Rich countries 'must slash living standards' to fight climate change

The report says Britain should commit to making all energy zero-carbon by 2025

TIMES, 2009/10/5

Living standards in Britain and other rich countries must fall sharply over the next decade if the world is to avoid catastrophic global warming, according to a leading climate research centre.
Consumption of energy-intensive goods and services should be cut and remain capped until low-carbon alternatives are available, said the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
The study says that Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions need to fall twice as fast as planned by the Government. It concludes that global greenhouse gas emissions are rising much faster than previously thought.
It says that Britain should commit to making all energy, including for electricity, heating and cars, zero-carbon by 2025, at least 25 years earlier than planned.
The centre, a partnership of seven universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester, says that the economies of developed nations will have to shrink and consumption of almost all types of goods will have to fall “in the short to medium term”.
Speaking to The Times, Professor Kevin Anderson, the centre’s director, said: “The wealthier parts of the world, including Britain, will have to seriously consider reducing their levels of consumption over the next 10-15 years while we put in place low-carbon technologies.
“That may mean having only one car per household, a smaller fridge, buying fewer clothes and electronic goods and curtailing the number of weekend breaks that we have.
“It’s a very uncomfortable message but we need a planned economic recession. Economic growth is currently incompatible with reductions in absolute emissions.”
The study says that global emissions are rising much faster than has been assumed by Britain and other countries in setting their carbon targets. It says that these targets are “dangerously misleading” because they focus on distant dates, such as 2050, and avoid mentioning the immediate cuts that are needed.
Professor Anderson calculates that emissions in all developed countries must peak by 2012 and fall by 20 per cent a year from 2018 to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2C above the pre-industrial average.
Britain and most major economies agreed in July to limit the increase to 2C to avoid an unprecedented humanitarian disaster in the developing world. The global average has already risen by almost 1C.
Most climate scientists agree that an increase above 2C is likely to trigger mass migration from countries made uninhabitable by drought and rising sea levels.
The Tyndall study’s calculations assume that emissions from energy use in China, India and other developing countries carry on rising until 2025 and then decline at an increasing rate, reaching zero by 2050.
This is highly optimistic because China and India have made clear that they will refuse to accept any deadline for cutting their overall emissions. They have instead offered to reduce the rate of emissions growth compared with “business as usual”.
Britain has already accepted that it would be unfair to cap emissions in developing countries because this would undermine the economic growth that is lifting their populations out of extreme poverty.
Professor Anderson said Britain needed to understand that allowing emissions to grow rapidly in the developing world would require savage cuts in its own emissions.
He said that the world could afford to emit 2,200 billion tonnes of CO2 in the 21st century to have a reasonable chance of keeping the temperature rise below 2C.
“About three quarters of that carbon ration will go to developing countries, which means that Britain and other developed countries have only a quarter.”
He said that this was fair because emissions per capita were far higher in the developed world: 20 tonnes per person per year in the US and 10 tonnes in Britain but only 5 tonnes in China and less than 2 tonnes in India.
A separate study published this week by the Met Office Hadley Centre found that the global average temperature could rise by 4C as early as 2060.
Previous reports, including one in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had suggested that an increase of this scale would not happen until 2100.
The Met Office used computer models which took into account new findings on the rate at which carbon dioxide is absorbed by oceans and forests.
Dr Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Hadley Centre, said: “If greenhouse gas emissions are not cut soon then we could see major climate changes within our own lifetimes.”
Professor David MacKay, the newly appointed chief scientist for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, said that government figures claiming Britain had cut emissions by 21 per cent since 1990 were an “illusion”.
He said that the cut had been achieved largely because Britain had exported much of its manufacturing overseas. The figures did not include emissions from goods Britain imported from China and other countries.

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