The environmental emergency
Tackling the climate emergency has become the focus of recovery efforts around the world.
Global greenhouse gas emissions must be nearly halved by 2030 in order to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.
However, climate change is just one part a wider environmental emergency being driven by economic systems around the world.
The planet also faces major challenges with depleted soil quality, water shortages, and mass species extinction.
These crises are expected to pose a greater threat to health, society and the economy than the Covid-19 pandemic.
In This is a Crisis, IPPR warns that we are already living in the "age of environmental breakdown", which is destabilising societies and economies around the world. It also warns that decision-makers and key institutions are not taking the threat seriously.
The UN's Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services provides an authoritative summary of the health of the natural world, the factors driving its destruction, and actions that should be taken in response.
The United in Science 2020 Report provides a global update on the climate emergency. It warns that global temperatures have risen by 1.1 degrees celsius and dramatic emissions cuts are needed to keep it below 1.5.
The impacts of the environmental emergency fall unequally between countries and across communities. Often the people who contributed the least to environmental destruction are most harmed by the consequences. This makes environmental issues inseparable from wider questions of fairness and inequality.
The idea of a just transition has become central to the cause of environmental justice. This means ensuring the process of reducing environmental damage also provides jobs and opportunities for those working in environmentally-destructive sectors and their communities.
Wealthy countries could support poorer countries to reduce their environmental impact and compensate them for the environmental damage that they have experienced as a result of past exploitation of resources.
While people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they bear the brunt of climate change and have the least capacity to protect themselves. The UN warns that this could "undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction".
A major international NGO coalition - the Civil Society Review - has called for loss and damage funding from rich countries to compensate less industrialised nations in the wake of destructive climate impacts. It calls for up to $300 billion to be transferred by 2030.
The New Economics Foundation highlights the lack of trust among deprived communities, who often do not believe that green industrial change will be good for them, and argues that a just transition approach to climate policy is therefore not optional.
Rapid and sustained action needed
Rapid and sustained action is now needed if we are to avoid the very worst outcomes of the environmental emergency. Carbon emissions, including those of the UK, are not falling rapidly enough and sufficient action is not being taken to tackle other environmental destruction.
The UK aims to be a world leader and has committed to net zero emissions by 2050, offsetting any remaining emissions. Some still consider this deadline too far away.
The COP26 UN climate talks will be hosted by the UK in 2021. These crucial talks will determine whether countries' climate plans will keep the world on track to limit heating to 1.5 degrees celsius. Wealthier nations must also agree on how to unlock more financial support for poorer countries. More green investment is needed as investors continue to fund polluting industries.
The Global Biodiversity Outlook report from the UN Convention on Biological Diversity warns that biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate. The report notes that it is not yet too late to slow, halt and reverse the trend.
An annual progress report by the official watchdog the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) argued that in only 4 of 21 key areas for decarbonisation has the UK government implemented policies of sufficient ambition to achieve its own statutory carbon budgets.
The United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report gives the latest update on the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and warns that nations will have to reduce emissions by more than 7.5% per year over the coming decade.
The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit has a Net Zero Tracker that keeps track of which nations have signed up to reduce emissions to net zero.
Green New Deal
Sustainability and resilience
Natural climate solutions
Natural climate solutions, such as planting trees and restoring wetlands, are increasingly popular with governments, campaigners and businesses. If carried out properly they can absorb large amounts of carbon and address wider environmental destruction, such as biodiversity loss.
These programmes should not be seen as a way for polluting industries to avoid changing their behaviour. Natural solutions are instead seen as something to be implemented alongside wider emissions cuts and other actions to repair the environment, not instead of them.
Carbon Brief explores the potential for different natural climate solutions. It finds that the most effective for reducing carbon is reforestation; others include the preservation of carbon-rich peat bogs and sea-kelp restoration. The Wildlife Trusts call for major investment in seagrass and peatland restoration. It claims that this could absorb up to a third of UK carbon emissions.
The Natural Climate Solutions campaign calls for natural solutions to be at the heart of global summits on both climate change and ecosystem restoration. A coalition of major environmental charities and university environment departments have written to Alok Sharma, outlining both the importance and limitations of nature-based solutions to addressing climate change.
Green tax reform
Burning fossil fuels can have economic, environmental and social costs. It is widely considered fair and efficient to require energy users to bear some of these costs.
Carbon and other environmental taxes also encourage more efficient use of energy and resources, reducing environmental impact. Under the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, carbon emissions from the power and industrial sectors are effectively taxed, though not at a very high rate.
Petrol and diesel are taxed more highly, but these taxes have been frozen in the UK in recent years. Aircraft fuel is not taxed at all. There is a strong case for a more comprehensive system of carbon taxation.
Taxes on consumption are regressive, with poorer consumers tending to pay more as a proportion of their income. Carbon and environmental taxes need to be carefully designed to ensure that they are perceived as fair.
Common Wealth and the New Economics Foundation set out principles for green tax reform. They argue we must focus on rapid decarbonisation, addressing inequalities, and global solidarity.
The Grantham Institute at Imperial College London has designed a framework for fiscal reform for climate action, including tax reform. It argues that the public may be more prepared to pay higher taxes if it is earmarked for specific green investment.
Tax Justice UK, along with a range of partners from the Green Alliance to Greenpeace and Oxfam, have outlined a set of principles for reforming the UK tax system to help achieve net zero goals. Watch their video webinar chaired by Caroline Lucas here.
A survey for Green Alliance found ‘unequivocal’ public support for green taxes such as carbon taxes and greening the VAT system. The authors hope the report “gives Government a mandate to start to green the tax system through Treasury’s imminent Net Zero Review.”