When the deadline for revised climate pledges passed last month only 23 countries out of nearly 200 had submitted something new. This deadline was agreed at the Glasgow climate talks last November and counties where supposed to propose stronger action between now and 2030.
Australia, Indonesia, Egypt and United Arab Emirates all upped their targets. The US did not submit an update but President Biden has recently passed a law allocating much more money to climate action. The EU, which submits one plan for the whole bloc, has not submitted a revision, although it says it is planning to increase ambition.
Scotland received wide praise for submitting a shadow emissions reduction plan ahead of COP26 in Glasgow. Scotland is included in the UK plan so is not obliged to produce a separate plan, but chose to do so anyway. They were similarly not obliged to produce an updated plan and it would have been hard to do so since our own national plan is revealing itself as not good enough to meet our 2030 target.
The UK was one of those countries which did submit a revised plan. As president of COP26, it would have been embarrassing not to. But the revised plan does not actually propose any extra action this decade. So it is still embarrassing.
Meanwhile Liz Truss has appointed climate-sceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg to the key post of Business and Energy Secretary and started a review of the UK plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050 “to ensure we are delivering net zero in a way that is pro-business and pro-growth.”
The first question in the consultation is “how does net zero enable us to meet our economic growth target of 2.5% a year?” A big expectation to put on net zero since the UK’s annual GDP growth has only been 2.5% or higher in five of the last 20 years.
The war in Ukraine has created an energy crisis, particularly for countries in Europe which are dependent on imported gas. In the short term more coal may be burnt but in the longer term this crisis is accelerating the change away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy and energy saving, with a big boost in funding for both in many European countries.
Meanwhile in the UK the response to the energy crisis has been to completely ignore the obvious and immediate solution of making people’s homes more efficient and promote the most expensive and most distant options – more nuclear and another go at seeing if fracking might produce anything. As well, of course, as an acceleration of oil and gas extraction from the North Sea. As with many things, Liz Truss’ government is going in exactly the wrong direction.
As happened with the economic impact of recessions, the collapse of the UK steel industry and periodic major oil price rises, the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine may do more to bring down climate emissions in the long term than any active climate plans by governments.
The tragedy of waiting for a good international crisis to reduce emissions, instead of having an actual plan, is that it is uncoordinated, even chaotic, so the consequences are high costs to individuals and job losses.
A version of this blog appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 6th October 2022