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Emission Impossible: Facing up to the climate emergency in Sheffield

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Last year all four South Yorkshire councils joined many others across the country in declaring a climate emergency. Central government has also committed to a national net zero emissions target of 2050. Does this mean our politicians are at last facing up to what needs to be done to protect our climate?

Sheffield City Council's climate action plan was promised by August 2019 and is yet to be seen. Its difficulties are explained to some extent by a significant step which has not so far received the attention it deserves. The Council requested a report from the well-respected Tyndall Centre on what carbon emissions targets it should set in Sheffield. These needed to align with the latest climate science and the wider international consensus of limiting the average global temperature rise to "well below" 2°C. The outcome was a recommendation to cut carbon emissions in Sheffield at a rate of 14% a year, starting now. That sounds like a tough call because it is. National targets can be met by annual reductions of 3-4%.

We hope that this will prompt our local politicians to ask some searching questions about the contrast between the Tyndall Centre's findings and national targets. The national ones, up until 2032, were set some time ago at a level recommended by the Government's independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The CCC was obliged to consider economic impacts and UK competitiveness, with the rather inevitable result that its targets ended up as a shabby compromise between conventional economic considerations and the tight limits that were needed to tackle climate change.

the world has moved on and so, unfortunately, have global temperatures

Since these national targets were set, the world has moved on and so, unfortunately, have global temperatures. In December last year, the Government finally set a net zero target for 2050, but it stopped short of tightening those intermediate targets to 2032, presumably because it was already struggling to meet them.

So in contrast to the climate emergencies being declared by numerous councils, national targets are still no more ambitious until after 2032. This is well beyond the five-year term of the current government and implies delaying action beyond the window of opportunity to maintain some kind of control over escalating extreme weather impacts.

You may be aware that Sheffield City Council has separately committed to a zero carbon date of 2030 for the city. Extinction Rebellion wants an earlier date of 2025 for the whole country. If you support either of these targets, you won't be happy about the current situation. All we can say here is that to meet those targets, Sheffield would need to outperform even the Tyndall Centre's recommendation of a 14% annual reduction in emissions.

we could build a sustainable, if less materialistic, economy

To top all this off, the newly-elected Boris Johnson is attempting to cement his support in the Midlands and the North by promising "colossal investment in infrastructure". His intention, to create jobs and allow industries to flourish again, is understandable and the plan would be great if there were no climate change.

Unfortunately, in its analysis of how the UK could reach net zero by 2050, the CCC assumed that the trend of a slowly-declining industrial sector, which includes infrastructure and building, would continue. It relied on that to make the figures add up. This sector, by its nature, involves high carbon emissions, even if investment is concentrated in infrastructure to enable production of low-carbon products and energy sources.

Many of us know, deep down, that this country's response to climate change is inadequate. We now have clear evidence, from Tyndall Centre and others, to back that up. Please join campaign groups and the very strong Extinction Rebellion movement in Sheffield in demanding more action. There are solutions. With a Green New Deal, we could build a sustainable, if less materialistic, economy. There would be no lack of decent jobs or public services. The solutions are out there - but we need a sea change in our thinking and our actions to make them work.

Chris Broome, campaigner from Sheffield Climate Alliance

Next article in issue 143

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