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Politicians call for collective action following shocking climate report
The first part of the 2021 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published on Monday morning, and the least that can be said is that it sends out the most severe warning signals yet about the progression of global warming and its devastating consequences for the planet.
In the first IPCC report in eight years, experts predict an increase in global temperature of more than +1.5°C by 2030 instead of 2040, 10 years earlier than the previous 2018 estimate. Currently, the planet has reached +1.1°C.
As a consequence of this rising heat and subsequent melting of polar ice, the sea level will continue to rise for "centuries, even millennia," according to the report. The sea, which has already gained 20cm since 1900, could rise another 10-25 cm by 2050.
In November, the world's decision-makers will meet in Glasgow for COP 26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. And the message should be clear: there is no more time to lose, said the report.
"We can't afford to wait two years, five years, 10 years,” said Alok Sharma, President of COP 26. “We are getting dangerously close to the time when it will be too late."
In Belgium, where the devastating effects of climate change hit home in the form of this summer’s floods, politicians reacted with concern.
"Inaction and the absence of rapid and ambitious climate policies will lead to a dark and chaotic future for all humanity,” said a statement signed by Rajae Maouane and Jean-Marc Nollet, the co-presidents of the French-speaking Ecolo party. "Limiting warming to 1.5°C is still possible, but the chances of achieving it are decreasing every day. We must accelerate the ecological transition, realise the new climate ambitions of our country and Europe through strong and fair measures in all areas."
"The solutions are there,” the Ecolo statement continued. “It is urgent to implement them with resolution and in a spirit of social justice, because it is the most vulnerable groups that are suffering the effects of climate change on the front line."
This is a message echoed by Minister of Climate, Environment, Sustainable Development and the Green Deal, Zakia Khattabi. “I have always said, for my part, that the issues of environmental justice and social justice are linked,” the minister said. “Take the floods in Wallonia, see which populations are hit the hardest, they are not – I simplify – those with the four-façade villas.”
Khattabi called on her Belgian colleagues to mobilise and face the imminent climate threat together by putting climate at the heart of all policy decisions. “This is a moment of truth. All policies implemented must integrate the climate issue, starting with our recovery plan after Covid, and the reconstruction plan in Wallonia after the floods.
“I have asked all my colleagues in government to submit in September a roadmap translating, in their fields – from the economy to employment via taxation, mobility, pensions, etc. – the effort to adapt to the requirements in terms of ecological transition, with objectives, trajectory and a monitoring system in order to regularly assess the progress made.”
“My climate administration, in addition, has submitted to all politicians in business, at all levels of power in the country, a kind of general model dedicated to strategic decarbonisation,” she added. “With this model, everyone can have an overview of the issues at stake and make the choices that are required collectively. This model comprises four scenarios, one relating to changes in behaviour, a second relating to technology, a third which combines behavioural change and technology, and a more specific fourth one, which provides a series of responses in the event of an explosion in energy demand. In this way, everyone can act with full knowledge of the facts.”
“Given the gravity of the situation, massive investments are needed in order to turn the tide in terms of climate,” she continued. “This is true in the sectors of mobility, energy, and regional planning, among others. Anything that is not invested will result in additional costs in the short and medium term, because the situation will get worse. We must move away from our siloed vision in order to have a systemic vision and, with these massive investments, aim for sustainable development objectives, that is to say objectives in which all parameters count, environmental, economic, fiscal and, finally, social, of course.”
“A failure to act, I would say at this stage, and with the knowledge we have, is now criminal,” she concluded.
While politicians have the power and responsibility to implement policies which can make an impact on climate change on a global scale, the growing emergency has led to investigations into actions, some of a quite radical nature, that individuals can take to make a difference. While three-quarters of the world’s pollution is attributable to industry and transport, the rest comes from individuals.
According to a study by the Swedish University of Lund, published in 2017, the most radical measure we can implement is to limit ourselves to a single child. This would save 60 tonnes of CO2 per year. But this calculation applies only to rich countries, which have high consumption close to that of the US, as well as a low birth rate. Some young people have already decided not to have children, both to save the planet and to avoid bringing a child into a world in decay.
Another measure is abandoning your car. For many, this is easier said than done. For example, 60% of Belgian employees would prefer to leave their job rather than give up the advantages of having a company vehicle, according to a study carried out by Securex in 2019. Despite the fact that giving up your car would have a high positive impact on the environment, many drivers and vehicle owners claim that switching to alternative forms of travel, such as car sharing, using public transport or cycling, would require a life change that the majority of us are not ready to adopt.
Giving up flying would also have a significant impact. While the Covid crisis hasn't really left us with a choice over the past 18 months or so, the evidence is there: the radical fall in air traffic (-60% in 2020) has had a direct impact on global pollution. Video conference meetings and taking holidays closer to home can drastically reduce our individual carbon footprint.
According to the European Environment Agency, a passenger consumes 285 grams of CO2 per kilometre by plane against 14 grams of CO2 per kilometre by train, or 20 times less. It is at take-off that the aircraft consumes the most. However, air travel is of course hard to avoid when it comes to some international destinations.
Food consumption and choices are also factors we can consider. Among the individual actions that have a significant impact, the transition from a meat diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet can be important. It helps to limit emissions from livestock and deforestation, and alone accounts for 10% of the decline in the carbon footprint. Belgians consume an average of 110 grams of meat per day. According to a study published in Climatic Change, the biweekly peer-reviewed scientific journal, moving from a diet rich in meat to a vegetarian diet reduces the carbon footprint by nearly 2 kilos per year, 1.5 kilos with a vegan diet.
Changing our living situations can also make a difference. Living alone in a large apartment or house costs more. A single person generates a carbon footprint of nearly 11 kilos of CO2 per year, compared to 5.5 kilos per individual for a household of three people. The type of housing is also decisive: households living in a single-family house consume 2.2 times more energy than those living in apartment buildings, which benefit from the heat of neighbours.