LOW CARBON LIFE
C&C offers a legally binding global framework, but it will be up to each industrialised nation to decide how to keep within their falling annual carbon quotas. Governments must therefore decide on the best strategies to encourage citizens to minimise carbon emissions. Civil society will play a key role in achieving this engagement, but an effective response to climate change will involve carrot and stick for every sector of society.
Some countries may introduce carbon rationing linked to bank card use, with financial penalties for anyone who exceeds their share of the carbon space. Others may choose to pre-distribute carbon coupons which people and firms with below average carbon footprints can sell to those who exceed their quotas. Tradable Emissions Quotas provide a viable model for this.
Low Carbon Health:
The Climate and Health Council draws attention to the health benefits of a 'one tonne' life style. www.climateandhealth.org More walking and cycling; less driving. More fresh, local foods; less processed foods from distant countries. This will save money and improve health.
There is a limit to the amount of carbon that can be saved by life-style changes, but during the critical decades ahead, before a genuinely low-carbon infrastructure is in place, this will be the only way that individuals will be able to increase the odds of avoiding dangerous climate change. We may end up living like previous generations; lower thermostats, warmer clothes and less air conditioning - at home and the workplace. This make environmental and economic sense and can be done immediately.
Heating and cooling buildings:
The greatest mid/long-term saving in fossil fuels will come from making buildings and homes more energy efficient and in encouraging home-owners and businesses to insulate old houses and buildings and use more efficient forms of heating.
Fossil Fuelled Power Stations:
The absolute priority for averting irreversible climate change is to stop generating electricity by burning coal until the effectiveness and economics of carbon capture and storage have been proven at full scale. Burning coal causes more than 50% of all carbon emissions.
Gas is less carbon intensive than coal and gas power stations, can be built relatively fast and offer the least harmful fossil-fuel option to prevent an energy gap. The obvious weakness concernsthe price and security of future gas supplies. Market forces will drive up costs and this may prevent cash-strapped consumers from using the energy they need.
Following the Fukishima disaster, the public are fearful of nuclear power. Investors won't take the financial risks, so governments will end up bearing the costs of de-commissioning and clean-up. This equates to a subsidy which cannot be quantified or factored into the cost of electricity produced by nuclear power.
The economic crisis has reduced government funding and investor interest in renewables and caused companies such as BP and Shell to stop investment in wind and solar power, just when it is most urgently needed. Had a small proportion of the hidden subsidies given to fossil fuel companies over the last two decades been spent on research and renewable energy, the chances of acting in time to avert 'climate chaos' would be much greater.
Lack of clear political leadership on climate change and the failure to inspire people with the opportunities of creating a post-carbon world has created a sense of despair that climate change has no solution. In this policy vacuum, oil and coal companies have worked to protect hidden subsidies for fossil fuels and it is no coincidence that some politicians and lobby groups that question the science of climate change receive funding from energy companies...
People need to re-think their use of cars and planes. Cars are becoming more fuel-efficient, but the rapid increase in car ownership in China and India means that global CO2 emissions from car use are rising. The best mid-term option is electric cars that are charged with renewable energy. Carbon rationing would spark a big rise in electric vehicle use and ownership.
Carbon rationing would create strong incentives to reduce air travel. Air travel only accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions, but its effect on climate change is disproportionately great since water in vapour trails is a potent warming agent, especially at night. The warming effect of air travel therefore exceeds its carbon footprint and the use of bio-fuels won't stop this.
Advances in video conference technology will reduce business travel, but won't let you hug the people you love.