Carbon Budgets

The principles of effective budgeting are simple: if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. If you have to go over your budget, know how you will get back to break even. If you have to make a reduction, everyone should contribute to managing the cuts. Those who start with the largest share, should make the largest cuts.

We all know that to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, we have to cut carbon emissions. To reach net zero by 2050, the government has set legally binding caps on the amount of greenhouse gases to be emitted in the UK over a series of five-year periods. This is referred to as the carbon budget.

The UK caps are reflected in local authority targets. Waverley Borough Council’s aim to reach net zero by 2050 requires a minimum year-on-year reduction in carbon emissions of 13.4%. Councillors have also set a more challenging, and arguably very necessary target to achieve net zero by 2030. This needs a 27% year-on-year reduction in carbon emissions. 

There is no point any of us hoping that someone else will make those reductions, so that we don’t have to. Equally, we need to get into the mindset that anyone who chooses to maintain a high carbon lifestyle is effectively seeing themselves as somehow more entitled to a greater share of the carbon budget than other people. This argument works globally as well as locally, and is a cause of climate injustice. 

An easy example to illustrate climate injustice is flying. If you take a return flight from London to New York, you will use roughly the same amount of the global carbon budget as the average person living in Ghana uses in one year. That is an injustice. The injustice is compounded further because Ghanaians suffer more through climate change than we do, despite their lower personal impact. Ghanaians are experiencing increased droughts, raised temperatures and extreme weather events. These are causing food and water insecurity.

We have a moral duty, as people with high carbon lifestyles, to lower significantly the amount of the carbon budget we claim for ourselves in the choices we make. Not least of these is in how we travel.

Switching from flying to train travel, for example, has a dramatic impact. Train journeys from London to places such as Edinburgh, Paris or Madrid use around 75% less of the carbon budget than flights to the same destinations.

Our choice of car is also crucial. Typically, if you choose to buy a new, small hatchback, you will use around 6 to 10 tonnes of the carbon budget in its manufacture. If you choose to buy a new, large SUV, you are claiming a whopping 35 tonnes of the carbon budget for yourself. Then, once you have bought a large vehicle, whether it is powered by petrol, diesel, hybrid or electricity, because of its size and weight, it will use about 14% more energy to drive than a smaller, medium sized, similarly powered car. We have to ask the (rhetorical) question. Is that fair?

When What Next? volunteers talk to people on the streets, we are often told that the UK is doing well in reducing carbon emissions and that other countries need to do more. It is true that carbon emissions in the UK are reducing and that arguably some other countries need to do more. However, that is no reason for us not to minimise, in line with national and Waverley targets, our personal consumption of the carbon budget.

We have to be realistic about what further damage the environment can sustain. We have to acknowledge that in the UK we use substantially more of the carbon budget than most countries whose populations suffer much more than we do from the impact of climate change. We have to act now and make responsible choices as individuals, as fellow Waverley residents, and as UK and global citizens.

Hankley Common

The distance from Hankley Common to Dunsfold is around 10 miles. A broad rule of thumb for estimating the spread of wildfires in dry conditions is that the rate of advance of the fire will be at 10% of the windspeed. Two weeks ago, when Hankley Common was ablaze for the third time in as many weeks, the winds were gusting at up to 20 miles per hour. In those conditions an unchecked fire could have reached Dunsfold in five hours.

If UK Oil and Gas is successful in its bid to drill for gas at Dunsfold, then the gap between one of the primary causes of climate chaos, and one its devasting effects will be just 10 miles. Right now, with support of the Good Law project, Protect Dunsfold is seeking a statutory review of the decision by the government to overturn two refusals by Surrey County Council to allow drilling for oil at Dunsfold.

Increasingly it seems that legal pressure is becoming a productive arm of initiatives to avert climate breakdown. As temperatures soared in mid-July, a high court judge ruled that the government’s Net Zero Strategy, which sets out plans to decarbonise the economy, doesn’t meet its own obligations under the Climate Change Act to produce detailed climate policies that show how the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets will be met. The judge found that parliament and the public were effectively kept in the dark about a shortfall in meeting a key target to cut emissions. He found that the minister who signed off the Net Zero Strategy didn’t have the legally required information on how carbon budgets would be met.

To people who are informed about climate change and its causes, none of this is especially surprising. We continue to learn more and more of the way in which oil and gas companies have hidden or denied the dangers of climate chaos from burning fossil fuels. The BBC has a powerful documentary, Big Oil v The World, which lays bare the truth that oil companies knew about what would happen to the climate as they plundered, and we collectively burned its resources. Predictably, the oil and gas companies put profits before life on earth. Predictably, governments were duped by the big corporations and failed to take the action that even then was known would avoid climate disaster. The truth of this is unsurprising, as is the denial, even now, by part of the media. One newspaper who reviewed the programme referred to the ‘alleged link between the fossil fuel industry and climate change’. It makes you wonder what planet they are on. Clearly not the one that we have seen burning over recent weeks in England, France, Spain, Portugal, the USA and more.

In 1995, COP1 was held in Berlin. It’s around 2,500 miles from Berlin to Sharm El-Sheikh, the venue for COP27 later this year. Assuming a wildfire were to spread out of control, under the wind conditions at Hankley Common on Sunday, from Berlin to Sharm El-Sheikh, it would engulf the latter in 1,250 hours. The time gap between COP1 and COP27 is 27 years, that’s around 236,000 hours. It’s completely self-evident that we are just not finding solutions quickly enough! Climate chaos is outrunning us.

The UK Heatwave

Today we may well want to reflect on what has happened in the UK over the last two days. A new maximum recorded temperature of 40.3 DegC in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, with temperature records also broken at multiple sites around the UK. The busiest day for the London Fire and Rescue Service since the Second World War. Power cuts, disruption to rail services, damage to road infrastructure and houses gutted as a result of wild fires, most notably in the village of Wennington on the outskirts of London. It seems almost incomprehensible that we still need to be reminded that we are in a Climate and Ecological Crisis, but this is, without a doubt, a significant reminder.