises, but they remain unwilling to find the funding to tackle the longer term, and much more worrying crises of nature loss and climate change. After more than a decade of austerity stripping our public services to the bone and beyond, this has to change. Governments at Scottish and UK level have declared emergencies, but neither has yet responded credibly.
In 2019 every party in the Scottish Parliament committed us to stringent targets for 2030. Yet less than 4 years later it already looks like we will fall short. Is the longer term legacy of Glasgow’s COP26 simply going to be an apology – “Sorry we didn’t sort climate change but we spent all of our money on other things”? Don’t get me wrong, we needed to respond to the shorter term crises, but not at the expense of tackling the bigger looming issues like climate change. And how are we, even in 2023, fourteen years after the first climate change act, still finding money for new and bigger roads, badly insulated houses, unsustainable land management, or funding oil and gas companies to dismantle their infrastructure?
Governments haven’t done enough. But equally they cannot do this alone – every organisation, every business, every community has a role – helping changing habits, drive innovation, shifting resources and working practices, targeting investment and creating the political space for change. Making our communities and markets more robust and people healthier and warmer.
With every year that passes this issue become more and more urgent and the risks become greater and greater. Let’s use 2023 to drive positive change. Let’s lay the essential groundwork in transport, housing, energy, agriculture and industry. Let’s up the understanding of climate change and its solutions, and accelerate the necessary skills development. Let’s be ambitious for change, and impatient for its delivery. And above all, let’s act like it’s the emergency it so clearly is.