June was the hottest month ever recorded in the UK and at the start of July, the planet had the two hottest days ever recorded. For a seven-day period, the average daily temperature was higher than in any week of 44 years of record keeping, according to the University of Maine Climate Data centre.
The United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres was quoted saying “climate change is out of control”, adding that the return of El Nino, a sporadic weather pattern, will almost certainly lead to more record-breaking temperatures. And what had the Tory government to say about the latest evidence of climate change? It will not come as a surprise for readers of Socialism Today to find that the answer is nothing.
The environmental minister Theresa Coffey was not questioned by a single MP about the government lack of action, despite the publication of a damning report by a government ‘watch-dog’, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which was established under the UK Climate Change Act 2008.
Their report published on 28 June 2023, which energy and climate experts have described as “damning”, concludes that it is “markedly less confident” than a year ago that the UK would reach its targets for cutting carbon emissions.
A target of net zero emissions by 2025 is a key part of the UK government’s international commitments as set out in the 2015 Paris COP21 climate agreement. Net zero means ending the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by the year 2050 if humanity hopes to avoid the worst and growing impact of climate change. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). CO2 is released when oil, gas and coal is burned in homes, and to power industrial processes and transport. Methane is produced by farming, landfill and leaks in the gas supply network.
The 2023 Committee on Climate Change Report said the government is “strikingly unprepared” for the impacts of the climate crisis. Previous CCC reports in 2021 warned that the UK will miss climate targets by a “huge margin” without new policies. A second CCC report on progress towards adaptation had been severely limited by “insufficient action” and being “underfunded and ignored”. The latest report talks of a “lost decade” and the CCC have warned repeatedly of poor preparation.
The extreme heatwave in 2022, when temperatures surpassed 40 degrees Celsius for the first time in Britain, was both an example and a serious warning.
At the peak of the heatwave, over three thousand people died prematurely, 20% of hospital operations were cancelled, rail lines buckled, wildfires raged, and farmers struggled with drought. The CCC concluded that it would not be long before these kinds of very hot summers become the normality.
The CCC conclude that none of the government climate pledges will be met under current policies. There is no prospect of obtaining electricity only from clean sources by 2035, including wind, solar and nuclear projects. The same applies to banning new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and installing 600,000 heat pumps to replace gas boilers by 2028. The 26 million homes in the UK are among the least energy efficient in Europe, losing heat up to three times faster than homes on the continent and responsible for generating over 20% of UK greenhouse emissions.
The UK government needs to reduce emissions by 60%, compared to 1990 levels, as a key step to net zero by 2050 as set out in 2015 Paris COP21 agreement. After being pressed by the courts to release hundreds of pages of Net Zero plans in spring of this year, the government is falling way short, say the CCC. They highlight the slow pace of meeting the commitments already made, such as phasing out fossil fuel vehicles by 2030, or decarbonising the electricity system by 2035, decarbonising steel production and increasing tree planting.
The report is particularly scathing about the decision to approve the first UK coal mine in decades and the handing out of one hundred new licenses for drilling for gas and oil in the North Sea. This cannot be reconciled with government commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions in line with international obligations. Even the former Tory Minister John Selwyn Gummer, Lord Deben, outgoing chair of the CCC, called this “absolutely indefensible”.
Lord Stern, a former Chief Economist at the World Bank who once described climate change as “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure in human history” has, along with Sir Bob Watson, former head of the UN Climate Committee, told the BBC that the target to limit global warming to 1.5 will be missed. He added, “in fact I am very pessimistic about limiting the increase in temperature to two degrees”.
The proposed mine in Whitehaven in Cumbria would dig up coking coal for steel production in the UK but mainly for export. The West Cumbria Mining Project have promised five hundred new jobs in an area of economic deprivation. Opposition to the mine needs to go hand in hand with a workers and trade union struggle and programme for thousands of clean, skilled, unionised jobs that develop the enormous potential of wind and wave technology off the coast of Lancashire and Cumbria in the Irish Sea.
The UK Committee on Climate Change report comes in the wake of a series of reports on temperature, ocean heat and Antarctic Sea ice and the hottest day on record on 6 July. The hottest June on record saw extreme heat in the North Atlantic with ocean temperatures at a seasonal record with a record low Antarctic Sea ice.
We can never expect the capitalists, particularly with a vested interest in fossil fuel production, to create the new jobs required and to provide guarantees to workers on their jobs, conditions and communities affected. The only ‘Just Transition’ in workers’ interests is through workers using their collective power and knowledge to remove this rotten system and replace it with a socialist society that places social need and the protection of the earth’s ecology above the capitalist relentless pursuit of profit.
Chris was the assistant general secretary of the PCS civil servants’ union from 2004 to 2019, who held responsibility for developing the union’s policies for combating climate change.