IPCC Says We Have 12 Years to Cut Carbon by 45%. What Does That Look Like?

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A manifesto from a London activist looks pretty scary, but is a great place to start a discussion.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently issued a special report on the impacts of global warming above 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and came to some dire conclusions about what will happen if we don't.

The key recommendations in the report include reducing carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reducing them to zero by 2050. I will repeat that: We have twelve years to cut carbon emissions almost in half.

This is doable. All it needs is what the report calls for – "rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems." Jim Skea, co-chair of the group on mitigation, is quoted in the Guardian:

We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that. We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.

I previously wrote how there was no political will, but given that we at TreeHugger are relentlessly positive, suggested five things you can do to fight climate change. But I concluded in a subsequent post: "Really, it is hard to be optimistic when you read this sad list. We have to do better. We CAN do better." They were all baby steps.

And I wondered, what would we really have to do to reduce carbon emissions 45 percent in 12 years, 100 percent in 32?

London anti-car activist Rosalind Readhead has thought about this and has written a manifesto for cities, listing policies that need to be implemented immediately if we are serious about a transition to zero carbon. When I first looked at it I thought it was wild and crazy and extreme and impossible, but the more I thought about it I realized that this is the kind of wild and extreme stuff that we have to talk about. She asks some of the same questions we have asked here:

For instance, why are we investing heavily in electric car infrastructure when there are viable alternatives such as walking and cycling that can replace the majority of short car journeys? And why haven’t we even begun to de-carbonise heating? Data now has the same carbon footprint as aviation. A rapid rise in data processing has increased our energy use substantially. How can we use data more efficiently?

She then presents her key policies. I asked for her permission to reproduce it in full here. Some of them are very European and London-specific but I am leaving the full list. This is radical stuff and presented as food for thought.


Sacrifices at Home/Public Domain

  1. Regular car-free, fly-free and work-free days to cut emissions (direct, immediate action)
  2. World fossil fuel-free days (We need many trials to experience what this looks like and where we need to be better prepared.)
  3. Free cycles for everyone and free secure cycle parking (This must be the mainstream go-to for personal journeys under 5 miles.)
  4. A hierarchy of energy use for the common good (where cooking, heating and hot showers are higher priorities for renewables than low occupancy, inefficient electric cars and data proliferation)
  5. De-carbonise heating, hot water and cooking ASAP. (Millions of green jobs urgently needed with appropriate training.)
  6. Free trees for every garden (on private land in the UK as well as mass planting on public land, since trees absorb carbon and are a critical part of climate action)
  7. Resident allotment permits for food growing on current wasteful resident parking spaces. (Perishable greens are high carbon because of the quantity that is degraded in transport. Food security is important, as is locally sourced produce needed to reduce road / air miles)
  8. A ban on advertising for planet-destroying consumerables (car adverts, meat and long distance flights / holidays)
  9. Concern about high energy use of tech promoted for per the mile road pricing (Telematics is a high energy user of data, not appropriate for a low carbon, low energy future. Energy use allowances would be far more effective at reducing car use. We need to address the cause, not the symptom.)
  10. Ban automation in motor vehicles. (Not safe or proven technology. No algorithmic transparency of accountability. It is a very high energy user; there are 100 computers on one Automated Vehicle, equivalent to boiling 3 electric kettles continuously, plus radar, sensors and cameras. Mostly designed for data harvesting and surveillance.)
  11. Carbon, energy and data allowances for everyone (Energy allowances will allow people to choose between a hot shower, downloading a Netflix boxset, or using a car to drive a few miles down the road.)
  12. Switch investment and jobs away from the car industry and road building to pinning solar to every roof possible ASAP. (The car industry is stranded assets and jobs whilst solar is an urgent imperative for a low energy, low carbon future.)
  13. Transparent, easily accessible carbon accounting at all levels of Government and Business (with indirect carbon from energy use recorded as well as direct carbon)
  14. Extend job centre plus travel discount to all public transport.
  15. Basic income (that is nothing to do with Artificial Intelligence but about reducing the working week to 3-4 days to cut energy use and for quality community and family life).
  16. Education on how to use ICT (Information and Communications Technology) that is not wasteful of energy. For instance, don’t travel via google maps. Plan your journey ahead or use a map. Borrow CDs and DVDs from libraries rather than Netflix and streaming.
  17. Producing software that is efficient means energy allowances must be applied. Current wasteful and lazy software is burning energy needlessly.
  18. Stopping data proliferation that is used for mass surveillance, data harvesting and selling us stuff we don’t need.
  19. No forced personal data on the Electoral Register (Democracy must be free of outside interference.)
  20. Algorithmic transparency and accountability
  21. Tax under-occupation of dwellings We could house the entire UK population again in the current unoccupied bedrooms. Make more efficient use of current housing stock through taxation. Cutting cement and steel emissions means a radical transformation in the way we build and maintain housing.
  22. Treat plastic as toxic waste. Stop producing the stuff. Man-made toxic plastic derivative textiles, too, i.e. acrylics, nylon, Spandex. Fleeces are one of the worst. No more Lycra cycling gear!
  23. Cycle-only streets and hire bikes at all train stations and bus interchanges.
  24. Licence pedicabs and apps like pedalmeapp and move to last mile delivery by cargo bike.
  25. Give every citizen the choice to live a carfree lifestyle with suitable infrastructure and financial incentives.
  26. Mass rewilding of roads to restore nature, biodiversity, carbon-absorbing tree cover and flood mitigation.
  27. EU directive draft proposal:
  • Every village, town and city in the European Union must have a walking and cycling network.
  • Everyone must have the opportunity to walk and cycle safely going about their daily life.
  • This must be backed up by an integrated, accessible and joined up Public Transport Network.
  • Ban motor traffic from the core of every town, city and village.
Only enough

postcards and photos/Public Domain

As I noted earlier, this is a radical list. But it raises serious questions: should we ration carbon? Should we just ban cars? Do data services have such a big footprint? Is this all nuts or is it the inevitable result if you really want to be serious about going zero carbon?

So many questions.