Nick Butler: The response to the mounting evidence has been centred around a consensus target of keeping any global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees That is not based on particular scientific evidence – it is a politically driven goal. We not know whether 2 degrees represents safety, and the figure is in any case an average likely to reflect wide variation that could cause great damage in some places. Even if we accept the target, we must acknowledge that it brings risks because changes are unlikely to occur in a linear or predictable way. Then there is the question of a carbon budget. If one accepts the correlation of carbon emissions and increases in temperature we have some 15 years, at the current level of emissions, before we cross the 2 degree line. Beyond that we need to find ways of reducing the carbon concentration in the atmosphere – or negative emissions. Mr Munsch is sceptical about the two commonly proposed steps for delivering negative emissions – carbon capture and storage and the development of biomass, meaning essentially reforestation. Both are technically possible but there is no sign of the necessary investment being made in either. It is hard to disagree with all this. Different groups quote different risk factors but the core of the challenge is simple. Either you deny the science, or you accept that there is a very serious risk of fundamental climate change within the lifetime of most of the readers of this article. His solution is that the richest 10 per cent should change their lifestyles. That does not mean simply driving an electric car or recycling newspapers but, in his words, requires “nothing less than a dramatic shift in how we think of the human experience and our idea of a life well l ived. Holidays to far away locations, luxurious possessions and frequent splurges – the defining elements of the good life as experienced by the 10 per cent are indefensible with a moral compass tuned into the logic of climate change”. This is not a realistic solution. We should indeed use energy more efficiently but are those who have reached what he thinks of as a luxurious and immoral lifestyle really about to give it up? Are the mass of Europeans, those most likely to see the risks he identifies, really going to give up their cars, or their right to a place in the sun for their holidays? The contrast between the seriousness of the analysis in the first part of the essay and the simplistic nature of the solution is startling. This is what I mean by denial. The conclusion can hardly be anything other than pessimistic. There are many creative things going on in the energy business but the transition is too slow. Much scientific and technical work has high pot ential and should be encouraged and funded. The Paris agreement set 190 countries moving in a common direction, but it created the impression that the problem had been solved and we had time over the next three decades to establish the necessary transition in a steady, gradualist way. Anyone who believes that should read the first part of Mr Munsch’s paper.
FT 4th Sept 2017 read more »