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Climate pledges 'like tackling COVID-19 without social distancing'

September 24, 2020

Current global pledges to tackle climate change are the equivalent of declaring a pandemic without a plan for social distancing, researchers say.

In the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to limit global warming to "well below 2°C".

But University of Exeter scientists say governments are engaged in "climate hypocrisy" by publicly supporting the agreement while subsidising the fossil fuel industry, destroying forests and pursuing other harmful policies.

Writing in the journal Global Sustainability, they highlight two other crises - ozone depletion and the COVID-19 pandemic - and call for similar action on the climate crisis.

The call comes as world leaders including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson discuss climate action and a "sustainable recovery" from the pandemic at the UN General Assembly.

"Restoring the ozone layer and minimising the COVID-19 pandemic both required governments to enact specific legislation to address the precise causes of these problems," said Professor Mark Baldwin, of Exeter's Global Systems Institute (GSI).

"By contrast, Paris Agreement commitments are the equivalent of intending to restore the ozone layer without a plan for eliminating ozone-depleting substances, or intending to end the COVID-19 pandemic without a plan for social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus.

"We know the climate crisis is caused mainly by fossil fuels.

"Current climate and energy policies are therefore nonsensical because they condemn greenhouse gas emissions by individuals while promoting fossil fuel production.

"Today we have governments publicly supporting the Paris Agreement, but simultaneously opening new coal mines, destroying forests, supporting fracking, subsidising the fossil fuel industry and supporting fossil fuel projects in the developing world."

Professor Tim Lenton, director of the GSI, said: "The fundamental reason we are not solving the climate crisis is not a lack of green energy solutions - it is that many governments continue energy strategies that prioritise fossil fuels.

"These entrenched energy policies subsidise the discovery, extraction, transport and sale of fossil fuels, with the aim of ensuring a cheap, plentiful, steady supply of fossil energy into the future.

"Some governments are introducing policies to reduce demand for fossil fuels and shift to green energy sources, but these policies are not enough.

"Green energy is not yet replacing fossil fuels - it is merely augmenting it. Energy from both fossil fuels and green sources is increasing.

"Individual behaviour choices - such as diets and modes of travel - are important, but more fundamental is to replace the supply of fossil fuels with green energy."

The researchers call for a "comprehensive global plan" to solve the climate crisis.

They make seven recommendations:
    1. End all government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

    2. Ban all exploration for new oil/gas/coal reserves anywhere in the world.

    3. Enforce a policy that no public money can be spent on fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere in the world.

    4. Stop justifying fossil fuel use by employing carbon offset schemes.

    5. Redirect most fossil fuel subsidies to targeted programmes for enabling the transition to a green energy economy.

    6. Minimise reliance on future negative-emissions technologies. They should be the subject of research, development, and potentially deployment, but the plan to solve the climate crisis should proceed on the premise that they will not work at scale.

    7. Trade deals: Do not buy products from nations that destroy rainforests in order to produce cheaper, greater quantities of meat and agricultural products for export.
Professor Baldwin added: "To bring about real change, we must address complex issues involving politics, fake news, human behaviour, government subsidies, taxes, international trade agreements, human rights, lobbying by the fossil fuel industry, and disinformation campaigns."
-end-


University of Exeter

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